A Simpler 2016

It's been no secret around this blog that I've had a challenging year. Every time I say that, I have to stop and think, because it's strange: this isn't the year my grandmother died. This year wasn't like the tumultuous childhood I had, shuffling between houses and dealing with my parents' bitter divorce and custody fight. I didn't get dumped this year; instead, I entered what has doubtless been the best relationship of my life. But I still consider 2016 one of the hardest years of my life, because I remained unemployed and on the job search nearly all year, after my brief stint as a freelancer (that I accidentally fell into) proved to be exactly what I had previously thought it would be: not worth it, and totally not for me.

Even though this year was full of good things—two half marathon PRs in back-to-back races of that distance, some fun travels and getaways with people I love, meeting and falling into life with David—the bad thing was ever-present and it touched everything. Job (or lack-there-of) stress led to money stress, social stress, self-worth stress, apartment/housing situation stress...it touched everything, and it spun me into a depression the likes of which I haven't seen (thankfully) in a really, really long time.

It's a vicious cycle. Depression and unrelenting stress and reasons to lose faith in yourself cycle into bad sleep, disinterest in hobbies and things that take any effort at all, but which bring joy, which feeds depression, and round and round we go. I've tried as much as possible to look at my life this year from an outside perspective, look at the whole picture rather than the small piece I'm drowning in, and I think that's helped. I was emailing with Kristen this week and said something about how I feel like a downer, constantly writing about how hard 2016 was, but I feel like each time I examine my feelings about this year critically, I come up with a new perspective, a new solution or action plan, a new *something* that helps keep me out of the depths of that dark water.

In that vein, thanks to that constant reflection, throughout this year (and oh, man was it a long one) I've made a couple small but big changes in my daily life, in my habits and routines, and they all add up, I think, to a big happier, more intentional me. Of course, there's no way to control for this so my hypothesis may be way off, but I think these 6 things contributed to the sanity of yours truly this year. Some of them seem so obvious, but some are less so, so I wanted to share...

1. Deleted the Facebook app and turned off all social media app notifications.
You guys know what I always found really annoying? How the Facebook app for iPhone (the primary way I use FB, which already is little) sends push notifications for really insignificant things. I used to complain every time I had a red-encircled number pop up on the icon, opened the app, and saw that it was to tell me about something completely unimportant like June liked Jake's status that I commented on 6 months ago. It was maddening, because I hate a) wasting time and b) app notification bubbles on my phone. I also learned how much data and battery my Facebook app was sucking and got even more mad at the Zuck and Co. It was actually Tracy's husband who suggested to me that I delete the app and just place a bookmarked Safari page on my home screen for quick nav to Facebook.com, and I am HONESTLY happier since I did that.

It led me to turn off notifications for all my social apps—no Twitter push notifications, no Instagram like pop-ups. I just realized that there really is NO need. If someone needs to urgently get in touch with me, they have my phone number. And also, let's go ahead and start redefining the meaning of "urgent" now that we're in 24/7 contact. I check all my apps at least once a day. There's nothing that can't wait. There's nothing so pressing that its lighting up my phone screen is a worthy distraction from whatever else I'm doing at the time. I already hate excess noise and keep my phone on silent with no vibration; this year I realized that "visual noise" is a thing too.

I feel like I wrote more about this than I should have, but it has made THAT much of a difference in my life that I want to scream about it. It shocks me that I didn't do it earlier.

2. Adopted a “one page inbox” system.
Inbox zero sounds great, but I can't do it. I can't get to everything the second it lands in my inbox, and sometimes I need to hold onto emails for a few days (for example, event details or race info) and moving all that info to a different place just moves the clutter to a less compact or foldable location. Emails I'll need to reference in a few days or reply to after something happens, I need them visible. I'm very much an "out of sight, out of mind" person, so my inbox is a good way to keep something on my mind. But after going through hundreds of emails sitting in my blog and personal inboxes, plus all the other ancillary folders I had and deleting what was no longer (or never was) necessary, I now keep a strict one-page inbox, with an added rule that if I have to scroll to see the bottom of the list, I have too many things in there. My folders are more organized, I feel more in control, and am way less bombarded with information I don't constantly need.

3. Changed my planning system.
I was about two weeks into 2016 when I realized I was done with paper planners. They just don't work with the way I plan. I don't have a ton of appointments or meetings, but I use a planner to keep track of habits, workouts, time-blocking, and other essential time-management stuff to make sure that just because I work from home doesn't mean I work until midnight. I hate cross-outs and I hate not having an up-to-date planner, so I switched.

