Simpler Daily Work: 13 Smart Habits That Will Help You

by Henrik Edberg

“Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
Albert Einstein

“Think simple” as my old master used to say – meaning reduce the whole of its parts into the simplest terms, getting back to first principles.”
Frank Lloyd Wright

The daily work we do – in school, at work or in a business – can easily become overwhelming, ineffective and suck the energy and joy out of what you are doing.

Over the years my experience has been that it is essential to keep my work simple and light to get better results in less time and to make things more fun (or at least more acceptable).

In this article I’d like to recommend 13 habits that have helped me to do so.

  1. Prepare your day the evening before. Pack your bag or suitcase. Pack the leftovers from your dinner in a container and put it in the fridge. Put your keys, wallet etc. in a place where you can easily find them as you head out in the morning. This preparation will help you to have a less stressful morning.
  2. Just check your email once a day. Checking email, other statistics or social media accounts many times a day tends to drain a lot of time, energy and can leave you unfocused and stressed. Try checking and processing all of those things just once a day instead. I do it at the end of my workday.
    If that is not possible for you then try to postpone it for a few hours at least. And put your morning energy and focus into your most important task of the day.
  3. Write shorter emails. Limit your emails to 1-5 sentences when possible. You can also have some canned responses for common questions saved in a folder in your email program. This will help you to spend less time and energy on your daily email processing.
  4. Be 5-10 minutes early for appointments. This will make your time of travel during the day into a time of relaxation and recharging. Instead of a time of stress and anxiety. Plus, people tend to like when other people are on time.
  5. Work on just one thing at a time. It will be easier to focus and to do a good job. And to do it in less time compared to if you try to multi-task (at least if you are anything like me).
  6. Work in a cone of silence. Just before you start working on that one thing shut down your email program and instant messaging programs. Shut the door to your office. Put your cell phone in silent mode and put it in a drawer. If possible, shut down your internet connection. Or use an extension for your browser like StayFocusd.
  7. During your day regularly ask yourself questions for simplicity and focus. It is easy to get off track during a regular workday. To stay on track or to get back there if you get lost use questions like:
    - What is the most important thing I can do right now?
    - What would I work on if I only had 2 hours for work today?
    - Is doing this bringing me closer to my goal?
    - Am I keeping things extremely simple right now?
  8. Let your lunch time be a time of relaxing. Eat slowly. Put down the fork between bites to make that easier. Eat mindfully and savor each bite. Eating your lunch this way can help you to relax and to release quite a bit of stress in the middle of your workday. Plus, it can help you to not overeat because it takes your brain 20 minutes to register that you are full. By slowing down your eating your brain can stop you before you eat too much.
  9. Spend 80% of your time focusing on a solution. And only 20% of your time on dwelling on your issue, challenge or problem. Instead of doing it the other way around. This makes it easier to live a lighter and more action-filled life and to not fall down into a pit of self-pity or getting stuck in a mental habit of perceived powerlessness.
  10. Ask for help. You don’t have to always go it alone. You can ask for help. You may not always get it but you may also be surprised at how helpful and kind people can be in helping you ease your burdens and solve a challenge. Just don’t forget to do the same for them as best you can when they ask.
  11. When overwhelmed, breathe and then say to yourself: just take care of today. Focus only on that. Forget about all those tomorrows and your yesterdays. Go small, narrow your focus greatly and just take care of today. Then take care of tomorrow when it comes.
  12. Consciously set and maintain firm boundaries between your work and personal time. Have a set stop time for your daily work (mine is 7 o clock). Do not work on weekends. Consciously manage your boundaries and you’ll have less stress and more energy and focus both to do better work and to have a personal life of higher quality. This is one of the most important and often overlooked habits in this article.
  13. Be smart about the 3 fundamentals of energy. By that I mean getting enough sleep, exercising a couple of times a week and eating healthy. This may seem very obvious in theory. But in practice it makes a world of difference for your optimism, energy levels, ability to handle stress and to think clearly.

Image by Rachel Carter (license).

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Braden Talbot July 25, 2013 at 4:58 pm

9. I’d say 95% – 5% is a good ratio, especially on a large problem.

Henrik Edberg July 26, 2013 at 10:41 am

Smart tip, thank you for adding it, Braden!

Vincent July 25, 2013 at 5:32 pm

You’re right, #12 is the most overlooked. I get too used to work sometimes that I find it hard to turn off when it’s time to spend time with my friends and family. I also work on weekends and I struggle with pulling myself away.

Thanks for the ideas, Henrik. I’ll be setting my STOP WORKING alarm for 9pm.

Henrik Edberg July 26, 2013 at 10:42 am

Yeah, setting those boundaries aren’t always easy. Especially if you like your work a lot and you are your own boss.

Jeffrey James July 25, 2013 at 6:59 pm

#2 is definitely important for feeling less distracted and being able to focus on being more productive. I put a lot of blame on smartphones for making us less productive in this regard.

