The Quest for a Life Less Stressed

The Idle Life

The Tao and the Idle Life 1

Posted on May 14, 2010 by Beau

As you can imagine, I’m a big fan of Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog. He and I see eye to eye on a lot of issues, though it’s unlikely he’ll ever convince me to become a vegan. I loves my bacon too much! :)

He just wrote an amazing blog post, called The Tao of Productivity, that goes hand in hand with my ideas of how to live an idle life but still be satisfied with what you get done.

Taoism has always had a special place in my heart, partially because it fits perfectly with being idle, but also because it reminds us that you can often accomplish more by “not-doing” and letting things take their course than you can by trying to do too much and ending up frustrated when things don’t go according to your plan.

When I start to think about all the stuff I don’t have, and all of the stuff I’d need to do to get it, I get stressed and unhappy. When I sit back and realize that I have an amazing life and would rather take time to appreciate all the great things I have right now, I feel relaxed, refreshed, and satisfied. Reading the Tao always seems to instill that same sense of peace and satisfaction in me.

If you want to learn to stop and smell the roses more often, and stop struggling so hard all the time, try reading the Tao. It’s so simple and such a quick read, but the ideas in it can really help you take stock of your life and learn just how satisfying doing nothing at all can be.


For Your To-Do List: Create a To-Don't List 6

Posted on May 12, 2010 by Beau

Image courtesy of Carissa

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that at some point, everybody makes to-do lists. Maybe they’re trying to be more productive, maybe they’re trying to be less stressed, maybe they just feel like they should because everyone else does.

I’m going to propose an idea that can simultaneously help you be less stressed and more productive: create a to-don’t list. Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t thought of this before.

It’s a really simple idea: a to-don’t list is just a reminder list of all the things you don’t want to do that day, but need reminding of. You can post it at your desk, or on your bathroom mirror, or wherever you want to have reminders of all the crap you want to avoid, that day or every day. These reminders can help keep negative stuff out of your life, and at the same time keep you focused on what’s really important, making you more productive.

Depending on what you struggle with, some ideas might be:

  • Don’t get so angry with other drivers.
  • Don’t stress out about stuff that doesn’t matter in the big picture.
  • Don’t put work ahead of family.
  • Don’t check email every 5 minutes.
  • Don’t let the Man get you down. :)

The list could go on and on, but the basic point is: Reminding yourself, as often as necessary, to cut out the crap in your life that’s holding you back or making you unhappy.

That’s it! Give it a try- every time you think of something you’re doing now that you wish you weren’t, add it to your to-don’t list. See what happens, and report back to me! I’m really interested to see if this idea helps people avoid the things in their lives that make them miserable.

By the way, here’s a short list of my to-don’ts that I came up with off the top of my head (in addition to the ones above, which all apply to me):

  • Don’t watch TV for hours instead of doing things that are meaningful.
  • Don’t worry about getting distracted, if it means learning about wonderful new things.
  • Don’t let all your free time get filled up. Leave some space.
  • Don’t forget to tell people around you how important and valuable they are.
  • Don’t think too much about the future.
  • Don’t take on too many projects at once.

I’m sure I’ll think of a million more, but those are a good start. What about you? Please share your to-don’ts in the comments!


The Audacity of Nope: Why Learning to Say No Can Make You (and Everyone Else) Happier 6

Posted on April 17, 2010 by Beau

Photo courtesy of JMV

If you’re like most people in this day and age, you probably spend a lot of time feeling overwhelmed, overbooked, and stretched way too thin. Between work, family, hobbies, friends, and a thousand other commitments, it can feel like time for yourself is impossible to come by.

Once you get in the habit of saying yes to every request that comes your way, it can be hard to break the cycle. Trying to please everyone can become addictive. You don’t want to let people down or disappoint anyone, so you just keep taking on more and more until you’re drowning in commitments.

Why It’s OK to Say No

While at first it might seem like a good idea to keep saying yes to everything, because it makes you look like a hero to your friends and family, or gets you some recognition at work, there are two reasons why it’s not a good idea.

