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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

20 Easy Ways to Improve Yourself and Your Life (Even if You're Busy)

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When there’s work and family and bills and more, it’s easy to think of self-improvement and personal development as something you’ll have time for one day. The same goes for improving your life overall. 

But improving your life—or yourself—doesn’t have to be about making one big gesture. Instead, it typically comes down to the small things you do every day that can add up to larger growth in the long run. These small habits and practices may help you increase your confidence, reduce your stress, build deeper relationships, stabilize your work-life balance, become a healthier person (mentally, emotionally, or physically), and be happier.

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No one has all the time in the world to think about self-improvement, so let’s start with just 30 minutes. Yup, that’s all—bet you’re listening now.

We’ve come up with a list of activities that can help you become a better “you” in just half an hour (or less) each week. Give one (or two or five or all!) of them a try.

1. Practice mindfulness.

I’m sure you’re sick of hearing that you should “totally try meditation,” especially from your (newly) yoga-devoted mother. But mindfulness is a lot more realistic to achieve than the kind of meditation you hear about because it doesn’t require years of practice or a yoga mat. Mindfulness only takes 30 minutes (or less!) and can be done without leaving your desk.

Wanna give it a shot? Here’s exactly how to do it.

2. Develop a consistent morning routine.

One way to have a productive day—and save yourself time in the morning—is to break down every task you need to do into small steps and then schedule all of them. This means you know exactly what activity you’ll do from the moment you wake up.

Sounds a bit overwhelming, yes, but the reason it works is because you don’t waste any time trying to decide on things—spending 10 minutes picking out an outfit, spending 15 minutes deciding if you want to go on a run—you just do it. And that way, you’ll (almost) always be out of the house exactly on time.

3. Do the same with a bedtime routine.

Another way you can get to a happy, healthy morning is a terrific bedtime routine. There’s no perfect formula that’ll work for everyone. The important thing is to make one and stick to it.

For example, every evening I shower, make my lunch for the next day, and spend 10 or so minutes doing something that relaxes me, whether that’s scrolling through social media, reading 15 pages of a book, or talking to my parents on the phone. The consistency helps me fall asleep better and feel prepared to conquer the next day.

Here are five great bedtime routines you should definitely try—and each will only take you five minutes.

4. Redo your bedroom for a better night’s sleep.

Especially when you’re busy or stressed, it can be hard to get your best sleep every night, even with an awesome bedtime routine. Try creating a space where you’ll always feel good going to bed by using one or more of these seven quick DIY projects.

5. Find an energizing midday activity.

You probably saw it coming, but just as important as setting a schedule for your mornings and evenings is having an activity that’s guaranteed to bring you out of even the worst midday slump.

Try these five habits or these easy ways to recharge (that don’t involve coffee).

6. Make your lunch (and dinner).

Making your meals every day not only guarantees you have control over your health, but it’s also cheaper and a great way to learn a new skill or experiment with your cooking abilities. Plus, you get to boast to coworkers when they ask where you got the food. For some brag-worthy recipes, check out these 52 lunch ideas, or these quick office snack ideas.

7. Then eat it away from your desk.

Muse writer Kat Boogaard learned many valuable lessons after eating lunch away from her desk. For one thing, taking a break is just good for you. But she also realized the importance of practicing work-life balance all day, rather than just after work was over. By giving yourself that time off during office hours, you’re already one step closer to a healthier, well-balanced life.

8. Watch a TED Talk.

TED Talks are like mini-lectures. They just might teach you more about yourself, inspire you to innovate, or just introduce an interesting new topic. Plus, they’re usually only about 20 minutes—so you can watch one and get a super quick knowledge boost while getting ready for work in the morning, during your lunch break, or when you’re sitting in a waiting room.

9. Listen to a podcast.

Similarly, podcasts are great on-the-go entertainment. And a lot of the time they’re just what you need to unwind. I’m a big fan of tackling one podcast during my commute each day—half of it on the way to work, half on the way back, and the stories always bring out some real emotions. (For reference, my favorites are This American Life and You’re the Expert.) But the types of podcasts out there are very nearly limitless. So whether you want to catch up on the news, learn something new, hear what people are saying about your favorite topic (whether that’s fantasy sports, The Real Housewives, historical events, or video games), experience a fascinating true story, or laugh at something more light-hearted, you can find the perfect podcast for every mood.

