There’s No Task Easier Than No Task

“Remember that there is no code faster than no code.” – Taligent’s Guide to Designing Programs

What’s the fastest way to get a task off your to-do list?

Just delete it … or don’t put it there in the first place.

When we read articles and books on productivity, getting things done, effectiveness, it’s not because we want to be hyperefficient or as speedy as Gonzales. It’s because we’d like to accomplish Something Amazing.

Which is a good thing. But we must remember that: let’s not try to be productive for the sake of being productive. Let’s focus on getting to done (or better yet: just doing what we love).

And the best way to get there is to keep things as simple as possible. What are the fewest number of steps required to get there? How can we remove busy work and distractions and wasteful meetings and needless tasks?

Omit needless tasks.

Cross them off your list, or make it hard for them to get there in the first place. Make every task that goes on your list past a test: is it truly necessary? Will I have felt great about doing it, when I’m done?

Because not doing it at all is often the best way to get things done.

“The cheapest, fastest, and most reliable components of a computer system are those that aren’t there.” – Gordon Bell

There’s No Task Easier Than No Task was originally posted on Zen Habits on 10/1/09.

The Habits That Crush Us

‘Don’t panic.’ ~Douglas Adams

Why is it that we cannot break the bad habits that stand in our way, crushing our desires to live a healthy life, be fit, simplify, be happier?

How is it that our best intentions are nearly always beaten? We want to be focused and productive, exercise and eat healthy foods, stop smoking and learn to get rid of debt and clutter, but we just can’t.

The answer lies in something extremely simple, but something most people aren’t aware of:

We don’t know how to cope with stress and boredom in a healthy way.

The bad habits we’ve formed are often useful to us, in dealing with stress and boredom. Consider the bad habits that fit this bill:

  • Smoking
  • Internet procrastination
  • Eating junk food
  • Drinking
  • Being rude/angry/depressed
  • Watching TV or playing video games (if you become addicted & sedentary)
  • Shopping (getting into debt, building clutter)
  • Procrastinating on finances, paperwork, clutter (too stressful)
  • Inactivity (avoiding exercise is a stress avoidance technique)
  • Biting nails, chewing hair, clenching jaw

This isn’t a complete list, but all of these habits fill a strong need: they are ways to cope with stress and/or boredom. We have formed them as coping mechanisms, and they stick around because we don’t have better ways of coping.

So what if instead, we replaced them with healthier ways of coping? We’d get rid of the problems of these bad habits, and start getting the benefits of better habits.

Better Coping Habits

How can we deal with stress and boredom instead? There’s no one answer, but the habits we form should be ones that lead to healthier results. Some ideas:

  • Walk/run/swim/bike
  • Do pushups, pullups, squats
  • Yoga/meditation
  • Play with friends/kids
  • Create, write, play music, read when we’re bored
  • Learn to enjoy being alone, instead of being bored
  • Take a daily walk and enjoy nature
  • Deal with finances, clutter, paperwork immediately, in small steps, so that it doesn’t get stressful
  • Take control of a situation: make a list, get started in baby steps, so things don’t get stressful
  • Learn to be mindful of your breathing, body tension, stressed-out thoughts
  • Get some rest
  • Learn to savor healthy food that you find delicious
  • Slow down
  • Take a hot bath
  • Learn to live in the present

These are some good examples. Each habit above will help cope with or prevent stress or boredom. If you replace the bad habits with these, your life will be less stressful and healthier. You’ll have less debt, less clutter, less fat, less disease.

Changing the Habits

The old habits of coping didn’t build up overnight, and they won’t go away overnight either. We built them up through years of repetition, and the only way to change them is also years of repetition.

But an important start is to realize why we do them — stress and boredom, largely — and realize that there are other ways to deal with these two problems. We need to be aware when stress and boredom start to kick in, and instead of being afraid of them, realize that they are problems easily solved by other habits. Let’s take the fear out of stress and boredom. Let’s learn that we can beat them simply, and prove that with repeated good habits.

Once you have that realization, follow the usual Zen Habits steps to changing a habit:

  1. Pick one habit at a time.
  2. Start very small – just a minute or two, if you want it to stick.
  3. Use social motivation like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or email.
  4. Be very conscious of your triggers, and do the habit consciously every time the trigger happens.
  5. Enjoy the new habit. You’ll stick with it longer if you do.

We have been crushed by the habits we’ve formed out of fear of stress and boredom. We can fight back, by learning to breathe, to smile, to go slowly. We can humble these giants that crush us by turning them into mere gnats to be shooed away with a smile.

