RoutinesThere are two approaches to everything. The first approach is the ‘super-project’. That’s when you commit to something and run at it full-tilt. It’s when you go on an extreme weight-loss diet, a clutter purge, a radical shift in your career, or a total life-style overhaul.

The second approach is the ‘little and often’. That’s when you commit to slowly replacing unhealthy food with healthy alternatives, de-clutter slowly by giving away one item a day, or gradually educate and transition yourself over time into a new way of being.

Both methods have plus points and minus points. The ‘super-project’ can be high-risk. It can be overwhelming, it can cause us to burn our bridges, and it can be difficult to sustain. It can also be a fast and effective means of forcing yourself to follow through, a kind of Phoenix like rebirth of yourself.

The ‘little and often’ method is often more sustainable, less dramatic and safer. It can be an effective means of gradually transforming your life and making sure you have really thought it through and built the necessary foundations. You slowly reduce your spending in one area. You slowly tidy and de-clutter your house, drawer by drawer, cupboard by cupboard. You commit to a ten year plan, instead of a ten day plan. You can also spend a lot of time spinning your wheels, getting rid of something just to buy two other things, reduce your spending in one area just to have it creep up somewhere else.

The Art of Routines

A routine is a habitual set of actions that is performed regularly. A routine is often done on auto-pilot. We come home, we turn the TV on, and we stick dinner in the microwave while watching Family Guy. A routine can also be a small thing that leads us to the goal we want. We could come home, switch into our trainers, and go for a twenty minute run.

The key is to make sure our routines are in line with what we want to achieve. How do we make sure that happens?

Decide on what you want

The first step is to know what it is you actually want. Do you want to start a side business? Cook more meals at home? Save 50% of your income? Be able to run a marathon? You can’t work towards a goal, until you know where you’re going. Otherwise you just go around in circles.

Figure out the little steps that get you there

Start a side-business? You need a client. Where do you get a client? Figure out a small list of actionable things you can do, and then pick a time of day to them. For example, you could send out three leaflets a day to local businesses. You could do this every morning before breakfast, or last thing at night before sleeping.

If it’s the ability to run a marathon, you need to go running frequently. If you want to lose weight, you need to eat a salad a day. And so on. You’re a smart person, you don’t need me to tell you what you need to do.

Keep it Simple

This is a blog about simplicity after all. Just pick one daily routine. Don’t start a side-business, go on a diet, commit to run a marathon, and take something to the charity shop every day. You want one habit that you do daily. Not ten habits that you forget and run out of time for.

Once it becomes habitual, you can start a new one. Around thirty days is probably good. And try giving up habits too, for every new one you bring in.

Remember you have a lifetime

You don’t have forever. If you keep putting it off, you’ll wake up when you’re seventy and realise you never did anything. But also – realise you have an entire lifetime. You don’t need to do everything urgently. Learning a new language can wait until you have your health sorted. Ten years is a long long time. You can spend a year messing around with one thing, and then move on to something else.

It’s about the journey – not the destination.

Living life properlyI feel like a grown up.

For my whole life, people have told me I seem older than what I am. I was sensible, mature, and responsible.

When I turned 18, I felt like I was stuck in a time warp. I stayed 18 for a long time.

Now I feel like I’m 25 – a quarter of a century. Going from 18 to 25 is a little strange.

It is about suddenly being the one with experience, the one who travelled, the one with stories to tell, the one who knows how to untangle the thread of bureaucracy, who knows how to navigate the treacherous waters of life. The one who, when someone knocks a glass of coke over, goes and grabs the tissue.

I am, suddenly, a first aider, a forklift truck driver and a businessman. I fill in tax forms every year, well ahead of the deadline. I cook my own meals, wash my own clothes, and choose my own books. I plant herbs and vegetables. I’m practical. I’m unflappable.

Today, our 18 year old new employee, turned to me and asked, in a wistful kind of way – “Do you know what it is you want to do with your life?”

And all the answers I once had – to be a writer, a director, create a commune, be a journalist, travel the world – they were all cop-outs. Not because they are failed dreams, but because we are so many things in the course of a lifetime – that I value my role as a friend, a lover, a daughter. That I can be a web-designer, a council officer, a writer, a blogger and none of it is ‘what I’m doing with my life’.

All I’m doing with my life is living it.

PassionOne of the things that can be difficult when you simplify and downsize your life is what to do with the time you have acquired. Now, I’m a long way from having a 4-hour workweek. But I’m also a lot better off than when I was working a 50-hour full-time job, and working part-time at the weekends -alongside a bunch of other commitments.

The trouble is, it’s very easy to fill up the free time with some more useless activity. You might end up watching more television, or start mindlessly surfing the Internet. You could get involved in a bunch of things you feel like you should be doing – even though you don’t really want to. Lots of minimalists tout their favourite activities as part of the minimalist lifestyle – but if you don’t like yoga, then don’t do it.

One of the first things I started doing was watching old TV shows that I had never had time for before. I started watching X-Files, for example. And whilst I do enjoy the show, I have never made time for TV before because it just wasn’t that important to me.

And before I knew it, all my newly acquired free time was being eaten up by a bunch of little pointless things – reading random pages on Wikipedia. Tracking the news about the UK budget in pinpoint detail. Surfing Internet forums. Watching Family Guy.

I needed to make sure I was spending time on the things that were important to me.

I should add that I don’t think we’re designed to be 100% productive all the time. As humans, we require down time – time to play and relax. But we should make sure we’re relaxing the way we want to, and not the way society dictates that we should.

I love reading hard-boiled crime novels, and related genres.

I love doing Yoga – and the best part is I was finally able to touch my toes yesterday after weeks of practise.

I love sitting outside, drinking tea and just watching the sky.

I love listening to cheesy 90′s music and dancing.

I love rambling through fields and getting lost.

These are the things I should be filling my extra time with – not watching X-Files, or reading about David Cameron.

What do you like doing? Can you do it now?