Discovering daily ‘pockets of freedom’ to enjoy what you love 

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Some timely prompts this week reminded me how lovely it can be to carve out a minuscule moment during the day to refresh and recharge the batteries.

Even full-time workers (with a commute) can benefit from a few, short simplicity hacks to help smooth the rough edges of an otherwise busy day.

So, what can we do?

Reframe your commute

A recent Harvard Business Review article* (from where the phrase ‘pockets of freedom’ comes) states that the average round trip commute in the U.K. takes 54 minutes. In the US, the figure is even higher at 90 minutes. That’s a significant proportion of the day!

The authors suggest that using the time to shift our mindset can be hugely beneficial, citing the use of daily pre-work rituals to help set our intention for the day ahead and create a sense of anticipation. For example, they suggest that checking the news on the train or taking a look at the calendar for the day helps us transition from home to work.

My place of work is a university, so arriving on campus is like witnessing a small town waking from its slumbers. I enjoy seeing the day unfold, as every day usually brings something new or interesting.

My colleague, Cheryl, comes to work on the bus, using the time to read or catch up with her favourite podcasts. This commute-enhancing activity allows for this little ‘pocket of freedom’ every day.

If I’m doing the school run, I drive, but I also cycle to work when I can. Whichever mode of transport I have chosen, the arrival ritual is always the same:

  • Lunch in the fridge
  • Water from the water fountain
  • Kettle on
  • Computer on

…And breathe

Build pockets of freedom into your day

Writer and friend, Rae Ritchie, has a brilliant strategy for finding more time for her preferred ‘pocket of freedom’, reading. Rae advocates arriving a little early for an appointment so that you can enjoy some delicious moments to yourself with your latest book.

If walking to a meeting across campus, I now try to build in just a few moments to spare so that, a) I don’t arrive in a flap and, b) I might just read an extra page of my book when I get there. It’s an approach also suggested by Gretchen Rubin and Liz Craft on Happier.

Don’t forget lunch times

The French may traditionally take a 2 hour ‘dejeuner’ but I wonder if they ever sing at lunch time? Every Tuesday in term-time, at precisely 13:10, the University music centre runs Fun Choir. No preparation. No fuss. Just turn up and sing! Genius!

Workplace choirs, popularised by Choirmaster Gareth Malone are becoming increasingly commonplace. In researching this article, I realised there’s even a workplace choir organisation based close to where I work.

Eating lunch with a friend offers another lovely ‘pocket of freedom’; we get away from our desks when we can and enjoy around 45 minutes of uninterrupted catch-up time. That’s really valuable and so much better than grabbing a sandwich at your desk and carrying on with work.

Enjoy a moment of mindfulness

Sometimes, you have no choice but to sit and wait. If the ‘sitting and waiting venue’ offers you a window on the world, put down that smart phone. Step away from your tablet. Simply watch the world go by. See this not as lazing about but, rather, a chance to be more mindful and to develop your awareness.

Take your dog to work

Almost every day is an ‘International Day of X’.  Friday was no exception. 23 June 2017 was ‘Bring your Dog to Work Day’. The photos on Twitter of owners and dogs enjoying each other’s company was heartwarming and fun. My workplace takes this a step further, as it brings a team of Pets as Therapy dogs to the library on a regular basis to support students’ wellbeing. This is such a popular activity and is a real highlight in the calendar when revision is otherwise the order of the day.

Unwind at home time

My boss and I often take the 10-minute walk back to the car park together. This ‘unwind ritual’ is our tacit signal that it’s time to transition from work to home. We can reflect on the day whilst drawing a metaphorical line under the proceedings of the last few hours.

Others go to the gym directly from work. This is a great way to de-stress and to transition into evening. Taking some gentle exercise immediately after work is a great antidote to a heavy work schedule. I go to yoga at 6 p.m. every Thursday. I worried initially that I might not make it in time, but the traffic has only got the better of me once or twice.

Early to bed

Finally, go to bed early and you’ll not only get a better night’s sleep but you may be able to enjoy a few more pages of your book before lights out!

Reap the benefits

By incorporating just one or two of these mini stress-busters into your day, you’ll reap far more benefit than the small amount of time they take might suggest.

So, as another week rolls around, what will you do to enjoy a little ‘pocket of freedom’? What positive ritual or simplicity hack can you build into your day to help recharge your batteries? I’d love to know!

*Harvard Business Review, May-June 2017: Reclaim Your Commute – Getting to and from work doesn’t have to be soul crushing by Francesca Gino et al.


