Five Ways to Reduce the Number of Decisions You Have to Make Everyday

paper cut outs of question marks
Having to make too many decisions every day?

Do you feel overwhelmed with the number of decisions that you have to make every day? What to wear, what to eat, the best way to work out. We are constantly faced with making choices. Making some small adjustments to reduce the number of decisions you have to make can free up time. Then you can concentrate on things that are really important and make life run more smoothly. In this post I’m going to give you some ideas how to do just that.

garlic, potato, star anise and coriander
Meal preparation is a must if you want to save time every day in deciding what to eat
plan your meals

A good place to start is with decisions about what you eat, something which all of us do several times a day. In the world of frugal living this is a popular tactic used to save money. Not only will you reduce your food spending by meal planning, but it has an added benefit. You don’t have to make a decision at the end of the working day, when you’re tired, about what to have for dinner. Ahead of time you’ll make a healthier decision than one made in the moment. Choosing what to cook can be the hardest part about being responsible for meal preparation in your home. On the few occasions when I ask Mr Simple to cook dinner he always says that as long as he knows what he has to prepare that’s half the battle and he can just get on with it.

I picked up a really useful tip recently from Dawn on ‘The Minimal Mom’ which I know you will also love. When thinking about meal planning I expect that you’re imagining yourself poring over cookery books for hours on end trying to decide on the recipes you’re going to cook over the coming week. What you need to do is to create a master list of meals and use this to choose what you are going to eat. My list has about 60 meal ideas. This has made meal planning a much less onerous task and it only takes me about 15-20 minutes every couple of weeks to decide on our meals for the coming fortnight.

a plate with curry and naan bread on it
We eat curry in our house ever Friday, Saturday and Sunday night
create a meal pattern

The next way to refine this process even further is to have a routine for what you eat when. My list of main meals list has two columns, one for regular meals and one for curry recipes. My mother used to tell me that when she was younger she only had to look at her plate of food every evening to know what day of the week it was. Whilst I wouldn’t want to have the same meal every Monday or every Friday, we have got into the habit of eating curry on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Mr Simple would eat curry every day, but I like to vary things a little bit. Over the past few months I have planned a vegetarian curry for Friday evenings, fish curry for Saturdays and on a Sunday we have the left overs with flat breads and maybe an extra vegetable side dish. This is another way that I reduce the decisions that I need to make about our meals. Whilst ‘curry’ covers a multitude of things, it still limits the choice and makes it easier to decide what we are going to have.

You may be thinking that this all sounds extremely boring, but you will find that 60 different meals is quite a lot. Also, as the months go on and different vegetables come into season you can expand the list of meals, maybe having a different list for each season of the year.

hanging rail of clothes
Having a small wardrobe makes deciding what to wear much easier
Create a Capsule wardrobe

An area in which you may be more familiar with the concept of limits is when it comes to clothes. The idea of the capsule or limited wardrobe has been popularised by people such as Courtney Carver. If you don’t fancy the idea of restricting the number of items in your wardrobe, perhaps you could choose only to wear certain colours. My life coach, Natalie Bacon, only wears neutrals.

I haven’t yet worked on this area in my life, but I have fallen into having a sort of uniform for work. Some days I have to dress smartly, whereas other times I just wear jeans. On the ‘smart’ days I have taken to wearing trousers in navy or blue, with a white t-shirt, navy or blue cardigan and then to liven things up I add a scarf. I have a choice of four scarves. For me that has become a sort of uniform and I don’t really have to think about much except the choice of scarf.

woman on exercise mat doing sit ups
Following an on line exercise programme can mean someone else making the decision for you
subscribe to an online exercise programme

Do you struggle with being motivated to do exercise as you can’t go out to classes anymore and can’t decide what to do? Perhaps before Covid you just got in the car, drove to the leisure centre, swam 30 lengths and came home. When lock down started last year I was doing a local Pilates class, but that closed. Although my teacher was doing Zoom classes I found them difficult to follow. For some inspiration I initially turned to YouTube. Perhaps you’ve tried this too and like me have been overwhelmed by the choice or wasted time each morning searching for a routine to do instead of getting on with exercising .