The first is that eventually you’re going to burn out. It happens to everyone eventually, no matter how much willpower or passion you have. The human body wasn’t meant to operate under stress for long periods of time, and if you keep it at an elevated level of stress for a long time, either your body is going to revolt or you’re eventually going to snap under the strain.

When either of these happens, it usually means that the house of cards you’ve carefully built comes tumbling down, leaving everyone you’re committed to in the lurch. What’s worse, disappointing a few people by being upfront with them and turning down commitments, giving them the opportunity to find other ways to get things done, or suddenly not being able to fulfill any commitments to anyone? Worst of all, you’re the one suffering, which certainly isn’t fair repayment for trying to do good deeds.

The other downside of overcommitment is that no one ever gets your best. Because you can’t devote your full attention to just a few important things, everybody (your boss, your kids, your friends) just gets “what you can spare.” Many people who take on too many commitments aren’t good at prioritizing and make everything Priority #1, so that truly important things get put off so you can address the latest little crisis or task.

Eventually that kind of behavior starts to hurt your work performance, your relationships, and even your personal sense of well-being. We’re happiest when we’re able to focus on things that are most important to us and do our best on those things. When you take on too much, it’s easy to lose track of what’s really important, making you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels and not making progress on what’s most important.

It can also end up coming back to haunt you at work, since your boss isn’t getting to see what you can do when you have time to really dedicate yourself to achieving great things. Instead, they see the results of what you were able to accomplish under a time crunch, and probably while being distracted by a million other tasks. It’s not good for you in the long term. Your boss is going to be happier if you deliver quality results that make him or her look good.

Saying No? Yes, You Can!

OK, two Obama puns is probably more than enough for one article.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Sure, saying no sounds great, but how the hell do I manage it without getting fired or losing friends?”

Two strategies I’ve found that work great for saying no and getting your time back are: Setting Expectations and Blocking Off Time.

One thing I’ve noticed about people who never say no is that they almost never express how overbooked and stretched thin they are to the people who can actually do something about it, like their boss. Instead, they complain to coworkers: “Can you believe Jim just gave me another project to do? Doesn’t he know that I’ve already got 50 hours worth of work to do this week?” My guess is that no, Jim doesn’t know that, especially if you didn’t tell him when he gave you the new project.

In my experience, we really have no idea how busy other people are, even if we have a decent idea of what their responsibilities are. That’s because we’re not mind readers, so we rely on other people to tell us what their status is. Since we’ve all got our own work/issues/etc, we’re probably not considering the impact of another commitment when we ask someone to take something on. We’re too busy thinking about our own.

Setting Expectations Effectively

The key to setting expectations in a way that will actually help you lessen your load is to just be up front and honest. When Jim asks you if you can take on a project that’ll take 20 hours (or even just 2), you’re going to get a lot further if you just say, “Well, I’ve already got about 50 hours of work lined up for this week. If you want this to be my focus, I’m going to need to postpone a bunch of the other stuff to get this done.” Then you two can have a conversation about what the priorities really are, or whether this shiny new project can wait until other work has been completed first.

Doesn’t that seem a lot clearer and more effective than, “OK, I’ll try to fit it in.” In the latter statement, you’ve given no idea how realistic that is, so Jim will be assuming that you will indeed be able to fit it in.

Another important part of setting expectations is first getting clear on what your expectations for yourself and your life are. Do you expect that you shouldn’t have to work more than 40 hours a week to bring home a decent wage, except in rare circumstances that are absolute necessities? Or do you subconsciously expect that in order to have a job you have to take on anything your boss asks, whether it’s reasonable or not?

Personally, spending as much time as possible with my wife and toddler are hugely important to me, so I leave at 5 every day to make sure I can spend as much time as possible with them before our daughter’s bedtime. Could I get more recognition or maybe a promotion if I slaved away for 60 or 70 hours a week? Maybe. Would it make me happier or more fulfilled than the time I spend with my family? No way.

The same goes for your life outside of work: Do you expect that you should have some free time to yourself to read, paint, meditate, or whatever makes you happy, whether it means that other people will have to fend for themselves during those times? Or do you subconsciously expect that you have to be at the beck and call of your kids, your spouse, your social groups, or whoever?