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Simplify your…. inbox

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‘Technostress’ is not a new term, but I only came across it recently when used by a colleague who is doing a study on it for her master’s thesis.

It’s easy to infer the meaning of the term but not so easy to know how to respond when, we are required – especially in our work – to interact constantly with new technologies. It’s likely that all of us experience technostress at some point in our working lives; I’d suggest that email has a role to play in this.

Email as tool not torment

Email can be a mixed blessing. Since 1 November 2016, I have received over 2500 work-related emails and managed many more in my personal account.

When I wrote about Minimalism and the workplace, I offered the following tip on managing email:

If you’re using MS Outlook, on managing email, sort by ‘subject’ so that all threads relating to a particular email clump together. You can quickly see the ‘reply all’ threads and just keep the ones that matter.

This is a great way to deal with the bulk of incoming mail. You’re then left with the things that are truly ‘work’ as opposed to things that might just be ‘noise’.

By doing this, you’re filtering to what’s essential, which makes things simpler to start with. Email then becomes a useful and efficient communication tool rather than a stressor.

To sort or not to sort? That is the question

Once I’m down to the essentials, I organise incoming emails using the ‘Categories’ feature in Outlook . It’s much easier to pick out messages of a particular type if you have colour-coded them.

Categories

I am also a committed user of folders. In Outlook, I find it’s a lot easier to retrieve a message if I’m able to narrow down what I’m looking for by topic. Gmail, which I also use, seems able to retrieve anything you search for; I find Outlook less helpful in this regard.

Both categorising and using folders take time, but I find both of these really useful.

One could argue that it’s simpler just to leave emails unsorted but if your email volumes are anything like mine, you need a system that is consistent, memorable and straightforward. That’s where we go back to the meaning of the word ‘simplification’ from my last post: the process of making something simpler or easier to do or understand. I’d argue that the approaches described above do make the management of one’s inbox much easier.

Inbox zero?

I don’t aim for ‘inbox zero’ but, most days, I leave my work with (on average) around 20-30 emails remaining in my inbox. These are my ‘work in progress’.

I review incoming email first thing in the morning, then return to it as the ‘sand’ in my day, only when the ‘rocks’ (the important things) have been dealt with.

The typing pool

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If your work setting is office-based, you may sometimes wonder if you’ve gone back in time and joined a typing pool, as everyone spends significant amounts of time intensely working away at the keyboard.

Vary this routine by picking up the phone to communicate with someone else or go and have a face-to-face conversation. It’s good for you. You can have a stretch, move your body and engage with people in a way that you can’t when you are typing at your desk.

Remember, just because you can (email) doesn’t mean you have to. In her book, Thrive, Arianna Huffington describes organisations that instigate ‘no email’ days. Could you suggest this?

Annual leave as borrowed time

I have often thought of annual leave as ‘borrowed time’ because you have to work twice as fast when you return to catch up because the emails keep on coming whilst you’re away.

What about the idea of writing the following message in your automatic reply when you are on vacation? Dare you? How would that be received within your organisation or by those with whom you work?

Thank you for your message. I will be on annual leave from X to Y dates and will have no access to email during this time. If your email remains important to you after Y date, please do resend it.

A word on apps

Apps designed to support productivity can help move work out of your inbox and into a project management tool.

There are lots of apps from which to choose and more being developed all the time. According to Statista, there were 2.8 million apps available via Google Play in March 2017 and a further 2.2 million in the Apple app store. So, how do we discern what’s useful?

I have about a dozen apps that I use regularly but I am judicious in my choices (and have previously written my essentialist approach to the social media apps I use).

A small number of websites with related apps really do help me manage work tasks and maintain my sanity. This means I can file related emails away, as I can manage tasks through the tools I use.

Some are more sophisticated than others, but I’ve settled on Producteev as my tool of choice. Although aimed at teams, it’s also ideal for individuals. I can list any number of tasks (each with sub-tasks) and am able to categorise these and set date reminders. Once scheduled, the technology does the work of remembering so I don’t have to. I also love Evernote and use Dropbox for long-term document storage.

Carve out time

If you use email in your workplace, it’s a fallacy to suggest that it isn’t ‘real work’ and that, somehow, your actual work lies outside your inbox. However, if you have sufficient autonomy over how you manage your day, carve out space for ‘time out’ to provide a counter-balance to email if you can. When you do return to it, you’ll be more likely to resume your work with a little more energy.

