We’re nearly halfway through the final month of 2015 and, despite how calm I might seem on the surface, I’ve definitely been experiencing some end-of-the-year stress. I keep thinking about the fact that I haven’t accomplished some of the goals I’d set for myself; the invitations to coffees, dinners and holiday parties seem to be coming in almost daily; and I’m trying to figure out how to squeeze it all in, on top of my freelance work (which seems to be ramping up, not down like everyone said it would this month).
As the hours seem to fly by faster and faster, I’ve realized there is truly only so much we can do in a day, week or month – and sometimes, you need to let things go; that’s just one of the ways you can simplify your life, before the end of the year. Here’s a list of my other go-tos.
1. Wake up slowly.
It took a couple years of working from home to develop a slow morning routine, but now I can’t imagine my days starting any other way. Whether I have an alarm set or I wake up naturally on my own, I stay in bed until I feel fully awake; this typically only takes 5-10 minutes. In those few quiet moments, I don’t look at my phone and try not to think about work – I just move around and stretch in bed, until I’m ready to get up. If you wake up stressed, jump out of bed and start working right away, you’ll feel rushed and anxious all day. Move a little slower and you’ll set a better pace.
2. Before anything else, do something you love.
Once I get up, I make coffee and spend the first 15-30 minutes of my day reading. Sometimes I read a book, sometimes I read my favourite blogs… the only rule is I can’t read email or whatever’s new on social media – there’s a whole day of that ahead of me! Reading might not be something you love to do. Maybe you’d rather workout, stretch, meditate or listen to a podcast. Whatever it is, make sure you do it first thing in the morning. If you don’t, you might finish every busy day saying, “I wish I had time to do this…” Be selfish and make the time, before you give the rest of your day to other people/tasks.
I didn’t always single-task – that is, to only do one thing at a time, rather than have multiple things on the go at once. I first started practicing single-tasking in the spring, when I realized I’d go for entire walks and barely remember any of the scenery, because I was too busy listening to podcasts; or not actually relaxing while in the bath, because I was replying to text messages; or not being able to get anything done, because I had tabs open that were related to 10 separate projects. Over time, I’ve learned that you can get more done – and truly enjoy doing “nothing” – when you only do one thing at a time.
4. Get to inbox zero.
Earlier in the fall, David challenged me to get down to inbox zero. After months of having 50-60 emails sitting there at all times, I accepted his challenge and now reach zero a few times each week. While you might think that’s an impossible goal, I look at it this way: my inbox is a constant to-do list… and I want to cross every task off! To make it easier, I constantly unsubscribe from random newsletters, typically keep my responses brief and have a great archive/folder system. I believe inbox zero is step 1 in clearing out digital clutter. Your inbox will never feel the same again!
5. Put your phone down.
In the past, I foolishly prided myself as being someone who didn’t look at their phone a lot – at least, not when I was with friends. A few weeks ago, however, I got a harsh reality check when I downloaded the Moment app and found I was spending 3-4 hours/day on my phone – often when I was alone, either texting with friends or distracting myself from work – and it’s so unnecessary. With so many people to see and tasks to complete before the year is up, our phones only distract us from living in the moment. Let’s all promise to put them down more, this season, and pay attention to what’s in front of us.
6. Stay offline at night.
The first challenge I set for myself in 2015 was to go 31 days without watching TV. While I didn’t exactly stick to the rules, and have since gone back to watching some shows and movies, it was an incredibly eye-opening experiment – one that changed the way I’ve consumed media ever since. The greatest takeaway (other than realizing how much more productive I could be) was a secondary rule I set for myself during those 31 days: to not check email or social media after 6pm. Staying offline at night gives you a forced break (and honestly, nothing happens that can’t wait until the morning).
7. Only declutter the space you use most often.
If you’ve been feeling the itch to declutter and purge some of your belongings, but don’t know where to begin, commit to tackling just one area of your home in December: the space you use most often. For me, that’s my desk. I could probably go through all the rooms of my home again, but my desk is where I spend the most time, so that’s the only space I’ll focus on cleaning up this month. No matter what space you choose, take stock of what’s there, put away/get rid of anything you don’t need (or won’t need in the next few weeks) and enjoy the extra “room” it clears up.