I'm working on a post about how I plan now, but it's taken me a long time to really refine the system and get into a method that works perfectly for me. I currently use a combination of Google Calendar (for the big stuff, appointments, meetings, time-blocking), Reminders app (for non-essential personal tasks and other lists like shopping), and a sort-of bullet journal. With this combination I manage all my long-term planning, short-term views, and daily to-do lists. I also accepted the idea that what I'm doing doesn't have to work forever. It has to work for now. There's no need to get bent out of shape when I realize my once-perfect planning system doesn't align with how my daily tasks have changed; I just have to change it too, and that's fine.

4. Committed to (week-)daily journaling.
I've been keeping a gratitude journal since January 2014. There have been silent periods, but 2016 has been, by far, the most consistent year ever of both gratitude journaling and just...journaling. I've had journals off and on since high school, and I really can't bring myself to read old old entries, but I have absolutely flipped back through the pages of journals I've filled this year more than once. I tried the "morning pages" technique where you just sit down first thing and empty your brain; I've tried the nightly brain dump technique where you write down the thoughts that come before sleep. I've landed somewhere in the middle. I basically have my journal with me all day and write when it feels good.

Here's what I do now: on the left side, I write my day's to-do list, usually the night before. I pull from my Reminders app and a weekly to-do list I keep a few pages back and fill in anything I didn't complete the previous day, sort of using the bullet journal method. (I don't go insane with illustrations and stickers though, because ain't nobody got time for that. I mean, I know a lot of people make time for it, but I don't. Also, can't draw to save my life so there's that too.) It's a simple list, sometimes flagged with ! to mark priority. On the opposite page, I journal. Whatever I need to. Sometimes it's a recap, sometimes it's things I've been thinking about, sometimes it's another list, whatever. And before the day is over, I write down at least three things I'm grateful for.

Some days, coming up with three things is hard. But those are the days I stop and think, "Hey, I'm inside my apartment, drinking clean water, wearing clean clothes, looking at my warm bed, smelling my dinner cooking in the oven," and remember how very much there is to be grateful for always.

5. Stopped tracking my workouts.
I wrote Sunday Sweats posts every week from January 2015 through late September 2016. And then I just stopped. Because I realized I was drafting my run recaps while mid-run, taking myself out of the moment. Most runs just don't need much said about them; my Garmin tracks and saves all the data, and coming up with a description of each run was getting tiring and ingenuine.

But even worse, I found myself obsessing over what qualified as a workout: "We walked a lot in the city today; can I count that as a workout?" "I stretched for like 20 minutes before running, does that count as a restorative yoga practice?" "I demonstrated a lot while teaching tonight, should I qualify that as a practice?" and counting minutes during my most special moments on the mat: "She started a few minutes late and we had a really long savasana at the end; can I really call this a 75-minute yoga class?" and just UGH. All of that is SO besides the point of why I do any of what I do, and yet I was doing it. It's not like you guys are going to hold me accountable for a short class or scold me for not counting a 2-mile walk around the city as exercise. What on earth? I stopped, because for me, when I get to obsessing about something, cutting it off is the only way to gain balance.

6. Took myself off of unnecessary, unfulfilling, or unsustainable projects.
I took myself out of three projects this year. One was paying, two were not. All, in some way, contributed to negative feelings, stress, angst, and simply too much going on with not enough brain space to cover it all. One of them was actually a MASSIVE stressor—to the point where I hated unlocking my phone because if I saw the app I used for that project with a notification on it, I would freak out and panic spiral. Really, really, really not okay.

I realized this year that sometimes you have to set free things you love when they just don't love you back. I realized I cannot operate out of guilt or a sense of commitment or obligation that *I* am imposing on myself. I realized that feelings about people, places, things can evolve, and that when that happens, your relationship to them absolutely should follow suit. I was making myself crazy over this idea that I just had to keep cutting myself in smaller and smaller pieces in order to give a piece to everyone who was asking for a part of me, and it left me too scattered to do absolutely anything well. It was hard to say the words, but absolutely nothing bad happened to anybody when I took myself away.

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All of these things happened at different points throughout the year, as I came to realization after realization (upon excessive self-reflection and analyzing. Sometimes there is some good to be derived from over-thinking things, I guess!) about what my life was too full of or too short on. What I hope most is that I can continue to think critically about what I do on a daily basis, and what about that works and what doesn't. It probably saved my life, in a sense, this year.

On this good note, here's hoping for a simple 2017, right from the start!

Comments

  1. It is hard to remove yourself from situations you're invested in, regardless of the reason, but it is vital to be able to do that especially if they are contributing negatively to your life. I'm most proud of you for the last one but proud of you overall for not hiding from a hard year - write about it every damn day if you want. Examine it from everywhere. Whatever you need to do.

