For Labor Day: 6 Insights from a Radically Simplified Schedule

Last week, I wrote this post about radically simplifying my email, and I also shared what I’ve learned from radically downsizing our home.

So it makes sense that today, as my friends in the U.S. are celebrating Labor Day, I share something on radically simplifying my schedule, my calendar.

Two months ago, we moved back to South Africa and left all kinds of time commitments back in the U.S:

  • I’m working fewer hours.
  • My commute is negligible, down from about 40 minutes per day.
  • I have dropped from a couple dozen meetings per week to about one.
  • Our kids have no evening or weekend activities.
  • A house that’s 1/3 the size requires 1/3 the cleaning (and our landlords pay a woman who does a couple hours of cleaning for us each week—amazing).
  • We don’t have to worry about a lot of normal homeownership stuff.
  • We don’t have church leadership responsibilities here.
  • We simply know fewer people here, and they live farther away.

So, what have I learned? Plenty…

It is really hard to get rid of stuff and to limit the space you use. I had the advantage of moving to another continent. If you can pull it off somehow, do it—having less stuff and space leads to having more time. And having more time certainly makes me more content, happier.

So much conversation these days is complaint but so little is done to change it. (Tweet that.) Actually being happy gives others the license to do so, as well.

I am normally a pretty happy person. I’ve been thinking about my emotions, and happiness in particular, since a colleague led a workshop on emotional intelligence, and I read The Happiness Project. Having more time makes me much happier (and more effective, too), because I get to do things that make me happy: go on motorcycle rides, take pictures, go running, read a lot, improve my cooking, and spend real time with my family every day.

I work in social media. I like it. I use it. It makes my life better. I enjoy it. But in our move here, we found cell coverage wasn’t very good. And our phones are our Internet hotspots. So we don’t have much connectivity in our home any more, except for a little email. This has made me more attentive to the time I am online. And when I’m not online, I’m well and truly not online. That is a great joy.

I started a desk job four years ago, took on more responsibilities, and started cutting corners. I ate food that wasn’t very good for me. I exercised much less. I didn’t sleep quite as much. These were bad choices.

But now, I am enjoying exercising five times per week and not feeling like I should be doing something else. I have dropped a couple pounds. My sleep is solid and sufficient. I’m cooking more thoughtfully, eating less, and enjoying food more. So stark is the difference that I think doctors should write prescriptions for simplified lives just for the impact on physical health.

As of today, I have 2,172 friends on Facebook, and I do actually know all but a couple of them. By temperament, I know and enjoy knowing a lot of people. But being connected to work friends and neighbor friends and church friends and college friends and plain-old-friends takes time. Facebook makes it simpler, but we often would have people over for dinner three, four, or even five times in a week.

In our time here, I have a few close friends, only one of whom lives close enough that I see regularly. But that is sufficient. In fact, it’s great. I think I was really overextended socially in the U.S.

When I rush, I often blow right by good things—real, substantial blessings in my life—without giving a second glance or thought. Ouch.

Since moving here, though, I’ve noticed my kids’ laughter again. Chrissy and I go for walks. We live in an incredibly beautiful place. (See some of my images here.) I know how good life is because I have time to notice it.

My radically simplified schedule has brought me a lot of happiness and peace—rare commodities back home. I’ve rediscovered hobbies. I’m gentler with my wife and kids. I am in better shape. I am praying more. I’m cultivating good habits, from daily to weekly to monthly.

A radically simplified schedule has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.

So today, look at your calendar and start deleting things. Make an exit strategy for something that takes too much time without enough result. Change your work hours to decrease your commute. Focus on a few close friends. Get rid of some stuff. Define the place and time of your use of technology. Set some new habits.

Have you ever radically simplified your schedule or calendar? How? What was the result?