Before you can really start setting expectations with other people (“Sorry, Billy, you’re going to have to pick one sport per season to play. The family needs some downtime each week.”) you need to first be really clear with yourself what you expect out of life. Then you can interact with others from a place of strength and self-assurance, rather than reacting to every request without knowing what it is you really want out of life.

Blocking Off Time

Blocking off time is a pretty simple idea. At least once a day (if not more), just set aside time that you can use to focus, relax, learn, work really hard, whatever you need to do. If it’s time during your work day, set yourself as busy on your calendar so you can’t get invited to meetings. Make this time as inviolate as possible, because it really is just as important as anything else you could do during the day.

Don’t check your email, turn off your IM, don’t answer your phone, whatever you need to do to keep focused during this time. If someone comes by your desk, let them know that you’re right in the middle of something and will get in touch with them as soon as your time block is over. Ask them to email you whatever it is that they need- chances are that you’ll be able to answer them over email later, or they’ll get the help they need from someone else instead.

I recognize that blocking off time isn’t necessarily possible in every type of job. If you’re working on an assembly line or answering phone calls in a customer service job, you probably can’t just ignore everyone during time you’re scheduled for someone else. However, if you’re being given projects that you’re expected to complete, and that you just don’t have time for in your regular schedule, talk to your boss about it. Let them know that you think if you could have two hours of uninterrupted time you could make huge progress or complete the project, rather than taking weeks to finish it while fitting it in around everything else, maybe they’ll let you take that time off the phone when call volume is usually lowest to get the project done. You’ll never know unless you ask, and chances are that they’ll be really happy to get the project finished sooner and with better quality.

You can also practice blocking off time outside of work, too. If practicing a creative hobby of yours, like writing or painting, is important to you, set a time for it in the evening or on the weekend, like 10-12 on Saturday. Let your spouse know that you’re “off duty” during that time, and that you won’t make other plans during that time unless it’s something meaningful to you, like seeing an old friend. Let your spouse do the same thing. Chances are that both of you will enjoy having that stress-free, enjoyable time to pursue what’s important to you, and it’ll likely help you feel less miserable even when you have to do things you don’t want to do.

I hope this post encourages you to “Just Don’t Do It” sometimes in your life. I think you’ll be amazed at how much taking back and honoring your time will do for your attitude, energy, and outlook on life.

Thoughts? Questions? Please leave them in the comments below! I’d love to hear if you’ve been able to start saying no more often in your life.


Idle Cooking: Recipe for Easy Jumbalaya 1

Posted on September 18, 2009 by Beau

By Dush Ramachandran, Guest Author

I love food and I love to eat. I’m just putting that out there at the outset. But there is nothing that destroys a day of idle contemplation like the need to cook a meal. I find the competing objectives of wanting time on a weekend to devote to the idle contemplation of the many mysteries of the world, and the compelling urge to eat good nutritious food, quite vexing. That is, until I discovered the modern marvel  – the slow cooker (also known as the CrockPotä). I think the slow cooker is the most ingenious answer to my dilemma, and indeed to any dilemma like mine

Just this last weekend I wanted to pursue the following idle pursuits: Read a new book I had bought on lighting for photography with small flashes, take a long motorcycle ride before the warm weather completely vanishes and look through a catalog of some excellent fall and winter clothes that one Mr. Edward Bauer very considerately dropped off in my mail box. How did he know I needed a new jacket for the winter? That clever Mr. Bauer seems to know everything. He and that Mr. L.L Bean. Very prescient gentlemen. But I digress.

In addition to those extravagantly idle pursuits, I also needed to cook dinner for the Sunday evening when my son was coming to visit and have enough for weekday dinners. So I turned to my trusty slow cooker and decided to whip up a tasty Jambalaya – redolent with the aromas of Creole cooking, and replete with the taste of the bayou. New Orleans in a pot. All with 15 minutes of work.

