Eliminate trivia. Carve out time for important stuff

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Are you driven to do pointless tasks? Is it hard to stop doing them even though they’re useless? Eliminate trivia and stop being a slave to habit. Carve out more time in the day to do the things that matter.

Many of us spend our lives in a kind of fog. We keep on doing what we’ve always done out of habit.

And yes, being on autopilot can save us mental energy. But being a creature of habit also has a downside. You can become a slave to habit. Then you spend time on tasks that aren’t useful.

Habits are often boring and drain your energy. Why not use that energy to do the important stuff? 

1 Question your routines

What are the reasons for doing what you do? Habit? Fear of others’ disapproval? Worry about what will happen if you don’t do it? 

Let’s say you’ve decided you want your kids to do several activities outside of school.

So you spend some evenings, and most of your weekends running them round to different places. You also organise the gear they need, and hang around for hours waiting for them.

However, you’ve never questioned if they’re actually benefiting from this regime. In addition, you’re overlooking how cranky and exhausted this is making you all.

So what’s behind this need to push your children and yourself to this extent?

Are you fearful they’ll miss out, not make friends, or feel neglected? Are you worried others will see you as not doing your duty as a parent? Or are you trying to make up for something you missed in your own childhood?

Who says you need to book your children in for so many activities? Perhaps they only need one activity per week?

They may even be happier with more down time to unwind from school and play on their own.

So don’t automatically just keep doing what you think should be done. Stop for a few moments to analyse if it really is working for you or others.  

2 Question overly high standards

Perhaps you push yourself to achieve high standards in every area. You want to be a social whirlwind, perfect parent and great employee. 

But no-one can keep up this level of pressure indefinitely. Sooner or later you’ll reach the point of collapse.

3 Reassess what you’re doing

Why not reassess what you’re doing before you reach that point? See if you can weed out pointless habits that chew up time and energy.

Work out habits or tasks you could cut down or remove without any problem.

Of course you need to keep your life in order. You all have housework, family and financial tasks. But can you make these chores simpler? Do them less often?

4 Simplify, simplify, simplify

Weed out the chores that aren’t useful. Which habits do you want to keep or change? And which do you want to toss out altogether?

Eliminate trivia. Don’t be a slave to habits that stop you doing what you really want to do in life. 

5 Be mindful

For a few days or weeks, be mindful. Be curious about how you spend your time. This can be in any area of life – work, home or leisure.

Notice every task you do. In addition, take special note of those that serve no purpose.

6 Audit useless habits

You’ll identify plenty of activities you don’t need to do: e.g.

1 Sending Christmas messages to people you don’t care about

2 Cooking too much food for picnics or parties

3 Spending hours searching for the perfect clothes

4 Answering all texts and emails with long messages

5 Reading news items about issues that may never happen

6 Reading non-urgent reports or papers instead of skimming the main points

7 Washing or vacuuming your car weekly out of habit

8 Attending social engagements out of a sense of duty

9 Cooking different meals for fussy people in your family

7 List habits to drop

Make your own list of tasks to reduce or eliminate. Once you start, you’ll find even more. Then make up your mind to eliminate trivia, one step at a time. 

Begin with one of the easier tasks to change or get rid of.

a) Why are you doing them?

For each task, work out answers to these questions:

Is there a good reason I’m doing this particular task? Or am I doing it because someone thinks I should?

How much stress does this task cause me?

Can I work out a simpler, shorter, quicker way to do it?

Do I have to do the whole thing or can I leave out some part?

Can I do it to a lower standard without bad results?

What would happen if I stop it altogether?

b) Change what you do

Experiment with different ways of doing the task, or stop doing it completely. Notice any problems that occur over the few weeks by changing this habit.

Work out how to deal with these issues, if needed.

Then move on to the next task you want to change. Be systematic and keep a list of what you’re doing.

c) Adapt to your situation

Adapt the above questions to any task or habit you want to modify. Use the time saved for other more meaningful activities.

Let’s use a simple example

Perhaps you want to stop ironing everything after washing.

(You may never have ironed in your life. In that case, substitute another activity for ironing. However, read the following to get some tips about the process.)

You answer the questions above and realise several things.

1 You like the look of ironed clothes for work and formal social occasions.

2 However, your lounge is cluttered with baskets of clothes to be ironed.

3 You always feel disorganised, and can’t find what you need.

4 You’d prefer to fold and put away items when they’re dry.

5 The only reason you iron is that your mother did.

6 You worry people will think you’re lazy if you don’t iron.

7 However you’re guessing what they think.

8 You’ve no evidence that anyone thinks you’re lazy.

9 In fact, others tease you for ironing too much.

10 You hold yourself to a higher standard than other people.

Your decision?

You decide you’ll iron only formal and work wear, and forget the rest. You plan gradually to do the following to make up for not ironing:

1 Hang jeans in the bathroom to steam out creases.

2 Accept wrinkles in casual wear and other items.

3 Fold items immediately out of the dryer or off the line.

4 Buy only drip dry or non-iron fabrics, and no hand-wash items.

5 Wear quality T-shirts under jackets instead of shirts.

6 Wash good clothing on delicate, and dry on coat hangers.

7 Ditch the baskets and hang up un-ironed clothes.

8 Iron clothing just before you’re going to wear it.

9 Teach others in the house to iron their own clothes.

Planning ahead

A few of these actions may take a minute or two more than before. For example, you’ll have to plan ahead to make sure you have time to iron clothes.

But the overall time you save will make up for that.

Handling criticism

Your mother, who loves ironing, may disapprove of your new strategy. Let her criticism slide over you, and refuse to feel bad. Tell her you no longer believe ironing everything is necessary. 

Then change the subject. Ask her what she’s been doing.

If she continues to argue the point, be a little firmer. Let her know you’re not discussing it further and change the subject again.

Be assertive, not angry

Tell critical people you’d rather do something more meaningful than ironing. Then describe something you’re going to do with the time you’ve gained.

Now adapt this basic process to any habit you want to get rid of.

Summary: eliminating trivia

So to summarise how to eliminate trivia from your life.

Firstly, decide which habit you wish to change. Before you can change anything, you need to notice what you’re doing. 

Work out the exact steps you follow for the task. Note how often you do them and how long they take.

Answer the questions above to find out what’s behind this habit.

Decide what benefit the task gives you. If there’s little or none, ask what makes you keep on doing it? If you’re only doing it to please others, it may be time to change.

Eliminate trivia. Stop being a slave to habit. Save time and energy for the important stuff.

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