This post was written by Leo Babauta, originally for Zen Habits. Republished here with permission.
I enjoy creating a few simple rules to live by that take away some of the overwhelming decision making we need to make every day. Pre-think these decisions, formulate them into rules, and then just follow them, freeing your brain for more important decisions. Here are 7 rules that keep life simple.
7 Rules That Keep Life Simple
Why should we need to give so much thought to what we’ll wear and eat, how we’ll exercise and handle email, when these are things we do every single day?
So I’ve been crafting a few rules that keep life simple, so I don’t need to think about the little things so much.
These rules change, depending on my life circumstances — what I’m working on, where I am, what else is going on, etc.
And I don’t get mad at myself if I need to bend a rule now and then … but try to stick with them as a general principle.
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So here are the rules that have been working for me lately:
Clear my email inbox every Friday. I generally keep my email inbox to 5-10 emails (except when I’m traveling) or often fewer, but a handful of them stick around because I don’t want to answer them or there are too many little things I need to do in order to answer the email. So they hang around in my inbox all week, dragging on me mentally.
My habit has been to clear out the inbox on Friday — answer the emails I’ve been putting off, take care of the little actions, archive ones I just know I won’t answer. It’s beautiful — a clear inbox is so nice. Then more emails come in almost immediately, and that’s OK … I don’t need a clear inbox all the time, and I purposely leave 2-3 in the inbox all week because I don’t want to obsess over having a clear inbox all the time. Just once a week.
Clear my Instapaper queue every Sunday. I like to read long-form articles online, but I can waste so much of my day reading them that I’ve gotten into the habit of making myself not read them during my peak productivity hours, and instead I just save them to Instapaper for reading later (others like Readability, Pocket, Safari’s read-later feature … they’re all the same).
This means I can have 10-20 articles in my queue, which I’ll read when I have spare time (waiting in line or on the train, for example). But they pile up, and I’ve learned that if I leave the articles in the queue, I’ll never read them. So I make a point, every weekend, to clear out my Instapaper queue. I read as many as possible (usually Sundays) and then clear out the ones I don’t think I’ll get to. I leave 2 articles in the queue at the end of every Sunday, so I always have something to read.
Get the important stuff done before anything else. Email, online reading, social media, etc. … these can eat up your entire day if you let them. So I make sure I get to the most important stuff, which can get pushed back and back until you don’t have the time or energy to actually do them. For me, this means meditation and writing, along with some distraction-free reading, before I get to email or the rest.
Wear the same thing every day. I have a handful of clothes I wear: grey or black T-shirts, with my one pair of jeans (or shorts, if I’m at home). I can throw any of the shirts on with my jeans or shorts, so I don’t think about what I wear. This rule isn’t for everyone, obviously!
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Eat the same thing every day. Honestly, I’ve long been a foodie, and I really love food, but I discovered that eating out at delicious restaurants and cooking gourmet meals not only is bad for your waistline and your wallet, but takes up so much time and energy. So I reserve those things for special days, and the rest of the time I just eat the same exact meals almost every day.
The specific meals change over time, but I’ll generally eat the same meal for lunch and dinner for about 6 months or longer. This isn’t for everyone, I know. Recently I’ve been eating tempeh with veggies every day, two meals a day (I eat steel-cut oats with berries and flaxseed for breakfast only on strength-training days). Before that it was tempeh. Before that, scrambled tofu, and before that three-bean chili.
Lots of veggies means huge health benefits. I don’t eat lots of grains, and snack on fruits. I only eat the sweets or refined grains socially, on those special days, and honestly I don’t miss them at all. The main point isn’t in the specifics — it’s that I cook the food in big batches and eat that food for about 3-4 days.
Put limits on certain things. There are things I really enjoy, but I’ve found that if I overdo them, they’re not so good for me. And because I like them so much, I tend to overdo them. So moderation through limits.
Some examples: I limit my online reading to two 30-minute sessions a day, and recently I’ve limited myself to one (1) glass of red wine in the evening, half (1/2) a cup of coffee in the morning, two (2) sweets on the weekends. These might change over time, but right now they’re working brilliantly.
I enjoy the things, but don’t overdo them.
Treat an activity like a sacred ritual. This is the part I forget the most, but I’ve been getting better at remembering. Here’s the idea: every single thing we do can be done as an afterthought, like something you’re just getting through to get to something more important … or it can be elevated to something sacred, like performing sacred rites.
Washing your hands? Take a moment to realize how much of a miracle this act is (many people don’t have water for basic hygiene), take a breath, and truly pay attention as you go through this sacred hand-washing ritual.
Do your dishes the same way: every dish a miracle, every sensation elevated to a new importance, every drop of water a gem worth paying attention to.
This applies to every activity: writing, responding to an email, listening to a friend, playing with a child, taking a shower, going for a walk, paying bills. Worthy of your full attention, worthy of joy and appreciation.
In actuality, I forget to follow some of these rules sometimes, but when I remember, things are much simpler. And so I endeavor to remember.
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