To reduce the choices that I have to make about what exercises to do I joined a Pilates programme. Jessica Valant’s site offers monthly plans where Monday to Friday she suggests routines to follow from her video library. Not only does this save me time deciding what to do, it also ensures that by the end of the week I have exercised all of my body, as she has a different focus each day e.g. Friday is leg day. The cost of this programme is about £110 per year and there are many other similar ones available e.g. the well-known Joe Wicks offers his programme at £90 per year. If you want some structure for your exercise routine and are prepared to pay someone else to make the decisions for you, have a search for some online programmes.

lemons and a spray bottle of yellow liquid
Creating a cleaning rota is making decisions ahead of time and they just repeat every week or month
Create a cleaning rota

I used to be rather haphazard in my choice of what to clean, just focusing on what I thought needed attention in the moment. Now there’s no decision to make, I just follow my rota. For week day evenings I don’t even have to look at my rota any more as those tasks have become habits. Mondays I empty the kitchen bin and sweep and mop the kitchen floor, Tuesday is dusting day, Wednesday is when the vacuuming gets done, Thursdays I clean the bathroom vanity unit and the mirrors in the house and on Friday I clean the kitchen sink and the hob.

Obviously there are a lot more cleaning jobs than these, but they go on my rota for the weekend. As I know what I am doing when, at least for Mondays to Fridays, there’s no time wasted deciding what needs cleaning. If I have a spare twenty minutes during my lunch break on a Tuesday I often grab a duster and polish and dash round the house, which frees up some of my evening for other tasks. Having a set routine means that you can almost be on autopilot and I don’t even think about it. Just follow your rota and almost magically the house stays clean, with not too much effort.

You may be thinking that all this is too restrictive, but remember you can always choose to go back to how things were before if you don’t find them useful. You can also make changes as the seasons change – you’ll probably want to for clothes and for food. If life is busy why not consider implementing some of these ideas. I promise you life will run more smoothly when you reduce the amount of decisions that you have to make every day.

Want to learn more about life coaching and how to design your life? Why not check out ‘Grow You’, Natalie Bacon’s life coaching programme (affiliate link).

A Real Pleasure or Just an Escape?

Crisps in a white square bowl
I love a few of these on a Friday evening
Pleasure or escapism?

Even before anyone had ever heard of Covid 19 I must admit that my way to relax at the end of a long week and escape the stresses of work was to indulge myself with a lager and a few salty snacks. Before I start preparing dinner, I fill a small bowl with a few crisps or nuts and sit down and relax for half an hour or so.

The trouble is that I begin putting the crisps or nuts in my mouth and before you know it, I turn to get another one and the bowl is empty. How did that happen? Most of the time I hardly remember eating them, let alone what they actually tasted like.  I just shoved them into the hole in the middle of my face as quickly as humanly possible until they were all gone.

Recently I have been asking myself ‘Did I actually enjoy them?’. I know I enjoyed the thought of them before I started eating them, but did I actually get pleasure from eating them? The truth is, the moment passed so quickly that I don’t know. This behaviour has become a habit. A reward at the end of the week for all my hard work Monday to Friday.

I think that many of us engage in what are seen as pleasurable behaviours, but we aren’t always doing it because we actually enjoy the experience. Instead it’s a reward because we think that we deserve it or an escape, usually from our day to day lives.

Hand holding a mobile phone showing Whatsapp
Fed up of all those jokes about over eating and over drinking during lock down?
Examine your motivation

This behaviour has come to the fore recently during the pandemic. If you belong to the same types of Whatsapp groups as I do, you’ll have read all those messages and seen those endless jokes about eating and drinking to excess in order to survive lockdown. This appears to be the emotional coping mechanism employed by the majority of the population. Another escape from the reality of the current restrictions on our lives. We don’t necessarily do something because we enjoy it for itself, but in order to help us forget our everyday lives.

I think that this can also be true when it comes to holidays. During a Skype call recently a friend talked about wanting to go away for a weekend in her caravan. She said that it didn’t matter where she went, she just wanted to ‘get away’. I wanted to ask, but obviously didn’t, ‘get away from what?’

