Most of us have learned the hard way that trying to force yourself to be happy when you’re in a terrible mood does nothing but make the situation worse. So what’s a woman to do when she’s feeling down? A recent study found that a key path to feeling happier is so obvious that we’d likely never have thought of it: Making a concerted effort to plan your time around activities you think you will enjoy,” like participating in cherished hobbies or spending time with friends, brings a major increase in joy to a person’s life.
The study, which included 233 adults, found that those who “prioritized positivity,” as researchers described it, were more likely to be satisfied with life. They were also more likely to experience a stronger occurrence of positive emotions and fewer depressive symptoms, as well as more mindfulness and better relationships.
Of course, finding the energy to plan out grand activities is no easy feat when you’re feeling down in the dumps and unmotivated. Even if you feel up to scheduling, you’re guaranteed to confront yet another hurdle in your path — nobody has any extra time! While it would be nice to think we can just clear our schedules completely in order to have fun, we live in a busy world, so a more reasonable approach is finding tricks to carve out a few extra minutes here and there, which can ultimately add up to a few extra hours each week. If your schedule is packed to the brim, here are a few sneaky ways to cut out tiny time wasters (and schedule more fun!):
1. Delete social media apps from your phone. Talk about a time waster! How many of us start strolling through our Instagram feed and all of a sudden, 20 minutes have gone by? You don’t have to cut social media out of your life, but deleting the apps off your phone does force you to access them through your phone’s Internet browser instead of by simply tapping an app. This tiny change makes you less likely to mindlessly scroll and forces you to be intentional about when you’ll check your accounts.
2. Create constructive routines. Consider the tasks that need to get done every day (like packing lunch, responding to emails, or working out) and do them at the same time each day. Once you have a ritual in place, it becomes muscle memory, and you free up lots of mental energy that would have gone towards writing these tasks down on to-do lists and fretting over when you’ll accomplish them each day. If you always respond to emails from Mom and Dad first thing in the morning, for instance, you don’t have to stress all day at work about how they’re going to freak out because they didn’t hear from you.
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3. Schedule your week. A sneaky time-waster can be the act of simply deciding what to actually do with free time when we suddenly have some. This can mean lots of internal debating over what’s most important on your to-do list, what would be the most efficient errand to run, whether it’s fair to take a 30-minute Hulu break before getting started on something productive, or how you really just deserve a break and should totally use your free time to relax. By the time you finally get around to whatever you decided to do, precious minutes are down the drain! We’ve already established that scheduling the things that make you happy is a great habit to get into, but what about scheduling the not-so-fun tasks too? Set aside 30 minutes each week and block out chunks of your schedule for the week’s most important tasks. You’ll wake up each morning knowing what to expect for the day — and then your free time really can be free.
4. Keep a journal or other outlet. Spend about 20 minutes each morning journaling or focusing on some other hobby, like yoga, meditation, tai chi, or a creative outlet that allows you to parse through your thoughts. This may seem counterintuitive because it’s one more thing to dedicate time to, but all those free-floating thoughts in your head are what makes it so hard to focus during the day. If you have some practice of head-clearing that can allow you to dump out all your thoughts about what you’re going to eat for dinner that day and whether you remembered to turn off the oven and that really rude thing your brother said to you last night, you’ll accomplish tasks much more quickly.
5. Get organized. This one may sound like a no-brainer, but there’s a reason so few of us actually are organized. There are so many gurus and complicated systems claiming to make your life more efficient, but for most people, they just make it more complicated. Here’s a really simple way to streamline your life if you’re in constant putting-out-fires mode: keep one big master to-do list, and every morning, choose 1-3 things on it that are priority #1 for the day. Do those things no matter what, and the lower-priority to-dos will fall into place. Is this system sustainable forever? Probably not, but it’s a great way to detox your mind if you’re frenzied and constantly have ten different to-do lists and notes scattered on errant pieces of paper in the bottom of your purse.
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6. Be methodical about your primping habits. Beauty is more fun when it’s spontaneous, and on days when you have the luxury of time, that’s great. But on especially packed mornings, it’s great to have a bare-minimum skincare, hair and beauty routine to stick to. Keep your favorite products close at hand (say, in a makeup bag you can move between your bathroom and bedroom) and remember that a little mascara and concealer can go a long way if you only have two minutes to get ready. Consider saving yourself an hour or so in the mornings by washing your hair the night before a big day and letting it air-dry as you sleep. Laying out clothes the night before is easier said than done (What if your mood totally changes by the next morning? What if you wake up to crazy weather that doesn’t match the outfit?), but having a go-to outfit in your head for days when you just can’t be bothered to pick something out is a big time-saver. Plus, packing up your purse and bags you’ll need each day before going to sleep can also make for a much easier morning. Not running around every morning trying to find our car keys could add YEARS to our lives, for real.
Any other tips for cutting out sneaky time wasters? Let us know in the comments!