I offer you my recipe in the hope that this will lighten and enliven your weekend of idleness as it did mine:


Skinless boneless chicken breasts (cubed)                  1 lb

Andouille sausage (cut into 1″ pieces)                           ½ lb (or two links)

Brown rice                                                                           3 cups

Celery                                                                                   2 ribs

Red onion (diced)                                                              1 cup

Garlic (minced)                                                                  4 cloves

Diced tomatoes (28 oz can)                                             1

Chicken broth                                                                     3 cups (24 oz)

Bay leaf                                                                                1

Cajun spice                                                                         2 tsp

Tapatio or Cholula hot sauce                                          1 tsp

V8  Vegetable juice (Hot & Spicy)                                  1 can (6 oz)

Sauté the cubed chicken in a shallow skillet on medium heat until lightly browned (about 4 minutes) and pour into the slow cooker. Add all other ingredients into the slow cooker, mix well. Set the cooker on low and cook for about 6 ½ hours.

While the cooker is working its magic, devote yourself to the contemplation of the magnificence of the universe, or the lint in your belly button. Ah! The idle life!


Idle News: One-Third of Americans Nap Daily 0

Posted on July 30, 2009 by Beau

I was pretty excited when I saw a New York Times article today stating that one in three Americans say they take a nap on any given day. I have to admit, I would have guessed that the percentage would have been much lower, though with as exhausted as people let themselves get from not sleeping enough at night and overworking themselves during the day, it’s pretty inevitable that they’d collapse at some point.

My favorite part of the article is a quote from James B. Maas, a Cornell University sleep expert, who says that napping “should have the status of daily exercise.” My weekly amount of exercise just went way up! Thanks, James B. Maas!

As positive as these numbers are, surely we can do better than merely 33%. As part of overhauling health care, perhaps the government should mandate daily naps for everyone. Who knows what benefits it could have on our overall health as a nation? At the very least, it seems like it would be worth running, say, a 10-year trial to judge the effectiveness of 100% of the population taking daily naps. Time to call your representative and demand action (or inaction, as the case may be).


Finding More Time to Read 1

Posted on July 20, 2009 by Beau

Reading has always been one of my greatest pleasures in life. I typically finish several books a month, and am always reading at least two books at a time, though often 3 or 4. I own more books than I could ever possibly read, because buying books is one of my favorite things to spend money on, and I can safely say that if I was able to quit working and do whatever I wanted with my time, I would read for several hours every day.

Imagine my horror, then, when I see depressing statistics about how little people read these days. For example, a 2007 study that found that 1 in 4 Americans hadn’t read a single book in the past year, and that the average person reads only 4 books a year. A 2008 National Endowment for the Arts study found that only a slight majority of adult Americans read books, as opposed to not reading books at all (I suppose over the course of a year). On the other hand, the average American now watches 151 hours of TV per month, an all-time high.

How accurate these statistics are, I don’t really know. However, almost everyone I know wishes they had more time to read, and even those who hardly ever read say they would if they had the time. Since I manage to find lots of time to read, I thought I’d share some of my techniques for finding plenty of time to read, and how I read for maximum enjoyment.

How I Make Time to Read

The things I like to read cover a broad range of categories, but if I had to sum up how I read quickly, it would be: I read fiction for pure pleasure and escapism, and non-fiction to expand my horizons. Most of the fiction I read is pretty low-brow, so it’s easy to get caught up in and burn through quickly. On the other hand, the non-fiction I read tends to be on topics you can’t get much exposure to in the workplace, like history, philosophy, science, and psychology/sociology.

I’m a bit of a dilettante, so I often find myself getting really excited about a non-fiction topic, reading half of a book on the subject, and then feeling like I’ve learned enough for now and putting it down and moving on to something else. Some people might object to this, but I find that I end up reading more, and learning more about a lot of different subjects, than trying to slog through a book I’ve lost interest in and finding every excuse to do something else besides read it.