So, how do you manage your inbox? Have you developed any top tips that you’d like to share? Please do comment below!

Next time

In the next post, we’ll move away from discussing virtual paper to talking about real paper, as we look at simplifying our approach to the management of ‘goods in‘ of the paper variety.

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Lost and found

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I thought I was losing it yesterday when I couldn’t find my keys (my entire set, for house and car, which are kept all on one key fob).

Has anyone seen my keys?

It was the first day back after the Easter holidays, so we were keen to be on time for school and work. Just prior to our normal departure time of 07:20, I looked in the zip compartment of my large tote bag and my keys weren’t there.

I remembered that I’d used a different bag over the weekend. Maybe they were in there?

Nope!

Pockets?

Nope!

Anywhere else? NOPE!!

My husband, Andrew, dug out the spare set of car keys, so we left the house not knowing if my own set was in there or not.

Hunt the keys

On returning home, the family game of Hunt the Keys began. We looked in all the obvious places, then began to look in the less-obvious ones.

Andrew asked me to think. Think about what I was doing the last time I remember having them. My mind was a blur. Remember that post about being present? I couldn’t even recall if I’d used the keys the previous day.

Think!!!

Are they in the bin?

As it happens, Monday is refuse collection day in our corner of Kenilworth. It was ‘grey bin day’ (the fortnightly collection for rubbish that goes to landfill). So, Andrew had pulled the bin back into the garden before its contents could be irrevocably lost.

After turning the entire house upside down, with reluctance, I donned my yellow rubber gloves and started going through two weeks of rubbish. This is a horrid job and I won’t go into details but it caused me to notice the bulky items in the bin that could not be recycled.

New-found insights

What do we really chuck into landfill?

As I searched through our household waste for the missing keys, I began to notice more closely what we threw away (rather than recycled).

In addition to cellophane wrapping (about which I wrote here), the three most noticeable categories of rubbish were:

  • Tetra Pak cartons (from juice, almond milk etc.), which we cannot recycle in our fortnightly collection
  • Polystyrene containers (fruit packaging)
  • Disposable feminine hygiene products and cotton wool pads (from the two ladies in the house: me and Amy)

Seeing two weeks worth of trash in a single location made me really take stock.

If we, a little family of three plus Cockapoo produce this much in just two weeks, imagine the vast quantities across our town, throughout the county and across the entire nation!

Yeah, we need a change, yeah…. Do it today*

I have to make some changes.

We are already recycling a greater volume of items than we throw away each fortnight but I know I can still do more.

Decision time

I’m going to redouble my efforts to make my own nut milk. It’s more expensive than the Tetra Pak option, but I’d like to see our personal contribution to land fill go down.

I will consider if juice in a recyclable carton is better than Tetra Paks. I’d welcome any views on this. Do you juice your own or avoid juice altogether?

I’m going to redouble my efforts to buy more fruit and veg loose.

Finally, I’ve ordered a Mooncup and will revert to my muslin cloths for cleansing my face, rather than using wasteful cotton wool.

What about those keys?

After all that searching, I went and sat next to Andrew who was working away in the study. And then it hit me. I knew exactly where my keys were.

I had placed them carefully in the glovebox of our family car the previous morning when we went for a dog walk. We had discussed it at the time and we both knew I’d done it. However, we had both completely erased the fact from our short term memory.

I didn’t even need to rush outside and retrieve the keys. I knew they were there.

Lessons learned

At least the experience had taught me some valuable lessons and might just nudge me further towards some more eco-friendly purchases.

In the meantime, maybe I need to buy just one small thing.

Does anyone know where I can get one of those ‘find my iPhone’ devices for car keys?

*Lyrics from Heather Small – Proud

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What does minimalism mean for you?

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When I started blogging about my own journey into minimalism and simple living, I wrote an early post that encapsulated my thinking: So, what’s this minimalism all about?

What’s on trend right now?

At the time, I didn’t know that minimalism and simple living were becoming ‘a thing.’ A quick look at Google Trends is enough to see that, across the developed world, people’s interest in minimalism is on the rise.

That documentary

The boys from The Minimalists, with their much talked about documentary, have raised public awareness of how minimalism actually means living a life of more (but with less).

Watching the film is insightful if you’re new to minimalism and unsure of its benefits (check out my review). In the documentary, we meet some of the most well-known US-based proponents of minimalism and simple living: Courtney Carver, Leo Babauta, Tammy Strobel, Colin Wright and The Minimalists themselves, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Their stories are both fascinating and compelling.

