THE BLOG
04/03/2011 11:44 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Secrets of a Simple Life

Do you find yourself rushing from one appointment to another? Do you grab a protein bar or fast food on the way to work without taking time to sit and enjoy a meal? Do you feel stressed or over-committed? If so, you're not alone. The American Institute of Stress estimates that 75 to 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related problems, and a 2004 survey by the American Psychological Society revealed that 54 percent of Americans are concerned about the level of stress in their everyday lives. The benefits of creating a simpler life can help reduce the stress you experience each day and support you in living a happier and healthier life.

The first step in creating a simpler life is asking yourself if you have enough time for the things that matter to you the most. If the answer is no, then it may be time to take some steps to prioritize, downsize and minimize.

Here are a few suggestions on how to begin experiencing greater ease and simplicity in your life, even when juggling multiple commitments and responsibilities:

Prioritize

One of the first ways to support yourself in creating more simplicity in your life is to prioritize. What's most important to you? I suggest creating a "Top Five" list (it can be more, but limit it to 10). This will give you a broader view of how you're spending your time and where in your life you can make changes to support an easier, simpler and more fulfilling life.

Write down the areas of your life that take up the majority of your time, such as family, self-care, work, home, creative projects, exercise, social time, volunteering, etc. Rate them in order of priority. Take a few minutes to review your list, then ask yourself these questions: "Does the amount of time I spend on each of these areas of my life match how important each one is to me?" and "Could I be spending more time doing what's most important to me and less time doing things in areas that are less important to me?" If you answered no to the first question or yes to the second, then it may be time to readjust how you're spending your time.

Re-Prioritize Every Week

Not only is it helpful to prioritize the big items (family, work, etc.), but it's also helpful to prioritize your life in smaller chunks. What you can accomplish each week varies, depending on what's going on in your life. One week you may have family in town and have very little spare time, and another week you may have a huge deadline at work, so it's key to adjust your priorities in relationship to the realities of your life. Try to keep your weekly "To-Do" list short and sweet. This allows you to focus your attention, simplify your activities and feel good about accomplishing what's most important to you.

Let Go

Okay, so you've got your priorities clear. Now it's time to look at what you can you let go of. Could you enroll your kids in only one sport instead of two? Could you say no to being on every committee? Maybe you can limit your social calendar to allow more time to relax during your weekend. Reevaluating your commitments and being willing to let go of 20 percent of your activities might be the slight adjustment that will make a big difference.

Another way to let go is to delegate. Are there tasks in your life that you don't have to do yourself? Asking for help from your spouse to run an errand, or delegating small chores to your children, are great ways to involve everyone in the responsibilities of daily life. This can sometimes feel like more work at first, but in the long run, getting others to pitch in can simplify your life while building strong and mutually supportive relationships.

Un-Schedule

Similar to letting go, un-scheduling is a way to cut back on how much you try to fit into your schedule. Numerous articles have been written on how our generation suffers from being over-scheduled. Parents and their children can benefit from having more time to relax, daydream and be spontaneous. David Elkin quotes Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., the leading expert on over-scheduled children in his article "The Overbooked Child": "Parents need to relax. Slow down. Activities are fine, but don't go over the top. Research says that what children need most are relationships, not activities."

How do you un-schedule your time? Make an effort to limit the amount of time you schedule for activities. You could even schedule your un-scheduled time! For example, every Monday and Friday you could leave 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. open, with nothing specific on the calendar. And leave plenty of space between appointments so that you don't feel rushed going from one event to the next.

Be Realistic

A big factor in simplifying your life is getting real. Many people put enormous pressure on themselves to accomplish so much on any given day. There are only approximately 16 waking hours in a day, with some of those hours used up for basic daily requirements, such as eating, bathing and commuting. Add on work, relationships and email (wait, whose idea was email?), and there's barely time to do much more. Setting your expectations based on what's realistic to accomplish each day can help remove some of the stress you put on yourself. Or, if you're feeling pressure from others, communicating what is realistic for you can help others understand what they can or cannot expect from you.

Enjoy The Moment

Are you busy thinking about what's next, what you're doing tomorrow, next week or next month? Focusing only on what's in front of you right now can assist you in feeling more relaxed and at peace. Although it's difficult to live in the moment all the time, it's something you can strive to do more and more.

Living in the present can be very simple. Take a moment now to breathe deeply. Ask yourself, "How am I feeling right now? Is there any tension in my body?" Whatever you're feeling, give yourself a minute to just focus on your breath. By doing this, you'll often quickly become aware of the present moment and your body and mind will begin to relax.

Initially, the road to creating a simpler life may appear to be anything but simple. You may wonder how you can begin to let go of anything or un-schedule your busy schedule. Like any other changes you apply in your life, start with small steps. Pick just one area of your life and evaluate how you can begin to simplify it. However you decide to make changes, keep it easy and doable. As you have some success in creating small changes, applying the secrets of a simple life will become easier and more natural.