Here are some other tips I use to read as much as possible:

  • Read for 15 to 30 minutes right before bed: Unless you’re reading thrillers, it’s a great way to wind down and keep from getting anxious about events of the day or what you have going on in your life. It may seem like 15 minutes a day isn’t much, but reading 15 minutes a day adds up to over 90 hours over the course of a year- regardless of how quickly you read, you should be able to finish at least several books in that amount of time.
  • Read under a tree on your lunch break: I’ve started doing this lately, and I really enjoy it. I take a blanket and go to a park near my office and just read, uninterrupted, for almost an hour. Sometimes I end up taking a nap during the course of the break, which makes it even better. You’ll feel like you’ve returned to a simpler time, and get some great reading in at the same time.
  • Travel: Although traveling is a worthy pursuit in its own right, I also find that I read a lot while traveling, since there’s plenty of time to read on the plane, on a car trip, or in the hotel room at night. Getting to relax and enjoy a book makes traveling even better.
  • Read as soon as you get up on the weekend: This one’s tough for parents, obviously, but if at all possible, getting up and reading for half an hour or an hour first thing on a weekend morning is a great pleasure. Particularly if you can read outside during the summer while it’s cool and quiet.
  • Pick up a book instead of using the Internet: I have a hard time with this one myself. Throughout the day, I get bored and hop on the Internet for a few minutes, reading mostly unimportant stories or checking my email for the 10th time that day, when I could be reading something worthwhile for a few minutes instead. Knocking out one chapter of a book can be quick but immensely enjoyable.
  • Only read what you want to read, not what you “should” read: Don’t bother worrying about what your peers are reading, or what you think other people are reading, unless you’re genuinely curious. Chances are, no one will call you out for not having read a particular book, and if you’re worried about it, just pick up one of those books that has the synopsis of other books and flip through that, skipping books that you really want to read at some point. Try using a free service like Goodreads to find or invite friends whose opinion on books you trust, and see what they’re reading if you want to find new ideas. Or friend me on there and we can compare the books we love.
  • For God’s sake, turn off the TV: I know it can be tough when you get home from a hard day at work and just want to veg out for a while, but I guarantee that you’ll feel better about yourself if you spend your time reading a great book than wasting time watching junk TV instead. And I guarantee that despite a few great shows on TV, there’s not 151 hours of worthwhile TV in a given month. Even if you switch 20 hours of TV a month for 20 hours of reading, you’ll come out way ahead.

I hope this post has gone a little way towards helping you read more, if that’s something you’ve been wanting to do, or has at least convinced you that it really is possible if you make it a priority. If you have any techniques you use to make reading a priority, please feel free to share them in a comment. Happy reading!


Stay Home When You're Sick 0

Posted on June 16, 2009 by Beau

Are you one of those people that forces yourself to go into work when you’re miserable, either out of fear of getting in trouble with your boss or so you don’t have to use vacation time when you’re sick?

You might want to rethink that.

A new study shows that not staying home when you’re sick could backfire, making you more likely to have to take additional time off for illness later. Sometimes life just isn’t fair!

If you’re one of those people who stays home because you don’t want to waste your time off while sick, I understand. It’s certainly tempting to struggle through the day at work, being completely unproductive and exposing your coworkers to illness, instead of using the precious little time off we get here in America. I ask you, though, to remember the joy of taking sick days from school when you were young.

Unless you’re at death’s door, in which case you’d be taking the day off anyway, you can turn a sick day into an extremely pleasant day of idling. Chances are good that any significant others or kids will be off at work or school, leaving you with blissful solitude and independence. It’s the perfect time to catch up on all those idle activities you wish you had more time for, like sleeping in late, reading for a couple of hours uninterrupted (which rarely happens these days), or revisiting a favorite movie you haven’t watched in years. All in all, a day very well spent. The only real danger is that you’ll enjoy yourself so much you’ll decide to take another sick day, in which case I say go for it.

Update: Practicing What I Preach

By some strange coincidence, the morning after I came up with this topic idea and started writing, I got a bad cold and felt horrible. True to my word, I stayed home sick from work. In this instance, at least, I can’t be accused of hypocrisy! And yes, I followed my own advice and watched two movies I’d been meaning to watch for a long time, in addition to catching up on some reading. As I said earlier, a day well spent.


Take More Breaks 1

Posted on June 07, 2009 by Beau

One of the chief complaints of modern life is, “I don’t have enough time for myself.” To that, I say, “Ha!” Entirely untrue.

