Reader April asked the following question in the comments section of a recent post:
How do you have time for all of this – running a blog, writing a book, all of these musical activities & all the other stuff you seem to do?
At the time she posted the question, I responded that the answer can be found in my upcoming book — which, is true. However, I’ve felt like a punk ever since for essentially saying, “I have a secret and you can’t know it until November. Na na nee boo boo.”
Since my intention wasn’t to be annoying, April, here is the answer that I should have given to you the first time. The following is my system for living a remarkable life:
- Purge clutter, downsize, and minimize. The less stuff you own, the less you have to clean, store, maintain, manage, protect, worry about, stress about, waste money on, forget, and pick up. Have the minimum amount of stuff for you to be comfortable. (This level is different for everyone and you’ll have to figure it out for yourself.)
- Organize what you choose to own and use. Your home and office don’t need to be pristine museums, but you and the people who access the same space/items need to be able to easily find things when they’re needed. Order is better than chaos, and order saves you time and energy.
- Commit to a streamlined routine for the mundane tasks in your life and be disciplined enough to maintain that routine. If you do 30 minutes of housework a day, your home is never chaotic. But, you have to be committed to these daily activities (dishes, laundry as needed, things put back in place when finished, kitty litter scooped, etc.) and not put them off for another day. The same is true for work; you have to stay on top of the necessary tasks or they will haunt you. I also think of this item as taking responsibility for the things you choose to own.
- Determine what matters most to you. Make a list of the people, activities, and things in your life that mean the most to you and then spend the vast majority of your time focusing on these items. Be honest with yourself, though, and put on your list what really matters to you, not what you think should matter to you.
- Remind yourself that even if you live to be 100, life is short. There is no better time to live your life than right now. My life’s motto is carpe vitam, Latin for seize life. It’s morbid to think about, but someday might not ever come. Stop putting things off until tomorrow.
- Say “no” to what doesn’t matter. If an activity or responsibility isn’t on your list of what matters most to you, say “no” to it. Learn to say “no” in such a way as to not be a jerk, but say “no” when you need to. This is where I greatly differ from most people because I don’t feel guilty about protecting my time. And, as far as I know, most people don’t think I’m a jerk because I’m clear about why I’m declining offers and invitations. (“Taking a yoga class with you would be fun, but Wednesday nights are date night with my husband. Is there a similar class we can take together on another night?”)
- Enjoy being industrious. Working provides us with the resources to take care of the things that matter most. Whatever you do for a career, make sure it is something that you enjoy (even if just minimally).
- Get rid of everything that is toxic in your life because toxic things are clutter. Toxic people and habits suck up resources and energy. I was an avid smoker until I calculated how much of my money, time, and energy were going into my smoking addiction. No matter how gifted and talented, I avoid employing, working with, and spending time with people who are toxic. A toxic person can waste your time and mental energy faster than any other form of clutter.
- Live within your means and save money for retirement, rainy days, and adventures. Get rid of your credit cards and only use cash or your debit card. Live on a budget even if you don’t need to be mindful of your spending habits. Have a retirement account, and two savings accounts — one for emergencies (refrigerator died, fender bender) and one for splurging on what matters most to you (vacation, rock climbing lessons, a camera to capture your child’s first steps). Buy quality instead of quantity. Be a smart consumer.
- Take risks and be brazen. A second motto in my life is ad astra per aspera, which is loosely translated as to the stars through difficulty. (It’s also the Kansas state motto.) Great things might fall in your lap from time to time, but for the most part you have to get outside your comfort zone and initiate something new. Have you always wanted to learn to play the flute? Get your hands on a flute and start taking lessons. You’ll be really awful those first six months (or year or five), but you’ll never learn to play the flute if you don’t take the chance and try.
- Get adequate sleep. Keep a sleep journal and find out how much sleep you need to function at your best. Then, make sure you get that amount of sleep every night. When you’re well rested, it’s easier to stay calm, be productive, and focus on what you need and want to do.
Thank you, April, for asking your question, and my apologies for not giving you a decent answer the first time. Also, I want to say that I struggle with some of the things on this list like everyone will (especially the sleep item). But, when it happens, it is usually because some type of clutter has crept back into my life and I need to focus again on #1 to get the other items back on track.
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