- Michael Thompson
I just finished watching the show White Lotus for the second time. The creator, writer, and director Mike White knows how to craft a compelling narrative while building out interesting characters.
The person who stands out to me the most though is the teenage son. His transformation is impressive. By the time the show ends, he’s chasing life and he’s without a doubt the happiest person in the cast which I don’t think is a coincidence.
This is for the simple reason one night while sleeping on the beach, the waves washed his tablet and phone away. As a result, he was forced to spend his vacation following his nose instead of getting lost in the online world.
Maybe throwing your phone in the ocean isn’t an option.
If that’s the case, below are 22 ways to simplify your life to make this year, a good year.
1. Steal this format for saying no
Few things make our lives more complicated than saying yes to everything that comes across our plate. To ensure you aren’t wasting time thinking of polite ways to say no to people, create a standard response that is easy for you to adapt and also easy for the receiver to digest.
“I appreciate the offer and thank you for thinking of me. But I’m limiting the amount of things I commit to in order to save myself from eating myself. I’ll keep it in mind and let you know if anything changes as it sounds cool.”
The words above work well for me. They’re true. Most people I’ve sent it to reply with some variation of — “I totally get that!” And by letting them know I’ll reach out if anything changes, it limits the back and forth.
2. Ask yourself Anthony Bourdain’s question to gain clarity on who you should be working with
After being presented with a seriously lucrative opportunity from a TV producer who had a reputation for being damn good at his job, Anthony Bourdain turned to his team and asked them a very telling question — “If the phone rang at 11 o’clock at night, would you want it to be that guy on the other end of the line?”
Without hesitation, every person on his team replied — “No f-ing way!”
The world is full of opportunities. From my experience, the ones that turn out well are those where you’re surrounded with the right people as the best idea with the wrong people tends to end terribly.
Listen to your inner voice.
We aren’t built to work with everyone and if you experience even the slightest flinch, instead of ignoring it, dissect it as it should tell you everything you need to know.
3. Create a “Hate Day” or as the German’s say “Kleinscheiss tag” — aka “Little Shit Day”
If you’re anything like me, you get annoyed with daily annoyances. Between our own heads and the million and seven ways people can contact us today, it’s amazing we get anything done at all.
Take the power back when things come in that throw you off track by creating one day a week (or even month) to quickly filter these tasks into a single pile you can knock out in one extended punch.
Taxes or any form of paperwork is a good example of what to lump into your “Hate Day.” The same goes for sending out emails you haven’t replied to, making overdue phone calls to people you may not enjoy speaking to and planning out your social media posts.
4. Steal this recipe to stay calm when things go wrong
My first boss out of college flipped out over every small problem and mistake. Instead of helping people move forward, her actions amplified situations creating bigger problems than the initial one.
To keep things somewhat easy during hard times, first step back to get a hold of your emotions then make sure everyone is okay, ask what you got right to find something to build upon before going into what went wrong, and lastly, take positive action by identifying the next little right step to take.
People do things that piss us off.
It’s a choice as to whether or not we make these things worse.
5. Aim for one step forward each and every day
Speaking of taking the next right little step, ask yourself each and every day which one small thing will make your life easier tomorrow and do it.
6. Stop doing your to-do list at night or in the morning
I’ve never understood the advice of doing your to-do list at night as you’ll never truly disconnect if you’ve got tasks running around your head.
The same goes for doing it first thing in the morning as it’s hard to attack the day if you don’t know what you should attack.
Suck it up and take five minutes before closing up shop to get your three most important tasks down on paper. It will help you focus faster at work while helping you to be more present outside of work.
7. Insert pockets of quiet into your day
I used to wear my “busyness badge” with honor. But then one day I woke up and realized I’d moved so fast I didn’t know where I was. Being busy isn’t a sign of importance, it’s a clear sign of lack of focus. When you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, suddenly, you have all the time in the world.
Start by inserting pockets of quiet into your day. My calendar has very few work-related things on it. I know what I need to do. But it does have scheduled times to not work which seriously improves my ability to focus when I do work.
Sit on a park bench. Close your eyes. Feed ducks.
Five minutes of nothing has a funny way of giving clarity to everything.
8. Keep a board of advisors
When faced with a problem, organizations have a board of advisors to turn to in order to help them navigate the world and the complications in it. As individuals, this can come in super handy as well.
Get a group of friends together and once a month or quarter, talk about the challenges you’re facing.
Much like having a “Little Shit Day,” knowing you’ll get solid suggestions from trusted people on the decisions that matter will help you to stay focused what’s in front of you instead of getting caught up in everything around you.
9. Batch your phone calls together and get some sun
I used to batch together errands to have more time for work. I don’t do that any more and since working from home, I actually prefer to spread them out as my addictive personality needs things to get me out of the house.
One thing I still do batch, however, is phone calls. For at least two hours, twice a week, I put on my sneakers, grab my notebook, and I hit the pavement while catching up with friends or talking to clients when I don’t need to be in front of my computer.
Sun is your friend.
So is green grass.
So is seeing other human beings conversing out in the wild.
10. Go tech-free for one weekend a month
Imagine how good you’d feel if for just 48 hours of out the 729.6 hours in each month you played board games, cooked your own food, went for long walks, read good books, and took naps.
Pick one weekend a month and block the noise.