10. Freewrite.

Freewriting is basically what the name implies: writing, freely—as in without any directions or constraints. You don’t need to be a writer to freewrite. In fact, dropping all the concerns about how your writing sounds or whether it’s grammatically correct is key. You just set a timer and start writing, maybe with a prompt or question to get you started, and see where the writing takes you. It’s a great way to discover something new about what you want or what you’re feeling. Here are five prompts to help you freewrite your way out of a career slump (plus a few tips).

11. Do a bunch of little productive tasks.

I challenge you to set aside 30 minutes and do all those tiny tasks you’ve been meaning to do, but keep putting off, all at once. First, this prevents you from multitasking later on when emails are rushing in while you’re trying to do your work. Second, it forces you to tackle those things that make you cringe—things that, once they’re done, will make your life a heck of a lot easier.

Not sure what chores I mean? I’ll help you out—here’s a to-do list of 21 useful things you can do in five minutes. If those don’t do it for you, here are nine other productive things you can complete in 15 minutes.

12. Get to know yourself.

What better way to improve your life than by learning all about your strengths and weaknesses and homing in on your best self? To get started, here are 14 free personality test you can take in the next half hour.

13. Treat yourself.

How long has it been since you treated yourself to a relaxing massage or a manicure? Well, maybe this is your week to do it. Was there a game you’ve been meaning to download and play? Or a cool new lunch spot you’ve wanted to try? You deserve it, so go get it.

14. Revisit your goals.

You probably made some New Year’s resolutions or set monthly goals for yourself (whether on paper or in the back of your mind). Have you followed through on any of them? Are there ones you can get rid of, or alter? Do you feel confident in achieving all of them? Take some time to reflect positively on how far you’ve come, and think about where you want to be—and maybe write down the steps you need to take to get there.

15. Start a feedback file (or return to one).

Everyone has periods when they’re feeling discouraged. For these moments, you can create a feedback file. Go back and screenshot, jot down, or otherwise note positive feedback you’ve received—whether it’s about your work, a hobby, or anything else. Put it all in one place and continue to add to it over time. Then, whenever you’re feeling down on yourself, you can return to all the great things people have said about you and remind yourself of your strengths. You might also return to the work feedback when it’s time to prepare for a review, write a cover letter, or do something else that involves talking yourself up.

16. Note your achievements

Taking the time to reflect on what you’ve done well each week can help you focus on the positive. And like the feedback file, returning to your past achievements week after week can be a confidence booster—and help you out when it comes time to brag about yourself. We’ve even created a handy worksheet to help you track your achievements over time.

17. Connect with an old friend or new coworker.

If it’s been a while since you’ve seen or talked to someone you used to chat with regularly, reach out and let them know you’re thinking about them. Maybe even try it the old-fashioned way—sending a physical letter! Snail mail can make anyone’s day. (Isn’t it the best when you find an envelope addressed to you and it’s not a bill or junk mail?)

Or if you haven’t had a chance to meet a colleague in another department or a new coworker who just joined last week, consider setting up a lunch or coffee. You’ll make a work friend and, even better, you’ll build up your network.

18. Clean your closet.

By “closet” I also mean your desk, your office, your bedroom, or even your kitchen cabinets. Cleaning is stress-relieving, and actually a form of mindful meditation, according to some studies. You can even try “tidying up” your work life, Marie Kondo–style, to help spark more joy.

19. Do some screen-free activities.

It’s not exactly groundbreaking to say that we spend a lot of our lives staring at screens. But taking some time to intentionally engage in activities that aren’t on a computer, TV, phone, or other device can help our eyes, our sleep, and our overall mental well-being. Try taking up a hobby like reading (books or magazines with actual paper pages), painting, crocheting, or playing an instrument to give yourself a break.

20. Get outside.

Notice how I didn’t say “go to the gym” or “go for a run.” Because, yes, exercise is great. But for most people, including myself, it’s a lot easier said than done.

So I have another option for you—go outside. Walk around, sit in the park and read, or go for a leisurely bike ride. Just being outdoors is good for you in so many ways. It improves creativity, helps us age better, makes us happier, and, it might actually make you want to work out more (science says so!).

Don’t you feel better already? Try out these simple activities and see if you can start to develop a few new habits—ultimately you’ll see benefits far beyond just the 30 minutes a week you spend on them.

Regina Borsellino also contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.

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