Should the purpose of a holiday be to ‘get away’ or to ‘escape’ from real life? What about the opportunity to explore another country or area of your country? How about the chance to try new foods and to discover wildlife or architecture that is different to where you live? It’s not to say that you shouldn’t take the opportunity to forget about work and home life whilst you are away. It’s always good to have some down time and switch off for a while. But consider going on holiday as running ‘toward’ something rather than escaping ‘from’ your life.

Man and woman walking in a street holding hands
Getting outside can really help you appreciate nature, even if you live in a city
choose simple pleasures

If this is all sounding pretty familiar to you may be it’s time to work out what you are trying to escape from and change your thinking about your everyday life so you feel more positive about it. Want to live a more fulfilling and intentional life so that you don’t feel the need to escape from it? Check out Natalie Bacon’s free training course How to Live an Intentional Life.

Another way to learn to appreciate and enjoy your life is to practise gratitude. If you have to stay at home due to Covid19, be be grateful for Zoom and the internet that enables many of us to do our jobs and keep in touch with our families without stepping outside our front doors. Need some ideas for making the most of being at home, read my recent post on this topic. If you want to ‘escape’ try enjoying some simple pleasures. A walk whilst listening to an uplifting or amusing podcast, reading a book, having a bubble bath or asking your partner to give you a massage.

Want to learn more about this topic then listen to Natalie Bacon’s podcast on Finding Pleasure.

Want to learn more about life coaching and how to design your life? Why not check out ‘Grow You’, Natalie Bacon’s life coaching programme (affiliate link).

The Only Time Management Tool You’ll Ever Need

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Throw away your paper planner!
Introduction

Here because you need some help with time management? Fed up of constantly feeling behind? Do you have an endless to do list that gets longer every day no matter how many tasks you cross off? Are you always playing catch up, rushing reports and never feeling that you are able to produce quality work?

If so, this is the post for you. I am going to go through in detail how you can plan and organise your working day so that you never feel rushed again and at the end of every day you have that sense of achievement that you have completed everything you wanted to get done.

So, what’s this magic time management tool I hear you ask? It’s what Natalie Bacon calls ‘calendaring’. I have previously mentioned this on a couple of occasions, but in this post I am going to give you a comprehensive description of how you can implement this in your working day. I will also let you know what in my experience are the benefits and challenges in using this method of organising your time.  

silver laptop and white cup on table
This is the only tool you need – and your electronic calendar
How

In a nutshell, calendaring is allocating every single item on your to do list a slot on your calendar. The starting point is therefore to make a list, probably a very long list, of every single task that you have to do over the coming months. Some of these will be repeated on a weekly, daily or monthly basis. For example, all of us read and respond to emails. Most people though just do this throughout the day, as and when the notifications pop up on their screens. With calendaring you are going to have one or two slots a day where you do this. Other repeat tasks that you might have are making phone calls, preparing for interviews or attending regular meetings.

Once you’ve got all of the regular tasks set out on repeat on your calendar, now go through the others on your list and again give them a slot on your calendar. If you’ve got some very short tasks try to group those with other similar tasks in one block, like you will be doing with emails and phone calls. Deciding when to schedule them will obviously depend on how urgent they are and it may take a bit of juggling, but that’s the beauty of an electronic calendar as opposed to a paper diary, there’s no crossings out.

Obviously, this is an ongoing process. Every time you get a new task to do, instead of putting it on your to do list give it a time slot on your calendar.

And that’s it, simple right?

pen calendar to do checklist
Rip this up
the Benefits

This way of working makes you feel as though you have done everything you need to do. When you have a to do list it’s never finished. At the end of the day you’ve still got a list. Alright, you’ve crossed some items off, but you’ve also probably added a load of others. With calendaring your to do list is shorter. Basically, you do the tasks on your calendar for the day and when they’re complete then you’re finished for the day. You don’t have to worry about all those other tasks that are on your list because they’ve all got a time slot and you’ll get around to them when your calendar tells you it’s time to do them.