Henrik Edberg July 26, 2013 at 10:42 am

I agree, smartphones can become a big distraction.

Fannie July 25, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Great article, especially for those who are self-employed. Thank you.

Henrik Edberg July 26, 2013 at 10:43 am

Glad you liked it, Fannie. Thank you for reading!

Bernadette July 25, 2013 at 11:05 pm

12 is a great tip. I used to work like a machine during work hours but never worked evenings or weekends, just a boundary I felt I never wanted to cross because it felt like that was allowing work to become more important that actually living.
Great list.
Bernadette :)

Henrik Edberg July 26, 2013 at 10:44 am

Thank you, Berndette! Glad to hear that the weekend boundaries have helped you too.

Harry @ GoalsOnTrack July 25, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Great tips!

Another one: Go to bed early!

Henrik Edberg July 26, 2013 at 10:44 am

Good one, thank you for adding it, Harry!

Carol July 26, 2013 at 12:57 am

Loving the blogspot Henrik. Love getting your e-mails too. They’re such a positive way to start and end the day, to take a break from work, and to re-focus on what’s really important. I have these 12 habits tacked to my wall to remind me of the things I can do to simplify and complete tasks without feeling overwhelmed. Thanks.

Henrik Edberg July 26, 2013 at 10:46 am

Thank you for all the kind words, Carol! Hope your printout will help you out daily with your work.

Emma July 26, 2013 at 3:36 am

I struggle a lot with being productive at work so this is some much needed advice for me. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the pressure to perform sometimes so it’s good to just step back once in a while and take a calm and rational approach to the situation.

Henrik Edberg July 26, 2013 at 10:48 am

Hope the article will help you to be less overwhelmed from now on, thank you for reading, Emma!

Joe Romero July 26, 2013 at 8:24 am

Great Share! Thanks for sharing these useful ideas!

Henrik Edberg July 26, 2013 at 10:48 am

You’re very welcome, Joe!

Henry Hee July 26, 2013 at 10:09 am

it is great !

Henrik Edberg July 26, 2013 at 10:48 am

Thank you, Henry!

Stuart Young July 26, 2013 at 10:50 am

Nice one Henrik – habits are the cornerstone of success. I totally agree with your list and am constantly striving to do more of number 5. I’m constantly juggling projects and am presently sorting my To Do list into several topic specific To Do lists. That way one doesn’t distract me from another.

Rashmi July 26, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Plz share some views on mind positivity as well as for spirituality

Tom July 26, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Thanks for doing a great work.Please do not relent.

Laila July 26, 2013 at 5:16 pm

This post it is really useful, those tips are great! thanks for sharing!


Lisa July 26, 2013 at 6:51 pm

All of these are excellent suggestions. I’ve found #5 (single tasking) to be especially beneficial. Great job Henrik!

hanady July 27, 2013 at 10:40 pm

These are amazing ways for relieving stress. Sometimes following simple rules such as these you’ve mentioned can help us live a happier life.

hanady July 27, 2013 at 10:41 pm

These are amazing ways for relieving stress. Sometimes following simple rules such as these you’ve mentioned can help us live a happier life.

Ian July 28, 2013 at 3:13 am

Really like number 9. Its too easy to waste time brooding over things.
80-20 sounds good. Hopefully it can get to 90-10.
Thanks Henrik

Love July 28, 2013 at 4:20 am

I really like the suggestions! Simplicity is really important in order to live happily. ‘ask for help’ – this is humility.Greatness in humility!!

Nina July 28, 2013 at 10:53 am

I want to thank you for your regular tips for every day life! I like the way you write your newsletter, which I found by coincidence. Many greatings from Germany

Oznur July 29, 2013 at 10:36 am

Thanks for your time and effort on blogging. You are an inspiring,helpful person.I am enlightened by reading your posts.Pls keep going !

Have a nice day!

Ashish Prasad July 30, 2013 at 10:19 am

Its really a good input for ensuring a stress free day at work as well at personal end

Craig July 30, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Thanks for the tips are are simple and gold – first principle stuff. I have being collecting your regular emails and have bound them in a book and when I get stuck / frustrations / anxious I go back over them – you have been essential for me – thanks

Christopher Quinn August 1, 2013 at 3:11 am

Hi Henrik

Number 1. “Prepare your day the evening before.” is one I live by! Every night before I go to bed I make a list of items that need to be completed the next day. I do the same for my job as well.

I can tell you this really helps me be much more productive and much less stressed. It also keeps me on target for both business and life goals!

Excellent information in this post!


Bryan Kratz August 11, 2013 at 2:49 am

Thank you for the tips. Its amazing how many people over look these basic stress relieving strategies and end up in cardiac arrest. I’d add though that when engaging in a conversation do 60% listening and 40% talking.

Bryan Kratz

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