7 Hacks to Simplify Your Life and Reduce Your Mental Load
A while back Julia asked me what an ideal Tuesday would look like. I found the question fascinating and what I responded back to her was not terribly different than what my typical Tuesday actually looks like. That made me realize two things: 1) I’m not aiming high enough and 2) This is not about drastic changes.
In the exploration of my core values and assessment of how much I’m living by them, one word jumped off the page at me: Simplicity--A long-forgotten core value of mine. When I think of moments of joy, they are simple. Playing peek-a-boo with my daughter. A cup of tea at just the right temperature, sipped slowly. A good book. A laugh with a friend. A kiss from my husband. My son whispering a secret to me.
Yet, in the hustle and bustle of “doing it all”, simplicity fell on the back burner of my awareness. Ironically, striving for work-life balance with vigor, left me off-balance. When I look at what’s moving me more toward that elusive work-life balance, it is clear that simplicity is the key.
It is a constant struggle, but every once and a while I do something that makes me think: “This was so simple. Why didn’t I think of this before?”. These little shifts help me reduce my mental load.
Here are 7 mental load hacks that I wish I had done sooner and have helped me simplify my life:
1) Use templates to simplify your life and ease your mental load
I use templates all the time in my working life (letters, emails, etc.), but it took me a while to translate it into my home life. These are not only time-savers, but definitely give a break from my mental load. The one I use the most frequently is my grocery checklist. I can’t tell you the amount of time this has saved in me, both in creating the list before shopping and preventing me from missing a needed item.
Other templates I have created are a packing list (which has reduced pre-trip stress on regular visits to families that live far away and the family cottage) and daily/weekly/monthly schedules/to do lists, which I use on the days I’m feeling more scattered
2) Do a digital cleanse to improve your mental load, make you happier, and create a better work-life balance
Easily the most common presenting concerns from my psychotherapy clients are anxiety and stress. This is undoubtedly confounded by the amount of digital clutter in our lives. Most web-based email features have an archive function. Instead of having 1262 emails staring back at me, with two clicks I had a clear inbox, with the peace of mind that it wasn’t gone forever and a simple search would allow me to access past emails as needed.
I also cleared up the desktop of my computer and got rid of apps that I don’t really use on my phone and tablet. What a game changer to open my email and see 3 messages. And I maintain by archiving and deleting as I go. Just like physical clutter, digital clutter can spike our anxiety. We become overstimulated and overwhelmed without even recognizing it.
3) Create automatic reminders so you don’t need to remember everything
This is an old tried and true simplicity trick updated to our electronic world. I’m sure we’ve all heard “write it down so you don’t have to remember it”. Electronic calendars and organizational apps can make this super simple. Find the one that works for you. I personally love the recurring function that reminds me of tasks I have to do regularly but can fall off the radar on a hectic week (such as pay my babysitter every Friday morning).
4) Get your kids involved in chores and routines
A brief disclaimer: this isn’t a universal simplicity strategy, as I learned when I thought it would be a good idea to have my kids (who were four and one years old at the time) help me bake cookies. It was anything but simple. We’ll try again in a few years!
I’m thinking more about routines. When I walk in the door with my children (now ages five and two) at the end of a typical weekday, they know what I expect of them. “Shoes off! Coats off! Bags away!” was such a regular chant for a period of time, that I often said it without thinking. We have a shoe rack and hooks in our entrance way that the kids can reach and a simple basket for gloves, hats, etc. that sits on the floor.
We follow a basic routine, but the kids know that some things are not optional. My five year old son makes his bed and now my 2 year old daughter (wanting to do whatever big brother is doing) has started to help out. We didn’t quite go to the measures Julia did when she decided to KonMari her kids toys, but they do know to put one toy away before they get the next one out.
They even help me with the laundry. My son likes sorting clothes by color and my daughter shoves them in the washer. I am hopeful this sets the stage for them to do their own laundry before long (something I shamefully didn’t learn how to do until I was about 20, because my Mom would just take care of it for me). Additionally, it takes away the need to introduce these tasks as “chores” at a later date, it’s just what is expected and is a habit.
5) Turn off the cell phone - I know it’s hard but it will make you happier and have a better work-life balance
Yes, they come with off buttons! Forgive my sarcasm, though I have to admit the amount people are attached to smart phones 24/7 is a real pet peeve for me. Carve out some time each day, such as family meal time or the hour before bed when the phone is off. If this feels like too much of a leap, consider silent (not vibrate, actually silent) or airplane mode. Absence from those addictive beeps, buzzes, and rings, even for a brief period can reduce your sense of urgency and quiet your mind. I encourage you to give it a try!
6) Figure out small life hacks – like the cubby
I came across this by accident. A few years ago I was finding that I was becoming highly frustrated getting my son ready for daycare in the morning. I would realize that the pants I wanted to put him in were soiled in the hamper, or for the life of me couldn’t find a pair of matching socks. The systems I use for my own clothing (closet and dresser) didn’t seem effective with such small clothes.
Meanwhile, my husband and I purchased a shoe cubby to reduce the clutter of the bottom of our closet. When we put it together, we realized it wasn’t really what we were looking for. Instead of returning it, I stuck it on a shelf in the closet of my son’s room. My son, a toddler at the time, was playing as I was putting laundry away and he started putting his clothes in the cubby, which gave me the idea to use it as clothes storage for him.
It is a 5x3 cubby, so I labeled the top with weekdays, and got in the habit of when I do laundry on the weekend, I put his clothes in for the week on the top shelf. The second row is for activity specific clothes (special socks for skating on Monday, swim trucks/towel for lessons on Wednesday). The bottom row has pajamas, extra socks and underwear. Now that my son is older, he actually chooses his clothes for the cubby and can easily reach his pajamas when I tell him it’s time to get ready for bed.
The cubby has really made the morning routine less hectic. This is also really helpful when I get a notice from school that Friday is “wear purple day” I just make sure there is something purple in the Friday slot and forget about it.
7) Make some time for self-reflection - you need to take care of yourself to take care of others
Make time alone and reflection time an essential part of your routine. We get so busy living our lives that we often have trouble seeing the bigger picture. Compared to the other items on the list, this one has been the hardest for me to prioritize in my routine.
The templates, reminders and cubby all require a bit of work at the start, but once they’re habits they require very little energy. This item is by far the most important and the most challenging. Because while it is invaluable to your overall productivity, you might not recognize it in the moment. It’s more of an investment with excellent future payouts. If you only do one item on this list, I would suggest this one.
These are some of my favorite simplicity “hacks”. I would love to hear what you do to reduce your mental load, so please comment below.