By planning everything out there’s no last minute rush. Nothing will sit on your to do list for weeks on end and never get done until it’s urgent. If it’s a task that you’re not fond of doing you can break it down into small pieces and just do a bit at a time. It won’t seem so daunting as trying to get it all done in one go.

When everything has a slot you have a sense of calmness as you know you can get everything done. There’s no surprises. You won’t forget to do something because you didn’t notice it on that scrappy to do list that you’ve had for weeks.

Calendaring enables you to set clear boundaries for your day. How often do you sit there past five o’clock thinking, I’ll just tick one more thing off of my to do list. With this method, once all of the tasks on your calendar are completed then you’re done for the day. Anything else can wait, as it already has its assigned slot and it’s not today.

Putting all of your tasks on your calendar gives both you, your manager and your team an idea of the amount of work you have on. There should be no arguing with managers about whether you have capacity to take on more work. If there are vacant slots in your calendar you do, if there aren’t, you don’t. If they want you to take on something urgent then they can see what other tasks you’re responsible for that would need to be delayed for this to happen.

Now whilst the idea is that your agenda for the day is to complete the tasks on your calendar we all know that things can and do change at the last moment. To me, using your calendar in this way is like creating tiles of time. When circumstances change you can move those tiles around very easily. Now this doesn’t mean you should keep moving the writing of that report that you don’t really want to do to the following week, but in a situation where change is really unavoidable there is the ability to be flexible.

On the other hand, when meetings get cancelled and time opens up you just bring some of the following day’s tasks forward. No wasting time deciding what your going to do with that extra couple of hours or wasting time browsing emails or your company chat room.

For me, this method increases the quality of my work. Instead of doing a report all in one go, but instead in several parts, you will have the opportunity to review it at least once if not more. Often you will see mistakes, poor sentence construction, wording you could improve/make clearer when you return to a document refreshed.

It also gives other people time if you need to have your work reviewed by someone. You may get better/more considered feedback as they aren’t rushing.

It serves as a reminder of due dates e.g. if you read others’ work, by calendaring in a block of time to do so, it acts as a reminder that it is due and if you haven’t received it you will remember to chase it.

gray double bell clock
Just give your times slots your best guess
the challenges

So, what are the challenges of this way of managing your time?

Firstly, it’s a lot of work up front.  As you know, I am a social worker. When I get a new case I make a list of all of the tasks that I need to do on that case. Most of the time this is actually fairly easy as I use a checklist and just adapt it to that particular case. Then I give every task a slot on my calendar.

There are going to be days when you don’t want to do what it says on your calendar and the challenge is to do it anyway. Basically, you have made an appointment with yourself and you need to turn up for it. I can assure you that over time this will get easier as you reap the rewards of this way of working.

One question often raised is how long to give a certain task. You just have to give it your best guess. You don’t always know how long something will take. It’s a matter of trial and error. If you find you haven’t given it enough time, when you do a similar task in the future, give it more time. Other days, you’ll get things done more quickly than you planned, particularly if you’re not constantly answering emails whilst you’re doing it.

It may all seem like too much work or maybe you think it’s not for you. The question is, what have you got to lose? Why not give it a try and if you don’t find it helpful then you can always return to how you do things now. My guess is, once you’ve tried it, you’ll never go back.

If you’ve got any questions please let me know, either in the comments below or by sending a message via the contact page. I would love to help you try this out and am happy to help with any difficulties you encounter.

Want to know more about time management? Have a listen to Natalie Bacon’s podcast on calendaring.

Want to learn more about changing your mindset, why not check out ‘Grow You’, Natalie Bacon’s life coaching programme (affiliate link) or one of her free trainings:

How to Live an Intentional Life

Overcoming Self Doubt

Time Management Tools

How to Fix Your Relationship

Online Business

Conquering Anxiety

Scarcity v Abundance Mindset

Money Mindset Exercises

Making the Most of Your Home During Lock Down

Feeling like a prisoner in your own home?
introduction

Fed up with lock down and having to spend a lot more time at home?Is this stopping you from enjoying your life? In this post I want to help you realise that we are all being offered an opportunity to create an environment we love living in. I believe that now it’s probably more important than ever to take the time and make the effort to turn your home into a place where you enjoy spending time and that meets the needs of you and your family.

