The idea of a simple life has gained a lot of traction in recent years. Books and blogs promise a more meaningful, stress-free existence if you get rid of your excess consumer goods, move into a shoebox, cut your emotionally-draining friends loose and just stop doing those things that don’t matter to you. We can’t get on board with all of that: Our boss isn’t going to look kindly on us not doing the dirty work, we’re terrified our friends would cut ties with us, we’re slightly claustrophobic and, well, we do like cool stuff.
But we can get on board with the idea of simplification to reduce stress and just make things easier. Modern life has added extra complications to the timeless trio of needs we all have: food, shelter, and sex. We’re going through a period of rapid technological change and some of this stuff (cough email cough) has the capacity to add a whole new layer of hassle.
So here are seven suggestions for minimizing the time suck, so you can devote yourself to securing good grub, a welcoming abode, and some sweet, sweet lovin’.
A study published in Computers in Human Behavior found that a group checking their email three times a day reported lower levels of stress than a group logging in an unlimited number of times.
Day 1: Forget all passwords (save one)
The average American has ten accounts that need online passwords, each one demanding a unique, long, unmemorable string of letters, numbers and special characters. It’s a needlessly complicated system that even Microsoft admits is dumb (or that people are too, depending on your reading).
Many people just reuse passwords, which is one way to simplify the process—but also potentially dangerous. Instead, sign up for a password manager and memorize just one password instead of ten or more, and get better security across your digital life. LastPass, Dashlane, and 1Password are all free (with premium options) and well-regarded services worth checking out.
Day 2: Check email three times a day
Email holds some kind of mystical power over our modern lives—how else to explain phantom buzz syndrome? (Well…) Regardless, the constant checking and dealing with pointless email takes up far too much time, and an addiction to the inbox can damage productivity and increase stress.
A study published in Computers in Human Behavior found that a group checking their email three times a day reported lower levels of stress than a group logging in an unlimited number of times. If your willpower is lacking (no judgments, habits are hard to break), download one of a number of internet-blocking applications, such as Freedom, Self Control or Anti-Social, which restrict access to certain sites for a specified amount of time.
Day 3: Check important email only
It’s one thing to deal with email inefficient chunks, but you still have to wade through the morass of pointless, spammy emails. Rather than spending a lot of time working out rules for your inbox, allow SaneBox to do the heavy lifting. It works with any service—Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, Hotmail—and sifts through your email to work out which senders are worth keeping in your inbox and sending the rest to a new folder called SaneLater. It’s worth keeping an eye on this folder for the first few weeks in case something you want to see is sent there, but it’s easy to tell SaneBox it misfiled an email from a certain sender and the software will learn from its mistake. Once it’s bedded in, just skim this overflow inbox once a week or even less.
Day 4: Avoid the scheduling hassle
Oh, for the days when a personal secretary would keep a diary for you. But now that we’ve all taken on the task of setting up our own meetings, you will no doubt be familiar with the 30-email thread of multiple parties scratching around for a time that suits all. Private Secretary is a free app that looks at everyone’s calendars and suggests convenient times for everyone. The app works out times confidentially so invitees won’t worry that you’ll find out about their embarrassing doctor’s appointment.
Day 5: Switch to paperless billing
Ah yes, paper bills and records. Even with a fastidious filing system, the need to keep onto things for at least three years (or to be safe, for eternity) means shelves can begin to sag underneath the weight. Requesting digital bills from your bank and utility providers gets around this problem, and if you need to find that ‘thing’ from two years ago it’s much easier to hit control+F than scan hundreds of paper bills. Just make sure you download all your paperless bills, as some institutions charge for digital copies more than a year old, and save copies in more than one secure place. A dedicated Dropbox account linked to your password manager should do the trick.
Day 6: Never miss another bill
Sure, you can set up auto-pay with your bank for all your regular bills, but unless you’re confident you’ll always have enough funds available you might be risking penalty fees. Enter Mint Bills, a free app for Android and iOS that will gather all your accounts and bills together, alerting you when a bill needs paying or your balance is getting low. It’s easier than digging through a mess of paper bills.
Day 7: Declutter and organize—a bit
Employing a load of digital tools is all well and good, but there’s a special joy from time spent sifting, throwing away and organizing. It’s busy work, seemingly productive. So take some time to sort through a box of junk and decide if some of it is worth holding on to. Then go do something else. As this post on the Small Notebook blog helpfully points out, the point of the simple life is not to be relentlessly looking for efficiencies and keeping things in order, which can become an end in itself. It’s about cutting back on the amount of time dedicated to the mundane stuff so you can do, well, anything you like. If you’ve completed this weeklong regimen it has probably required a not-insignificant investment of time. Now, reap the reward and do something else. Go for a run, see a film, hit the bar. It’s that simple.