Stick out your tongue, refuse to answer work e-mail, carry a lot of cash. Sounds risky, but these ‘bad’ behaviours may be the key to a less stressful existence.
Six secrets to a stress-free life
Sometimes even the best rules need to be broken – especially when doing so will help you get ahead, get over an argument or get more free time. Here are tips on when it’s okay to colour outside the lines.
1 THE RULE: Return every e-mail right away.
Break it because… if you’re a slave to the ‘ding’, you’ll have maybe only 5 to 10 minutes between receiving each new message to tackle a project – not exactly the best way to achieve deep focus. To get more work done, block off one e-mail-free hour during the day. How do you avoid missing important messages? Try setting the automatic out-of-office notice to turn on at the same time every day. Word the reply so that people know you won’t be checking e-mail and to call you if the matter is urgent. Tip off your boss and co-workers that you’re trying to boost productivity – not ignore them – during this time. Can’t spare an entire hour unplugged? Check your mailbox only every 10 to 15 minutes, and even then, scan the subject line and sender. Finally, don’t get pulled into a gossipy e-mail discussion with your chatty friend from down the hall; save that for your afternoon break.
Sometimes, the smartest strategy is to set the fight aside and let tempers cool. Learn to recognize when you’re getting nowhere and then just ‘put the argument out of its misery’. It can be as simple as saying ‘Sorry, we’re so mad at each other, but I still love you’ or even ‘I don’t want this to be a huge issue’.
2THE RULE: Don’t go to bed angry.
Break it because… endlessly rehashing a disagreement only amps up agitation. Sometimes, the smartest strategy is to set the fight aside and let tempers cool. Learn to recognize when you’re getting nowhere and then just ‘put the argument out of its misery’. It can be as simple as saying ‘Sorry, we’re so mad at each other, but I still love you’ or even ‘I don’t want this to be a huge issue’. Then pick up the subject again when you’ve calmed down.
3 THE RULE: Multitasking = maximum efficiency.
Break it because… no matter how consumed with work you are, you decrease your odds of becoming more successful if you’re constantly flying off in a million different directions. Pick your number one goal for the day, then start off by doing one thing that helps you achieve it. If your schedule keeps you crazy busy, do a little task triage by delegating smaller jobs and relegating non pressing items to the back burner. Put a dot next to the priority moves on your to-do list and make sure to tackle them first. For example, identify bold initiatives you can take to raise your profile with your boss. Ask yourself what is the brashest thing you can do to bring in more clients, business or money, or figure out one small step you can make toward getting a raise or promotion. That way, you’ll feel like you’re accomplishing big goals instead of just spinning your wheels.
4 THE RULE: Cleanliness is next to godliness.
Break it because… although having an orderly home can reduce anxiety, getting your house in order shouldn’t stress you out. Instead of berating yourself for not keeping on top of your housework, adopt a kinder and gentler (to you) clean routine. Rather than devoting hours to getting rid of your junk, stop the clutter before it even makes it inside your house by employing rigid border control. Remove two items from your house for every new one you bring in. Sure, it might be hard at first to pass up that set of vintage plates or those great new books, but finally being able to find your favourite sweater in your closet or see the countertops in your kitchen will make it all worth it.
Stop worrying about disappointing someone else, and learn to say no to the things you can’t – or don’t want to – do. The next time someone asks you to do something you’d rather skip, try responding, “Thanks for inviting me, but I already have too much on my plate.”
5 THE RULE: Don’t keep a lot of cash in your wallet – you’ll just blow it.
Break it because… it’s easier to lose track of just how much you’re spending if you’re repeatedly withdrawing money from the cash machine or charging everything. Limit yourself to hitting the ATM just once per pay period, and take out enough to cover all your expenses. This will help to take your money management out of the nebulous realm of credit- and debit-card purchases. Draw up a budget for all purchases that can be made with cash, like food, restaurant meals, transportation costs, clothing and entertainment. Then put the money you’ve allotted for each expense into individual envelopes. On the front of each envelope, make a note of every cent you take out. That will help you keep track of where you spend your money. Once the groceries envelope is empty, for example, you can borrow from the entertainment or clothing one – but with the understanding that you’ll have to skip seeing a movie or put off buying that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing. And don’t fall back on plastic – cut up your cards or put them away. This will keep you from spending the money you should be saving.
6 THE RULE: Always make time for friends.
Break it because… forcing yourself to attend every social gathering, regardless of how overtired, overstressed or overworked you are, will not only burn you out but will also make you resent your pals for intruding on your scarce time. Stop worrying about disappointing someone else, and learn to say no to the things you can’t – or don’t want to – do. We’re not saying it’s easy to turn down your cousin’s barbecue or brunch with the girls. We’re saying it’s worth it. The next time someone asks you to do something you’d rather skip, try responding, “Thanks for inviting me, but I already have too much on my plate.” If the other person keeps insisting, just repeat your answer. Taking control over your schedule will ensure that you spend time on the friends and activities you value the most, which will make you feel more empowered, invigorated and happier.