1. Assess just how busy you’re willing to be.
New research indicates that a key indicator of happiness is the distance between the hours you’d like to work and the hours you actually do. If you don’t want to work more than 40 hours per week because you have a hobby you’re passionate about, but you’re working over three hours more than that, you will inevitably feel dissatisfied.
In some cases, this may be beyond your control. If you just can’t afford your mortgage unless you push yourself, that’s one thing. But sometimes you do have a choice; you just think it’s too difficult to make it. Downsizing or moving into a new place may seem like an unnecessary hassle, but it’s worth the uncomfortable transition if it allows you to do with your time as you’d like.
2. Consider whether your schedule conflicts with your priorities.
When you have internal or external conflict, it’s difficult to maintain your center and sense of joy. If fitness is a priority but you’re working 60 hours a week, leaving you little time to exercise, you will feel conflicted. Even if you want to keep working hard, you’ll feel frustrated that you’re not meeting your own needs.
If you absolutely can’t scale back your work to allow for regular exercise, consider rearranging things to make exercise easier. Wake up 20 minutes earlier for a quick job; something is better than nothing. Or see if you can take a class during your lunch break. Happiness is honoring you needs—all or most of them.
3. Be sure your goals align with your values.
Most people would prefer not to overwhelm their lives with work, but oftentimes we push ourselves because we have our eye on the prize, so to speak. There’s nothing wrong with having a dream and working toward it; but if you’re going to sacrifice much of your now for later, be sure you’re really headed where you want to go.
Does the future you envision align with your values in life? If your family is one of your top priorities, but achieving your goal might compromise that, all your busy-ness might lead you somewhere that doesn’t truly make you happy.
4. Find joy in the way things are.
Oftentimes when we’re busy, we’re fixated on the way things can be, should be, or will be on the other side of overexertion. It’s all too easy to get caught up in a race toward some fantasy tomorrow that inevitably will fall short of your expectations. Someday dreams usually do because they’re more about avoiding the present than building the future.
Regardless of how things might be after your efforts pay off, life always takes place in the present. You never know what the future holds—whether or not you’ll still have good health or the people you love will still be around. The opportunity to enjoy those things is now. Find the time to appreciate and engage with them, even if only in small doses.
5. Make time for relationships.
Studies have shown that the quality of our relationships correlates directly with our overall sense of happiness. Sometimes while we’re working toward a larger life we forget to do the things that remind us we’re part of something larger than ourselves. We need meaningful contact with other people to feel fully alive. We need interaction, engagement, and the time to just be in the presence of other.
Make time for people, even if it’s just a quick meal. It’s worth sacrificing your working lunch to experience life outside your office.
6. Allow yourself completely disconnected time.
This can be difficult in the Internet age when work can seem like a 24-7 commitment. At least that’s my experience. I’ve checked my email at 11:00 PM, 5:00 AM and every time in between. I know that I won’t ever bookmark work between 9:00 and 5:00. But sometimes I need to shut off.
We all do. We all need complete breaks from work where we can be fully present in something else. Whether it’s an afternoon at the movies, a yoga class, or a complete day and night of relaxation, compartmentalizing life for a while can be rejuvenating.
7. Say no liberally.
A few different writers have tackled this subject in the past, including Sonya Derian in her post The Halfhearted Yes: Why We Don’t Say No and How to Start and Karen Mead in her post Compassionate Boundaries: Saying No Without Guilt.
Saying no is hard when you want to please people. You might assume only spineless, needy people struggle with this, but the truth is we all do. None of us want to disappoint people, and on some level we all want approval.
Just like on airplane you need to put your own mask on before helping someone else, we need to take care of our needs before we can even begin to be valuable for other people. We need time to decompress, do what we love, and just plain call the shots, without reacting to other people’s needs.
8. Prioritize rest.
In a perfect world, we’d all sleep eight hours a night. We’re best equipped to handle life’s challenges when we’re not fatigued. But sometimes that’s not an option. When you are exhausted, take care of yourself using these tips to function better when you’re tired.
To the best of your ability, take time to nap, meditate, or practice deep breathing. A past yoga instructor once told me a certain pose was the equivalent of a good night’s sleep. I don’t know if I believe that entirely, but I do know certain yoga poses help me shut off my mind to fall asleep sooner at night.
9. Expel less mental energy.
This is a good practice in life in general—one I need to constantly work at—but it’s especially helpful when you’re busy. If your circumstances seem a little overwhelming, your inner state may start to parallel that. You may over-analyze, worry about every little decision, stress over whether you’re doing the right things.
Trust your gut. Learn and adjust as you go, but give yourself a break from the constant overanalyzing—whether the meeting went well enough, or your report was detailed enough, or if you sales calls are compelling enough. Don’t make yourself do the work twice—once in the doing and again in the rehashing.
10. Embrace the chaos.
Nobody forces us to live busy lives. We do it because we want to feel a sense of purpose, commitment, and accomplishment. You may have to maintain a full schedule out of obligation—kids to feed or loans to pay off—but there are a lot of things we could sacrifice if we truly wanted a simpler life.
If you’ve chosen to do various different things, engage with many people, and strive toward numerous goals, realize a lot will feel out of control at times. The more elements you introduce to your life, the more unpredictable the days will be. Sometimes the uncertainty is both the most exciting and terrifying part.