Simplify and Focus – Three Simple Ways to Take Back Control

Article by Make The Days Count Contributor Jennifer Snelling


Have you ever had the overwhelming feeling that not only is there not enough hours of the day, but that you’ll never in your life be able to accomplish all the designs you have in mind? Sometimes it seems there are so many things to do and remember that a task or goal that seems important one day only to fall by the way for days or even years at a time.


For those of us that have many day-to-day responsibilities to fulfill – not to mention accomplishing our short- and long-term goals, it can be hard to stay on track. How can we avoid losing our concentration on our aspirations while still focusing on the matters at hand? How do we keep from feeling completely overwhelmed with it all?


There are three pieces of advice that have stuck in my mind over the years. They are three very simple things from very simple sources, yet good solid advice for making life more manageable.


1. Prioritize. Have a first priority. The earliest experience with this concept was in the first grade. My teacher had just handed out at least five worksheets for us to complete, all at the same time! I stared at the papers scattered across my small desk in complete confusion. Seeing that I didn’t seem to have any focus, my teacher came across the room, put the papers into a neat stack and explained that I was to do the paper on top first, then the next, and then the next, until they were all completed. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was learning to prioritize.


Sometimes it doesn’t even matter where you start. You just need to start somewhere. Most people know this, but we still get frustrated when looking at a seemingly insurmountable task or a to-do list that never seems to end. We’ve all heard the saying, “Take it as it comes.” Just put things into perspective, pick a starting point, and finish your thought or task before moving on to the next.


Cleaning? Try starting in one room and working your way to the other end of the house, or try starting at the top of the room with the dusting and working your way down through the clutter, organizing and straightening until you finally reach the final step of sweeping the floor. Working or paying the bills? Prioritize according to due date. Take care of the things that need to be finished earlier first. School projects or homework? Just open a book. It doesn’t really matter where you start, just pick a place and commit to it. Pretty soon you’ll go from feeling overwhelmed to standing back and proudly looking at the results of your efforts.


2. Make a list. Many of us have heard that the most successful people in the world are list-makers. It was my grandmother that first taught me this. Lists are useful for practically any and every project or goal you might have, from just getting through the day to achieving your dreams.


How many people do you know that have personal organizers, pocket calendars, or some form of gadget that they carry around with little displays and alarms to help them remember where to be when and what they need to do? There is a reason we see so many of these around. They work!


Make a list of items you need to pick up at the store, write down the places you need to be and the times you need to be there in chronological order, keep track of your finances, keep an address book, make a calendar of upcoming events, and yes, you should even keep a list of those dreaded chores and small tasks you need to take care of. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did when you feel the satisfaction of crossing items off the list!


Another great list to have is one of long-term goals. Write down your dreams, and for each one, the steps you need or would like to take to get there. Use the first piece of advice and just start somewhere. It is hard to finish if you never start.


3. Simplify. I was a senior in high school when this lesson was ingrained in my mind. We were studying English and American literature and my teacher was fond of emphasizing a lesson in life from Henry David Thoreau. “Simplify! Simplify!” he would repeat to the class.


As an example, how many email accounts do you have? Can you get by with less? Can you consolidate all of your contacts and friends into one place?


I used to try to keep up with four different email accounts and at least three different forums. I tried making a priority list to keep up with them, but in the end it was a relief to just get rid of some of them altogether.


I deleted my MySpace and Facebook accounts and made sure my friends knew alternate ways to keep in touch with me. The convenience of seeing what happened to your old high school friends with a click of the mouse is nice, but the truth is that we don’t need to know the everyday details – like when someone is drinking a latte or who overslept.


Are you spreading yourself thin by making life more complicated than it needs to be? What projects, items, or files are you hanging on to that you could really do without? Think about the extra projects and decide if it would feel better to finally finish them and get them out of the way, or if a huge weight would be lifted from you to finally just do away with them and make time for something else.


There is nothing wrong with not completing a project, especially if the project is keeping you from other chores or aspirations. Clean out the superfluous junk and streamline your own path through the day, or to your dreams.


What is the bottom line? Start somewhere. What do you really need or want to do? Those are the things you hang on to, and the reasons you simplify.


“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”

- Friedrich Nietzsche


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Posted on 14 November, 2008 in Goals, Making the Day Count, Productivity, Simplify
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