If you do this consistently, you may find you have so much fun and feel so much more grounded in the world you decide to do it more often.
Smartphones are a choice.
Smart people use them as a tool and not as their lifeline.
11. Leave your credit cards at home
One thing I like about Spain is I’ve never once gotten an unsolicited credit card in the mail and 18-year-olds aren’t walking around with debt. I’ve taken things a bit extreme and a friend laughed last week when I had to have him help me order food for delivery because I’ve never used a food app.
Since COVID, unfortunately, I’m using my debit card more. But most times I leave the house, it’s without my wallet and it’s amazing how I never come home and kick myself for buying something stupid.
My kids laughing. Sunshine. Kicking a soccer ball in a park. Having a drink with a friend. Watching how fast my wife walks. If you want a simple life, make a list of all the things you enjoy that are either free or extremely cheap and weave a few of them into your day.
Knowing you don’t need money to have fun is one of the best life hacks you can create.
12. Do all your written tasks on a word document with the internet off
If you have your phone on and a bunch of open tabs when trying to focus, you will lose.
Save yourself from distractions by working the old-fashioned way. Cut your internet. Do your work on a word document and then simply cut and paste your words in when you go back online.
Sure, it may take a minute to do this.
But I’d be willing to bet my house that hasn’t been stolen from me that it ultimately creates you a ton of previously lost time.
13. Get your work out of sight at the end of the day
Everyone wants to focus more at work and be more present with friends and family. Steal the idea above for your work and then either lock your PC in the trunk of your car or put it in a place that’s hard to reach completely out of sight when you’re done working.
The last thing you want to do is cheat on your partner or kids by giving in to the urge to reply to an email from Carl in Accounts Payable.
All good things are created in the present.
14. Walk ten minutes in one direction and then turn around
It’s a bulletproof way to walk 20 minutes a day.
This wasn’t the only thing that helped me lose 60 pounds in a few months when I moved to Spain a decade ago. But along with eating healthier, it played a big role as the more I walked the more I began to run.
15. Choose one person a week who fascinates you to study
This one may be my favorite. Each week, I grab an interesting person and dive into them instead of defaulting to Instagram.
Make a list of people you want to learn more about and dig in each week. Read their biographies. Watch their videos. Listen to their interviews.
Not only will this also help cut the amount of time you spend on social media, it will also make your conversations much more engaging.
And maybe even your writing if you like to do that.
16. Keep a gratitude list, but prioritize this list more
Practicing gratitude is good. Keep doing it. But don’t stop there, and in addition to thinking about who you’re grateful for, ask yourself who you want to say your name when they’re asked who they’re grateful for.
This simple flip will give you instant clarity on who to prioritize your time with while opening the door to thinking about things you can do to support the people who matter most.
Close your eyes until you see the lines on the handful of people’s faces and then get to work.
17. Get reminders of who matters most front and center
Every day for at least ten minutes, I watch our favorite photos that my wife magically put on our TV screen. Seeing my kids at different ages doing different kid things puts life into perspective. The same goes for watching my wife and I’s relationship progress and all the places we’ve made memories and visited.
Our lives aren’t defined by our work titles or the size of our audiences. They are defined by how well we give our attention to the things that matter most.
Get reminders front and center.
You’ll smile more. You’ll breathe easier. Your shoulders will drop.
18. Put “value” reminders in front of your face
When it comes to making decisions and navigating opportunities, these reminders make me pause which ensures helps to ensure I’m saying yes to the right things while saying no to everything else.
Surround yourself with reminders of what matters.
19. Make healthy choices the only choice
Environment affects behavior. This I know for sure. If you want to eat more fruit, surround yourself with peaches and mangos and leave them in your line of sight instead of your cookie jar.
The same goes for exercise. Set up the conditions to actually do it. Putting your running shoes by the front door and having your gym clothes ready to go first thing in the morning makes this decision easier.
You can either beat yourself up for ignoring the call, or get outside.
In fact, when it comes to morning routines, simply stepping outside has a funny way of helping us greet the day with a smile on our faces.
20. Embrace Maria Kondo’s folding clothes trick
In my last article on simplicity, I shared my mom’s closet trick. To continue this thread, instead of folding your shirts flat and piling them high, fold them so they’re standing up.
This may sound odd but this way, you’ll never have to worry about making a massive mess when you try to pull something from the bottom.
Plus, you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for faster.
21. Keep a vampire list
When it comes to living with purpose, conviction, and a clear head, pattern recognition is everything.
Take five minutes at the end of each day and write down the things that lit you up while paying close attention to the things that stole your energy and work to remove them from your system.
It’s not a coincidence hot air balloons rise faster by dropping dead weight over adding more fire.
22. Always fill up other people’s glass of water first
Shortly after going into quarantine, my wife received horrible news. Five family friends had passed away in as many days, and when she heard her dad’s best friend in his hiking group passed away, she hit bottom.
Despite this, and dealing with two kids, and me, and the world coming to an end, before going to bed she thought to herself — “Michael’s going to be thirsty later!”
Later that night, when I went to reach for my cup thinking I’d need to make the long walk in the chilly Mediterranean air to our bathroom to fill it up and saw it was full, I knew my story would without a doubt end with her.
Find good people.
A simple life is focusing on what truly matters while being the type of person who does the work to let people know they matter.