In life we often use the excuse that we don’t have time. Now that excuse is removed and you may realise that it’s not the time that you lack, but the motivation. Here are some ideas on how to change that.

Could you spend time at home refreshing the paintwork?
need to do some decorating?

Mr Simple and I are in the process of renovating our home and have been for the past few years. Since we moved here five years ago we have spent many weekends just doing chores in the house. Mr Simple is usually doing DIY and I am cleaning or cooking. Over the summer we will both do work in the garden. Pre-coronavirus we did take time away to have a few holidays, as well as having days out, enjoying the countryside. During the lock down periods we have taken the opportunity to make even greater progress with the renovations than we would otherwise have done.  

Now whilst I can understand that you don’t want to spend all of your life within your four walls – there’s a big and interesting world out there to discover (once we’ve all been vaccinated of course) – why wouldn’t you want to make your home somewhere nice to live? I’m sure if you took a notepad and had a walk around your home you could make a list of lots of jobs that you’ve been meaning to do, but just never go around to. Now you have the time to finally get them done.

Even if you live in a house that doesn’t require any decorating or renovation are you completely happy with how it is? Try looking at your home through the eyes of a guest in a luxury holiday home. What would you love and what would you be complaining about? Then think about how you could change it into somewhere you’d pay to stay.

How about creating a less-cluttered environment?
decluttering

It’s not always about making major changes. One of the topics that I’ve taken an interest in recently is decluttering. I’m sure that’s something all our homes could benefit from.

If decluttering is something that you need to work on then I would suggest checking out The Minimal Mom’ on YouTube. I have recently discovered her and she has some great ideas. She really challenges my thinking about how much stuff I need.

She’s also taught me that little and often is best. Just select a few items each day or each week, that you no longer use and get rid of them. Decluttering is a process that can take months and years, rather than something to be done just one time.

You don’t need to take out all your clothes, Marie Kondo-style and ask if each one brings you joy. Instead, she created a capsule wardrobe by selecting the items that she wears on a regular basis. Then she put the rest in a bag for the charity shop or into ‘quarantine’ i.e. a box in the loft which you can review in a few months to see if you have missed them.

Since discovering ‘The Minimal Mom’ I have cleaned out some of the kitchen cupboards. This is one room in our home which is yet to be renovated, but as I said to Mr Simple, there’s no point paying for extra cupboard space when we do have it renovated just to house items that we never use. All this decluttering has certainly made cleaning a lot easier as many of my surfaces are clear of clutter.

My favourite life coach, Natalie Bacon, tells you the benefits of decluttering your life and home in this blog post.

So, what are you doing this weekend? Stuck at home on a wet Sunday with nowhere to go? Why not use that time well, so that once you can invite your friends round, it will be to a well-maintained and decluttered home that you’ll be proud to show off to them?

Personal development and life coaching can help you create a life you love
more ideas on personal development

Want to learn more about life coaching and how to design your life? Why not check out ‘Grow You’, Natalie Bacon’s life coaching programme (affiliate link).

How to Live an Intentional Life

Overcoming Self Doubt

Time Management Tools

How to Fix Your Relationship

Online Business

Conquering Anxiety

Scarcity v Abundance Mindset

Money Mindset Exercises

The Benefits of Working from Home

This has been life over the past ten months
recent changes

Over the past ten months many of us have been working from home full time. Therefore we are spending more time in our own homes. Whilst I am looking forward to seeing people in person again and catching up over coffee or lunch, I think that there is so much to enjoy about spending more of our days at home.

Several years ago I submitted an application to make working from home my norm, but this was turned down by my organisation. Now all of a sudden we have all become home workers. My positive views are probably also reflective of the fact that I don’t have children. This is particularly difficult now when parents are having to home school, often alongside working full-time from home.

If though you don’t have kids or they’re old enough to get on with their school work without too much input from you, then I would really encourage you to consider how you can make the most of this period. How many times in the past have you used the excuse of not having enough time as a reason not to exercise or to justify all those takeaways? Now there are no excuses! Imagine you had a time machine and could jump forward six months or a year. What would that you want you to have done during this time? I’m sure it’s not sit on the couch more and eat lots of cake!