UK change-makers

Here in the UK, we have some wonderful change-makers. Not all of them would necessary call themselves ‘minimalists’ but check out the good work they’re doing:

Jen Gale – Jen’s ‘Make Do and Mend’ Year in which she bought nothing new transformed not only her family’s own experience but fostered a community of like-minded folks. Jen’s approach means saying “‘no’ to mindless consumerism, and choose instead to re-use, repair, borrow, and thrift. To Make Do and Mend.”

Caroline Jones’s fashion tribute to her late mother led to a book published last year: Knickers Models Own – A Year of Thrifty Fashion. Check out her inspiring story here.

Sarah at The Simple Life Notebook gently shares the wisdom of simplifying – especially useful if you have a young family. Check out Sarah’s free e-course if you’re looking to get a grip on your closet and develop a capsule wardrobe.

Head over to Wendy Graham at Moral Fibres whose green lifestyle blog is well worth a visit if you’re looking to reduce your impact on the environment.

Lisa Cole’s website, Less Stuff is a must-visit if you want some straightforward and accessible ways into decluttering.

Finally, there’s Sal at One Empty Shelf whose writing on minimalism also extends to her passion for the great outdoors.

Each of these inspirational change-makers has her own take on intentional living, but they all share one thing in common: they are no longer bound by a life of consumerism and know what it means to enjoy a life of more, but with less.

Seeing life through a new lens

As I see it, those who espouse intentional living (perhaps initially through decluttering and shedding excess stuff) are enabled to take a step back and see life through a clearer lens.

By eliminating distractions and getting back to basics, we can start to focus on the things that are truly important to us.

This might mean improving our relationships, combatting stress, focussing on family, improving our health and wellbeing, improving our finances, being more aware of our impact on the environment or even taking a more spiritual path.

The great spiritual movements of the world

The Bible teaches that, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15, ESV). Living frugally is not confined to Christianity, of course. Buddism and minimalism (for example) are also well aligned, as that great movement teaches us to ‘let go’ and be more mindful about how we live.

Maybe minimalism is a new way to express eternal truths in today’s consumer-driven society? 

What does minimalism mean for you?

In our local meet-up last weekend, Jane shared some of her eco-minimalism tips with the group, as we explored different aspects of minimalism and simple living. For me, it has been about simplifying my life to reduce stress and to increase happiness (it worked, for the record).

So, tell me about you? Are you one for whom Marie Kondo’s message of ‘spark joy’ resonates? Perhaps your interest lies in reducing debt, or carving out more time to do the things that matter? What does minimalism mean for you?

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Update on The 30-Day Yoga Challenge

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Taking a short detour away from the #Unclutter2017 series, I thought I’d check in with you on how my 30-day yoga challenge is going.

Throughout the month of January, the wonderful DoYogaWithMe folks are sending subscribers a daily email containing two videos. One is for beginners, the other for intermediates. I’m in the latter category, although I have done one or two of the beginners’ classes.

How things got started

I began with a couple of beginners sessions, as the videos in the early part of the intermediate series were ones I’d already enjoyed over the Christmas holidays.

I then transitioned to the intermediate classes, which I’ve enjoyed very much. The daily ritual of rolling out the mat and the competent, clear and inspiring instruction has challenged me (as intended) to ‘Do Yoga’ every day.

When the going got tough

As January unfolded, I became unwell. This happens rarely, so I was shocked to find myself with a full-on head cold, which lasted for two whole weeks.

During this period, there were days when I simply didn’t feel well enough to practice. There was also a very long class (73 minutes) mid-way through my second week of feeling unwell, when I already had a full evening schedule, so that precluded me from taking part.

Keep calm and carry on

I’ve previously written about quitting, which may not always be a bad thing to do. However, on this occasion, my approach was simply to move on and pick up with the next class.

That approach has worked well. Even though I missed a session yesterday (50th birthday party), I was back on the mat today with a 40-minute vinyasa flow sequence, led by the fabulous Tracey Noseworthy.

A different kind of challenge

Whilst we may challenge our bodies over these 30 days, the real test is whether we can develop the discipline of returning to the mat, even if we didn’t practice the previous day (or the one before that).

What we learn is that it’s OK to step back sometimes. It’s not always possible to do everything all of the time. What’s important is that we get back on the mat, keep going, and know that every day will be different. We just have to approach our practice, as often as we can, and observe how it goes.