    I don't have notifications for anything and I never have, except text messages, and even those are silent. I do not need my phone to run my life.

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  2. Thank you for this. The Facebook app is getting deleted as soon as I finish this comment. It’s obvious, but sometimes the obvious eludes us. The one page inbox seems a lofty goal for me, but I like it. Having 3 different email addresses for things doesn’t help either. That’s something I’ll be addressing soon. I feel like tracking anything has become a chore - water, vitamins, period, workouts… it’s all brain clutter. I mean, yes, some things are important - ahem, no babies please - but the rest? There’s no need for it all. For me, tracking workouts is the most basic way I can be accountable. The thing is though, even as I type that, I realize it doesn’t work. If I don’t log a workout it just makes me feel guilty.

    2017 is already starting on the right foot. I just need my feeling to catch up with it.

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  3. My phone was having freezing issues so I had it replaced under warranty...and it still froze. I noticed a lot of it was when I was on the FB app so I deleted it and it stopped (until other issues popped up later, but that's beside the point) and I'm on FB less and it's AMAZING. With my other phone issues, I had to delete all my content and reset my phone, and I didn't add Twitter or Snapchat, only Instagram (which I've never had push notifications turned on for) and seriously, it is amazing. As is unfollowing tons of people you shouldn't/don't want to follow anymore, which I've been doing like crazy too!

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  4. Turning off notifications on apps is my absolute favorite thing. I don't get FB notifications, no Twitter notifications, I don't have Messenger installed on my phone (because it's way too invasive), because as you said, if someone really wants to get ahold of me, they know to text me or call me. I'm also not down with the cool kids on the snapchat or any other fancy social media app besides Instagram. I don't care to take the time to introduce one more thing into my life. I also hacked down my friends list on FB. Anyone that doesn't actively communicate/like my posts and I don't care to follow them, I got rid of (with the exception of certain family members, because well, family). When people asked me why we aren't friends I would be honest with them: we aren't actually friends. Additionally, I don't need everyone knowing my business. If you are interested in my life, interact with me in real life.

    As for my inbox. I'm someone that has to have it empty. I leave my inbox as my to-do list and as soon as the task is complete, it's deleted. If the email needs to be stored for any reason, it has a home. For my run stuff, I keep a "current events" folder so that way I know that anything coming up within the next few months will be there.

    Part of me would like to start a journal/planner, but I know that I'd fall away from it. I use Google Calendar (in fact, I have several different calendars to keep track of different things) and to-do lists. I like your idea of journaling with the to-do list, but my luck, I'd leave it somewhere and I'd have written something bad about someone and they'd find it.

    This comment totally spiraled out of control, obviously this post hit home with me. :)

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  5. Inbox zero is not something I would ever aspire to, for the same reasons you mentioned. It's basically become my to do list and not everything needs to be done immediately, so rather than spend time adding it to my google task list, I'll just leave the email in the inbox. My planning has really been evolving the last few months and right now I'm in kind of a middle, confused area where my task list is full of some to dos and some just notes I took from a book that I want to implement in my website. My planner app has my more immediate to dos, and every once in a while I check the tasks and make a point of adding them. I have reminders set in a few different places, and it's overall kind of messy. I think it needs to be, though, until I figure out what works.

    I had a good break from social for a while! But then I started trying to do business improvements and gradually all the social sites crept back into my phone. I don't waste quite the amount of time on them now as I did previously, so I think it's ok, but definitely something I should keep an eye on. And any app that gives me bullshit notifications, like "we've found people in your network" automatically loses its rights to have notifications at all.

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  6. breaking my addiction to social media was the best thing i could've done for myself...i used to be on it every.damn.minute but now i'm on it only if i remember! it's so liberating to not be bombarded 24/7 with information.

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  7. i feel like i am like this as well, when i think something is really bad (and even when it is) i am mature enough to look at it and get a new perspective and stay somewhat positive. and i think you hit the nail on the head with the smaller things and changes really do contribute to happiness just as much, if not more, than the big things we place so much importance on - not that they aren't important, of course they are. but the small things can be too. which is exactly what we said haha.
    as for the 6 things you did... i don't have notifications turned on for anything but facebook messenger because that's how my mum talks to me. and i get super annoyed when someone else sends me a facebook message haha. but i don't have apps for twitter or facebook, if i really 'need' them, i use safari. i do have instagram and snapchat, but no notifications. wait that's a lie, i do get a pop up when someone sends me a snap. and YES. one page inbox is brilliant (although my hotmail just continuously scrolls lol) because i cannot deal with everything immediately nor do i want to. i like to keep things in front and centre sometimes. and i'm glad you stopped tracking your workouts for you. i would always feel like i wanted to start sunday sweats posts and then i would immediately start critiquing my workouts and making myself feel bad before i'd even drafted the post. i'm like that with tracking my eating as well. i get way too obsessive about those things, and for what?
    here's to an amazing 2017!