Do you know where your time goes?
how do you spend your time?

I would suggest sitting down and thinking about your average day. What time do you get up? When do you start work? How long do you take for a lunch break? How many hours are there between when you usually finish work and when you go to bed? If you aren’t really sure where all of that time goes, and remember there are 168 hours in a week, try tracking your time for a week. Break the day up into 15 or 30 minute slots and note what you spent most of your time doing in each slot. You can find some more ideas and tracking sheets  here on Laura Vanderkam’s site.

Once you have an idea of how you fill your 168 hours have a think about what your ideal week or day would look like. Then start to make some changes. You don’t have to do it all at once. I don’t expect you to leap out of bed at 5am, jog ten miles, meditate, journal and read a good book, and then cook a three courses gourmet meal in the evening all on the first day. In fact, none of these may be how you want to spend your time. The idea is to intentionally use the extra time that you now have, rather than while away your day scrolling your Twitter feed.

Here are some suggestions for activities to include in your day when you are working from home:

Does your morning routine set you up for the day?
Morning routine

This is an area that I’ve written about before, but I so enjoy my time before work. Prior to lockdown it’s likely that some part of your day was taken up by travelling to and from your place of work. Many people used to spend a couple of hours or more commuting. Now you can fill that time with something that you enjoy as your commute just involves sitting down at your desk and turning on your computer.

If this is an area you want to work on you might want to check out Hal Elrod’s book and/or websiteThe Miracle Morning’. He recommends six personal development practices which he suggests that you undertake every day. These are silence i.e. meditation, affirmations, visualization, exercise, reading and scribing i.e. writing/journaling. You can also see what Natalie Bacon says about routines. For myself, I just practise the silence, exercise and writing. I used to read, but I tend to do that before bed now.

I start the working day with a five minute inspiring podcast
Work routine

In order to start the working day I always make myself a cup of coffee. Up until the end of 2020 was listening to Laura Vanderkam’s very short daily podcastThe New Corner Office. Since the beginning of this month I now listen to the Before Breakfast Podcast, also by Laura. Previously I didn’t always take a lunch break, but now I take at least an hour.

I can keep on top of this when I am at home
Keeping on top of household chores

Another benefit of working from home is that I can do chores in my breaks. I usually put a load of laundry on before I start work. By coffee time the machine has finished and it’s ready to be hung up.

With more time at the end of the day as there’s no journey home I can do some housework. Whilst I know that this isn’t the most exciting thing to do, by spending a little time each day keeping the house clean it helps to free up my time on the weekend. By the time Saturday and Sunday come around I don’t feel that all of my free time is being taken up by getting on top of the housework again. I can actually spend some time doing things that I enjoy instead.

It feels good to get outside whilst it’s still light
Mid-day exercise

I know not everyone likes to exercise first thing. An alternative is to take a longer lunch break and get outside for a walk. At this time of year, when it’s usually dark before and after work, we need to make the most of the daylight hours. Occasionally I can kill two birds with one stone by walking into town in my lunch break to do some shopping or collect some books from the library.

Virtual meetings has increased my capacity at work
Change your working practices

As for work itself, whilst others complain about the virtual nature of our work I am enjoying the ability to be in several places every day without actually going anywhere. I can fit more into my day. As I log off from one call I can immediately join another. Previously this might have involved a 50-mile journey along the motorway.

As I have said before, I am a social worker, working with families. Although I am not meeting anyone in person at the moment there are benefits to virtual working. One is that I can have shorter, more frequent meetings with clients. People who previously I may have only met on two occasions I am now seeing three, four or even more times. This makes me feel that I know them even better than before.

I have also taken the opportunity to do some preparation for dinner whilst listening to training courses or attending team meetings. Chopping veg and cooking doesn’t take much brain power so I find that I am able to concentrate on what’s being said at the same time.

So there we are, a few ideas for you. If it all seems too much effort just think about that future you. Looking back you’ll always wish you had done the hard thing and I know you can. A slimmer, healthier, more organised and hopefully happier you might just emerge from this period of enforced seclusion.