8. Fix a daily/weekly annoyance.
One of the benefits of getting rid of 75% of my belongings, and figuring out what I use most often, has been my new ability to identify all the true annoyances in my life and finding ways to fix them – ASAP. Right now, I keep noticing that I’m running out of tank tops before I’m ready to do laundry. The solution: I asked Santa for one new one. Your “annoyance” could be the expired parking pass you keep pushing off renewing, the emails that keep piling up, the appliance that breaks down every third time you use it, and so on. Take a few minutes and just take care of it – your brain will thank you!
9. Gather all your papers and receipts.
I know there’s nothing fun about this task, but I promise you’ll be glad you did it at tax time. One of the things I used to do at the end of every year was gather all my paperwork and receipts and put it in an envelope for the next tax season. Since I started freelancing (and especially now that I work for myself), I’ve been doing this all throughout the year – but I still open the envelope in December and organize everything, so I can quickly enter it into UFile in the spring and be done with it. Save yourself the added stress in a few months and get yourself organized now. You don’t have to do any calculations or start worrying about it – just gather everything you need and put it in a safe place.
10. Set a financial goal you can accomplish in the next 18 days.
When it comes to our financial goals, we tend to be extremely hard on ourselves when we can’t quite hit them within the timeframe we’d set. For example, I haven’t saved anywhere close to the amount of money I wanted to, in my first six months of full-time freelance… and it would be really easy to just say “I failed” to meet my goals for this year. Instead, I’m going to set a SMART goal I know I can accomplish in the next 18 days, and will feel proud of myself when I achieve it. Didn’t quite save the $5,000 you wanted to? That’s too bad. But can you save $250 more before the year is up? Do it!
11. Empty your pantry/freezer.
During the past couple weeks, I’ve been basing most of my meals around food that’s already in the cupboards. I’ve baked banana bread, made crockpot chilli and eaten a few too many grilled cheese sandwiches (oops). I’ve also snacked on roasted almonds, had lots of soup… and I’ve really only gone to the grocery store for produce and a little bit of meat. I started the challenge to save money this month, but then saw that Gretchen was doing the same and it’s inspired me to keep going until I clear out as much as possible. (Just be mindful of what you eat and get simple recipes on Jules’ blog!)
12. Don’t be scared to say “no”.
I could joke and say that we should start by saying “no” to all the extra treats put in front of us this month… and that’s true! But what I really mean is that if you’re feeling stressed for time, don’t be scared to say “no” to people who present new plans or ask you to do something for them this month. Like I said at the beginning of this post, there is truly only so much we can do. You can try to “do it all”, but you’re still limited to 24 hours of time each day. For as much as you might want to give to others – especially during the holidays – you need to take care of yourself too. Say “no” when you need to. It’ll be ok.
13. Let go of a goal (or many).
Since January 2012, I’ve written a list of at least 10 goals I wanted to accomplish each year – and dozens more pop-up, as the weeks pass. I’m guilty of looking at the list, or at other projects I’ve wanted to tackle, and feeling bad about not achieving them all… but what I should really be doing is looking back and being proud of everything I’ve done in the past 347 days! At this point, how important is it to tackle the rest of your goals? Will a few weeks make a difference? Figure out what needs to get done now (and is actually achievable) and what can wait until next year… then let the rest go.
14. Relax, meditate… and get some sleep.
For as “busy” as I’ve been these past two weeks, I’ve still managed to clock at least 20 minutes of meditation every day, taken a handful of bubble baths and gotten at least 6-8 hours of sleep every night. The final 18 days of this year are sure to be the busiest, for most of us, which is why it’s extra important to take a few timeouts for ourselves and stay well-rested. The guided meditations on the Calm app have helped me wake up, re-focus and go to sleep. You could also pencil in time for yourself, quiet nights in with family/friends or even a mini getaway where your main goal is to relax. You deserve it.
15. Get outside!
Finally, my favourite way to slow down and find my focus again is to get outside. It doesn’t matter if you go for a long hike, hangout at the beach or just take 15 minutes to walk around the neighbourhood, spending time outside seems to be the cure for all day-to-day problems. This week, I’m heading to Vancouver for a quick 36 hours, and I plan to sneak in my favourite walk in Port Moody because it’s always so peaceful. I’d love to do one more hike (if the weather will hold out) and am planning a snowshoeing day-trip with girlfriends in early January. It doesn’t really matter what you do, so long as you get outside… I promise the fresh air will help. :)
What are some of your favourite ways to simplify and slow down?