The 30-day challenge instils in subscribers a sense of anticipation, as we await the daily email, wondering how long it will be and who will lead it. I recommend it to you, even if you haven’t yet begun. The series offers a challenge in tenacity and commitment to self, but is a gift in so many other ways.

Have you set yourself a New Year’s challenge? Did you make a resolution and have you stuck to it? Let me know how you got on!

Namaste

Further reading:

When yoga brought me back to simplicity

 

Listen to your gut instinct: it will serve you well

How many of us feel our gut instinct or hear what our heart is telling us, but fail to act upon it? In today’s blog post, I’m going to encourage you to listen to your gut, to your heart or to your inner voice (or all three).

Often, the answer to a question lies within ourselves.

A conversation this lunch time reminded me how grateful I should be for a decision I made in the early part of 2015. That decision led me to my current job, where I have been for the last 17 months. Whilst my current role perhaps doesn’t play to all of my strengths, I know that I made the right choice and there will be longer-term career opportunities for me in the organisation where I work.

A short while ago, I wrote about why quitting may not be such a bad thing after all. You can read that post here.

Indeed, making the decision to change is often the hardest thing of all, but once your mind is made up, you can move forward with all the steely resolve you’ll need. Your decision might stem from the desire to move away from pain or towards pleasure. Either way, once you’ve decided, you’ll be much more motivated to make that change.

How many times have you heard people say, “My heart’s just not in it, anymore.” That’s their inner voice, giving them a little prod, telling them to be proactive and to take action. Listening to one’s own heart is a very good way to gauge what decision you need to make.

There have been times in my life when I have been about to make a bad decision. Making that really bad decision would have had longer-term ramifications that would no doubt have impacted my long-term future. In my first year at university, after having worked before returning to full-time study, I thought about leaving to take up another job.”Wrong call!” pronounced my body, as my gut instinct delivered its message in the form of a migraine.

Did I listen? Yes, thank goodness, I did.

In his 2013 book, Intuition, Elijah Chudnoff describes intuition as a form of “intellectual perception” that enable us to perceive “abstract reality” rather than concrete, tangible objects. It’s that intuition that serves us well when we need to:

  • leave a job that no longer serves us, in terms of career development or personal wellbeing
  • change careers altogether
  • step down from a personal commitment
  • end a relationship
  • say no to activities, invitations or unwanted obligations

So, take some time to listen to your inner voice over the holiday season. You don’t need to make a rash decision, but ask yourself some key questions:

Why do I feel this way?
What’s my gut instinct telling me to do?
How might it feel if I make this change?

Imagine how you’ll feel when you’ve made that choice. Will you feel a sense of relief or wish you had left things as they were?

Taking time out to reflect and review will enable you to make that choice, so listen to your gut instinct. It will serve you well.

Silent Night! Holy night!

If, like me, you have a teenager in the house, chances are you may have gone (or will be going) Christmas shopping together. In the teen shopping world, this probably means going to stores where the pop music is booming and you may not be able to see the merchandise clearly. Mentioning no names, but there is a particular well-known high street store where the customer experience resembles that of a Californian beach party at dusk.

Power down

Just lately, I’ve been deliberately switching off and reducing or eliminating unnecessary noise. It started with my commute. There’s a point where I have to do a tricky right turn on a bend to go over a narrow bridge at Stoneleigh. By switching off the radio, I become more focussed and attentive to what is around me. I also hope that I am safer. By that point in my journey, in any case, I know the news from BBC Radio 4’s Today. I have probably heard the same stories more than once already.

A constant buzz

Have you noticed how many of us fill our lives with constant sound? Earphones and mobile devices facilitate this, of course. However, if you switch off for a few minutes, there is time for the brain to work on things you may not have given yourself space to consider. You might reflect on what has passed, imagine what is to come and hypothesise about particular situations. Ideas may simply pop into your head. There are many possibilities.

The sound of silence

When you switch off, of course, you become more aware of your surroundings. On a Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. the bell-ringers at Leek Wootton have their weekly practice. Imagine the lovely sound of church bells wafting up across the fields, to our little corner of Warwickshire. It’s this kind of magic that I want to conjure up this Christmas.#

The quietest moment

Of course, the time we notice the silence most is on Christmas morning itself. I love that sense of quiet, as though the whole world is sleeping. The same is true after snow fall. A ‘silent night’ (or day) may become a truly ‘holy’ or ‘blessed’ one, as sounds and thoughts re-enter your world. What follows? Sleep – in heavenly peace.

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