There are literally thousands of moments every day that you’re currently devoting to things you don’t really want to do that you can take back for yourself, especially in the workplace. The key is to make your breaks meaningful and fulfilling, rather than just time-wasting distractions.

Why It’s OK to Take More Breaks at Work

If you’re an indoctrinated worker bee, you may initially be scandalized by the idea of taking more time at work, or at least feel mildly uncomfortable about putting this into practice. After all, isn’t the company paying you for your time spent at work? Aren’t you short-changing your employer if you take a few minutes here and there for yourself?

Despite what time clocks and micromanagers would have you believe, no.

Does your company pay you for the time spent commuting to and from work? Do they pay you for the time you spend stressing out on the weekend about an upcoming project, or agonizing for the last few hours of Sunday night about the upcoming week? Nope. Unless you’re a world-class idler, your company steals a lot more of your time than vice versa.

The first mental shift you need to make is to stop thinking of breaks as time wasted, and instead think of them as time well spent.

Why It’s Good For You (and Others)

People always talk about stopping to smell the roses, though we almost never do. Forcing ourselves to take breaks during the day— whether by just staring off into space and daydreaming, stopping to read something thought-provoking, chatting with a friend or coworker about something not related to work, whatever— expands our horizons and enriches our lives. It also makes us more interesting and worthwhile to be around, which is good for everyone.

A break well-used can have far more long-term impact on our lives than 10 more minutes spent slaving away at the same old task, or mindless time-wasting to distract ourselves from our daily drudgery. Every break, no matter how long or short, is an opportunity to explore life’s possibilities and discover the many amazing things it has to offer. In addition to improving your life, a break can be a chance to improve the lives of others, too.

For example, a great way to spend 5 minutes of your time, practice some worthwhile self-improvement, and help seriously needy people, is the website In just a few minutes you can both improve your vocabulary and get free rice donated to hungry people who really need it. Pretty amazing, really, and takes so little effort on your part. It’s an idler’s dream!

Start Today

If you feel like you just don’t have any time for yourself these days, start paying attention to how you’re spending your time during the day, and insert more little breaks for yourself here and there. The more personally meaningful you can make them, the better.

Instead of checking news headlines for the 20th time that day, play for a few minutes on Free Rice, talk to a coworker about how they’re doing and offer your thoughts and advice, or do a little something that’s a step toward achieving one of your goals, like thinking about ways you could make money outside of your job, or reading a foreign-language website to get some practice if you’re trying to learn a new language.

When your breaks actually have meaning for you, instead of just “killing time,” you’ll quickly feel like you have a lot more time for yourself each day. There’s no time like the present to start- time for a break!


Welcome to The Idle Life 1

Posted on May 27, 2009 by Beau

Welcome to The Idle Life, a safe haven for the indolent, layabouts, and recovering workaholics to try to find peace and fulfillment through the simple pleasures of laziness, mindfulness, and time spent in idle contemplation.

I’ve created this blog because I often feel like the pace and stress of modern life are crushing our spirits and preventing us from enjoying the myriad pleasures that life has to offer. This blog is a small attempt to help people (myself included) remember and recapture the joy of lazy days and leisure.

Despite being more financially prosperous and more technologically “connected” than ever before, studies regularly find that people (and Americans especially) are less happy than past generations. The struggle for wealth, prestige, and other status symbols, is a never-ending battle you can’t win. Even if you attain all those things, you’ll just want more.

My advice? Stop trying so hard. Relax. Breathe. Slack off. If you’ve never tried actively being lazy, give it a go! Your feelings of guilt and “missing out” on the crazy pace of modern life will soon fall away, and you’ll be left feeling peaceful and content to watch others scurry around unhappily, while you savor life. It really is possible.

Finally, lest you think my advice on living the idle life is based on a situation entirely unlike your own, please take a look at my About Me page. I work a pretty typical full time job, have a new baby, and am something of a technophile. However, despite all this, I manage to keep my life pretty stress-free and peaceful. I look forward to helping you make it happen too!

PS- If my posts are less-than-frequent, please forgive me. I’m just practicing what I preach :)


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