The Habits That Crush Us was originally posted on Zen Habits on 1/23/12.

10 Simple Ways to Live a Less Stressful Life

“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.” – George F. Burns

Stress is a major problem for many people — a hectic, stressful job, a chaotic home life, bills to worry about, and bad habits such as unhealthy eating, drinking and smoking can lead to a mountain of stress.

If your life is full of stress, like mine once was, there are some simple things you can do to get your life to a more manageable level.

Now, your life will probably never be stress-free — I don’t think that’s even desirable, even if it is possible, because stress is something that challenges us and helps us grow. At a reasonable level. But when stress gets too high, it causes us to be unhappy and unhealthy.

It wasn’t that long ago when I was working long hours in a very stressful job, with little time for my family, smoking and eating fatty foods and not exercising. I had a lot of debt and too many bills. I was unhappy and stressed out all the time. I was losing hair … OK, actually that was because of genetics, but still. I was pretty stressed.

So I made some drastic changes. I quit my job. I simplified my life. I quit smoking and started exercising and eating healthier. I began to eliminate my debt. And I learned some habits that, when applied on a daily basis, can really transform the way you live, in a positive way.

How did I do all of this? One thing at a time. I didn’t do a major rehaul of my life. I changed one habit a month, and gradually over the course of a year or two changed a lot of things in my life.

I won’t guarantee that all of these will work for you. They worked for me, but each person is different. Pick and choose the ones that will work best for you, and give them a try. One at a time.

1. One thing at a time. This is the simplest and best way to start reducing your stress, and you can start today. Right now. Focus as much as possible on doing one thing at a time. Clear your desk of distractions. Pick something to work on. Need to write a report? Do only that. Remove distractions such as phones and email notifications while you’re working on that report. If you’re going to do email, do only that. This takes practice, and you’ll get urges to do other things. Just keep practicing and you’ll get better at it.

2. Simplify your schedule. A hectic schedule is a major cause of high stress. Simplify by reducing the number of commitments in your life to just the essential ones. Learn to say no to the rest — and slowly get out of commitments that aren’t beneficial to you. Schedule only a few important things each day, and put space between them. Get out of meetings when they aren’t absolutely essential. Leave room for down time and fun.

3. Get moving. Do something each day to be active — walk, hike, play a sport, go for a run, do yoga. It doesn’t have to be grueling to reduce stress. Just move. Have fun doing it.

4. Develop one healthy habit this month. Other than getting active, improving your health overall will help with the stress. But do it one habit at a time. Eat fruits and veggies for snacks. Floss every day. Quit smoking. Cook something healthy for dinner. Drink water instead of soda. One habit at a time.

5. Do something calming. What do you enjoy that calms you down? For many people, it can be the “get moving” activity discussed above. But it could also be taking a nap, or a bath, or reading, or having sex (which can also be considered a “get moving” activity if you do it for longer than 5 minutes). Other people are calmed by housework or yardwork. Some people like to meditate, or take a nature walk. Find your calming activity and try to do it each day.

6. Simplify your finances. Finances can be a drain on your energy and a major stressor. If that’s true with you, figure out ways to simplify things. Automate savings and bill payments and debt payments. Spend less by going shopping (at malls or online) much less. Find ways to have fun that don’t involve spending money.

7. Have a blast! Have fun each day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I like to play with my kids — they take my mind off everything and are really hilarious. I also like to play sports (again, often with my kids). Board games are fun. Sex, again, can be a fun activity. Whatever you choose, be sure to laugh.

8. Get creative. Throwing yourself into a creative activity is another great way to de-stress and to prevent stress. I like writing, but others like to paint or play music or sketch or make pottery or do interior design or build things.

9. Declutter. This is a favorite of mine. I like to take 20-30 minutes and just go through a room, getting rid of stuff we don’t use or need anymore. I look around at anything that’s cluttering up a room, and get rid of it or find a better place for it. When I’m done, I have a nice, peaceful enviornment for work, play, and living. Do this a little at a time — it can be one of your “fun activities”.

10. Be early. I will admit that it’s hard to be early when you have to get 6 kids ready (seriously — try it!). But being late can be very stressful. Try to leave earlier by getting ready earlier, or by scheduling more space between events. Things always take longer than normal, so schedule some buffer time: extra time to get ready, to commute, to do errands before you need to be somewhere, to attend a meeting before another scheduled appointment. If you get somewhere early, it’s good to have some reading material.

“Loafing needs no explanation and is its own excuse.” – Christopher Morley

10 Simple Ways to Live a Less Stressful Life was originally posted on Zen Habits 10/5/08.