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6 Essential Ways to Simplify Your Life

How to identify all the things that zap your time.

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Robert Samuel Hanson
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During the pandemic, we had no choice but to constrain our lives. As a college professor, I taught on Zoom. My commute time reduced to traveling to my home office desk. My husband and I couldn’t invite friends over. I ordered groceries delivered to my door, and I video-visited doctors from my living room couch. Meditation classes, no longer in a studio, were available handheld, on my phone.

“Constraint enabled us to focus in a different way — on our families, our children, ourselves,” says Sherry Turkle, a psychologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author, most recently, of The Empathy Diaries. “The challenge now is to take stock of all of that, bringing it forward to live lives of greater tranquility.” I’ve had lots of time to focus on the aspects of my life that have provided tranquility, in spite of all the challenges. Disappointed when my meditation center shuttered, I found serenity in accessing favorite teachers online, as well as in apps such as Ten Percent Happier.

Socializing on Zoom deepened my connections with longtime buddies and offered an added perk of discovering new friendships — some far away, even in different countries. Surprisingly, after more than a year of constraint, my life was expanding, becoming richer and calmer.           

I have experienced living in a more contented and harmonious way, as described by Jill Emanuele, a psychologist and the senior director of the Mood Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute. “A simpler life allows us to be more focused and directed on the people, things and opportunities most important to us.”           

Here’s how we can integrate that tranquility and simplicity into our post-pandemic lives.

Embrace Remote or Reduced Work Schedules                  

“Many employees said that the pandemic gave them free time they don’t want to give up,” reported Julie Creswell and Peter Eavis in their New York Times article “Returning to the Office Sparks Anxiety and Dread for Some.” Less commuting time in cars, trains or buses can make us feel less stressed.  

A survey by PriceWaterhouseCoopers found that 83 percent of office workers would like to continue working from home at least once a week, as reported by Scott Reeves in Newsweek.           

Although it might be advantageous for younger workers to be in an office environment, established professionals may particularly welcome flexible work policies, which provide a better balance of time for work, family, hobbies and other pursuits. Many companies continue to offer remote or hybrid options, especially attractive to employees who left large cities for quieter lifestyles or to be closer to families. Salaries might be adjusted for geography.           

Is it too early for you to fully retire? Some companies offer a retirement transition of reduced hours, known as phased retirement. A self-employed friend gave up her office lease and now works remotely three days a week, enjoying her new four-day weekends — time to garden and have a less complicated life.

Finesse Your Finances

Financial advisers agree that automation and paperless billing save time when it comes to monthly payments such as rent, mortgage, car loans and utilities. Streamline all expenses so they’re charged on one credit card, collecting points in one place. Organize details about your accounts — from banks to retirement accounts and online-shopping sites you use regularly, documenting passwords and account numbers for each. To protect your personal identity, avoid storing this information online.

Talk to a financial adviser about your investments. If you invest in fewer funds, your financial life will be simpler, and as a bonus you could save extra fees. Plus, if you use a program such as Quicken during the year, you won’t have to pull all-nighters gathering tax data before every April 15.

Decluttering Your Home Clears Your Mind

“Just like our cabinets and cupboards, our minds, too, need tidying up,” advises Forbes writer Noma Nazish in “How to Declutter Your Mind: 10 Practical Tips You’ll Actually Want to Try.”   “Getting rid of all that nonessential mental baggage is crucial to stay focused, motivated and productive.”           

Start small and develop a decluttering habit — even tackling a corner of a room will make a difference. What can you control? Begin with your pantry, purging expired spices and molasses you haven’t used in five years. That closet I promised to clean out last year is my next goal.

Think of the time you’ll save when you won’t have to search for things! By the way, where did I leave my reading glasses …?

To-Do Lists Keep You Organized and Calmer           

How many times have you lost sleep, worrying at midnight about work deadlines and unfinished chores? “Create a to-do list of tomorrow’s tasks before you go to bed,” says Terri Barnett, a New York City–based mindful-meditation teacher. “This helps to organize future responsibilities and allows your mind to release anxiety. When you wake in the morning, you’ll have a fresh itinerary, ready to start the day.”

Dial Back the Noise, From Social Media to Unhealthy Friendships

Are you wasting valuable time scrolling on Twitter and through Facebook? Limiting screen time, particularly before bedtime, fosters sleep and relaxation.

“Turn off your phone when you’re with your family,” Turkle suggests. Even if you keep your phone facedown, she notes, you’ll still be “less attentive and empathetic to those around you.”

She recommends creating a sacred space at home where there are no screens. “Screens speed us up,” she adds. “Take more time and make conversations more complex, more interesting — on a more human scale.”

Zoom gatherings were a pandemic panacea, a cure for isolation and loneliness, but clarify which friendships enhance your life now. The ones to hold on to should involve joy, fun, laughter, support and belonging. If a friendship is negative, “it’s time to evaluate if this friendship is worth continuing and keeping,” Emanuele says.

Take Care of Yourself

Simple pleasures restore us — a lifelong lesson we rediscovered during the pandemic. Examples include hiking in nature, having deep conversations with one person rather than being part of boisterous big gatherings, riding a bike on a sunny day.

Identify the areas of your life that zap your time. Even small things matter. Prepare meals that can be served as leftovers, reducing meal prep, or freeze portions of homemade-soup portions. You’ll have more time for a leisurely post-dinner stroll.

Or imagine you’re in Italy when you don’t feel like cooking, enjoying a simple but elegant dinner of antipasti: cheese, sliced meats, olives, wine. Buon appetito!

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