You’ve probably met people who just seem to have it all together: organized, productive get-goers who make the most of their time, but also have plenty of time to relax. Balancing your career, family obligations, studies and leisure can seem overwhelming sometimes. This may be because you are thinking of balance from a sacrifice paradigm – “add from here, subtract from there”. If you do this, you might find yourself pushing too hard in some areas and missing out on many of the things that matter to you. But instead, if you think of all of these aspects of your life as different areas to nurture, and develop better productivity habits so that you can do more with less, and work smarter, not harder.

A 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology by health psychology researcher Phillipa Lally found that it takes 66 days to develop a new habit. If you haven’t consciously tried to take up a new habit, that might seem like a long time, and you might wonder whether you can even do it – but you won’t know until you’ve tried! Challenge yourself to take up just one of these habits for now, and once you’ve managed that, move on to the next one. You wouldn’t believe how much of a difference these little tweaks can make to your life!

1. Buy less stuff, and keep less stuff.

According to The Story of Stuff, the average U.S. person now consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago. A lot of what you buy is therapeutic spending, keeping up with the Joneses, or enjoying that rush that comes with a gorgeous new dress or a delicious restaurant meal. But before you know it, that dress is gathering dust in your wardrobe, and as far as the meal, once you’ve eaten it, it’s gone – like they say, you can’t have your cake and eat it too!

When you think about it, how much of the items you bought 6 months ago are you still using today? 20 percent? 10 percent? Maybe even less. It’s not good for your purse, and it’s terrible for the planet. It’s also probably taking up a whole lot of space in your house, but because of sunk-cost fallacy, it’s very difficult in psychological terms to part with those parachute pants that you bought in the 80s and haven’t worn since then. (Please, don’t start wearing them.) Marie Kondo, creator of the popular Konmari method, speaks of only keeping things in your life that “bring you joy”: if you’re hoarding decades’ worth of things that you never use, it’s often difficult to find the ones that you would be using more otherwise if you could just figure out where you put them. Once you get past that sunk-cost fallacy and realize that the advantages of decluttering outweigh the disadvantages, you can save time, energy and space by having a more organized life.

2. Manage your time.

Forgetting appointments left, right and centre? Double-booking? Stood up that cute guy/girl for a date? Relying on your own memory to plan things is a recipe for disaster, and “oops, I forgot!” is getting to be a less socially acceptable excuse now that you’re not 15 anymore. We’ve probably all bought a yearly planner, wrote in a few birthdays, placed it in a drawer and found it there 3 years later; but getting into the habit of writing down your commitments straightaway will change your life and make for a lot less embarrassed apologies, not to mention missed-appointment fees!

There’s plenty of great online calendar programs, including ones that sync with your phone, or you can carry a planner with you in your car or in your bag. There are some lovely, stylish options out there that make for great accessories. Why not look into some of these gorgeous professional and personal yearly planners and notebooks to simplify your life?

3. Take a digital sabbath.

Being constantly connected to the world at your fingertips has some amazing advantages, but it’s also exhausting. Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, advocates taking a “digital sabbath” where you simply switch off all of your technology for a day. If your smartphone has been constantly in your pocket for years now, this can actually be very difficult to do at first, but once you make a habit of it, you’ll find that it’s a surprisingly enriching experience. Go to the park or the beach, read a book, go camping, or drive somewhere you’ve never been – you’ll find yourself more relaxed, and with experiences that will mean so much more to you than your regular online days.

(Easy way out: if you really can’t handle a day without your phone, you can still get off the sofa and go to the park, the beach, etc: if you’re lucky, you might even find some Pokemon there.)

4. Be a life-long learner.

The world is an amazing place, and there is so much that you don’t know. Acquiring knowledge for work can further your career in amazing ways, and that’s definitely worth doing too, but acquiring knowledge for knowledge’s sake will make you more cultured, a better conversationalist and can even make you more intelligent! Whether you’re learning a new language, or pursuing an intellectual interest like psychology or literature, using your leisure time to enrich your mind can be both rewarding and fun. There are many websites that offer free courses from top universities worldwide, and these are often even accredited: you’re bound to find something that you’ll want to know more about. If it gets you your dream job, then so much the better.

Let us know in the comments section below what habits you’ve made a conscious decision to acquire, any tips you have for how you’ve kept up the momentum, and how making little changes to the way you do things has enriched your life!

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