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  8. My life is unsettled until I reach inbox zero. I hate having stuff floating in there, but I think, unlike you, I don't have stuff I need to address later, if that makes sense. I can usually do whatever I need to do with that e-mail in 1 day, so I aim to have inbox zero when I leave work.
    Completely agree about phone notifications. I actually deleted my Facebook about... 7? years ago, when I was in law school. Haven't looked back! I don't get notifications for anything now except our home's alarm system.

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  9. This is great. As I get older I find myself making changes (big and small) like these in order to try and better my life and well-being in some way. You need to identify sources of grief, time-wasting, unhappiness and stress and eliminate them if you can, or at the very least modify them. It looks like that's exactly what you've done here, so good for you! Side note: I admire your willpower cause I have notifications on EVERYTHING and am not sure I could ever turn them off. #Eek

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  10. I know this sounds weird, but I am so envious of your ability to write so freely and perfectly about what you're going through. I don't think it makes you a downer, I think it's another way for you to use your amazing gift of writing. I know that doesn't make things magically better, and sometimes I think people fail to understand that someone can be having a really, REALLY hard time and still have positive aspects of their life-- or enjoy parts of their life. I rarely use Facebook, but was trying to do something on it this weekend and could not figure out the settings & it made me feel so old/reminded me why I never want to bother with it. I love that you've found so many ways to find your balance and stay centered throughout this year.

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  11. What a beautiful post. My favorite take aways were the journaling (I NEED to get into this for 2017) and the social media notifications. That's important and helps reduce stress, at least for me! Thank you for this post.

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  12. I love this. I don't use the Facebook app either and have all my notifications turned off, except for Instagram because those ones aren't all that frequent and don't distract me all that much. I wrote a lot this year and I know it helped to clean out my brain and put things on paper before bed almost every night. I had completely different expectations at the beginning of the year and had completely different goals. As the year went on I realized I had to let some things go and be okay with that. The best thing that came out of 2016 was that it's given me a new perspective on 2017.

    I am so thankful I came across your blog, you manage to eloquently put into words a lot of the things that are tumbling around my brain. :)

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  13. These are so great, my sweet friend. The Facebook & turning off notifications is something I am actually going to do right now. I constantly feel this stress that I need to be checking Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc etc and I am tired of it. None of what is happening there will ruin my life if I don't see it right away. And the planner thing? Yes. I have been keeping a planner for work this year, and while I love the concept of it, it seems to get burdensome. I've looked into the bullet journal theory and am hoping to implement it by the new year.

    Thank you for this post today. It was everything I needed to read without knowing I needed it. xoxo

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  14. It's crazy to me how little it takes to make us off balance or anxious. The littlest things do it for me. I don't get twitter or FB notification, but I should get rid of the IG ones that come through. And I can't stand a busy email inbox. These are great lifestyle changes. I'd really like to simplify and declutter in 2017 :) I hope it's a better year for you, too!

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  15. Deleting the facebook app - that's brilliant. I find myself scrolling through sometimes and I would rather pick up a book or something else more productive and fulfilling. Cheers to you and the word simple.

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  17. 2016 has definitely been a rough year. I agree, those push notifications get so irritating. Disabling them was so refreshing. Otherwise I feel like my phone would be ringing nonstop! I'm really ready for a new start. Come on 2017!!

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  18. This is all so, so good. #6 is probably the hardest for me, but also the one that simplifies things the quickest.

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  19. I had to take a real good look at my relationships this year and that lead me to work on my social media stuff. My phone was constantly lit up for something and it drove me nuts. It was always something I didn't care about. I made some hard decisions this year, but I am finally at the end of the year starting to feel like myself again. So much of the stress I didn't realize I was holding has lifted and I sleep better at night. It is a wonderful thing.

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  20. These are such great tips. I turned off notifications too, and I deactivated my facebook a few weeks ago. I haven't missed it at all. It was so freeing to get rid of it!

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  21. I did all the stuff in #1 earlier this year and it changed everything. I would love to fully deactivate FB but for parenting type reasons, I can't and that's annoying.

    I don't see your writing about certain topics negative or depressing. It's what's on your mind and if you're going through it and writing about it, it's almost definitely helping someone else. And that's a good thing.

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