8 Tips to live a Smart Life in 2019
Below are the eight tips that completely blew my mind this year. Some are so obvious you’ll kick yourself for not already doing them, and others are so weird you just have to try them.
Only answer email once or twice a day
What’s the most efficient way to fill a water glass? Turning the tap one centimeter and letting a slow drip top you off? Of course not. You crank that faucet and let the water flow.
That’s what batching emails feels like. Instead of responding one at a time to the forever trickle of your inbox, email batching — responding to as many as possible during a specific time frame — is incredibly satisfying.
One of my resolutions this year was to spend less of my life in Gmail. Solution? Now I answer emails twice a day, first around noon and then again at 6 p.m. Knowing I have to get through dozens of important messages makes my replies quicker and crisper; I can also delete the ultimate enemy (junk mail) all at once. Plus, there’s a sense of accomplishment in setting discrete boundaries on an infinite task. Batching emails is like finding the end of pi.
Of course, this idea doesn’t hold water if your job demands immediate responses, but it’s still possible to jump on messages that are urgent, and to corral less important messages for later in the day. Give it a shot!
Quit being the flaky friend; it’s not cute
We all have one. They say yes to everything, they never mean it and when they do show up, they’re late.
While they may waver on whether they back out last minute, or simply don’t show at all, they consistently do not follow through with plans they’ve agreed to or even initiated. Their aloofness makes you question whether you can depend on them for anything, whether it’s grabbing dinner or picking up your call when you need them.
Flaky friends suck. Don’t be the flaky friend. If you are, stop.
There are two keys to freeing yourself from flaky friend status: self-awareness and learning to say no.
First, examine why you say yes to things you have no intention of following through on. Is it poor time management? Do you have crippling social anxiety? Do you hate disappointing people? Do you struggle with saying no to people?
Once you’ve determined why you flake, the fun begins: Say no, assertively and often. Happy hour? No. Spin class? Pass. Dinner reservations for 10 p.m.? Not happening. Find comfort in declining invites and doing exactly whatever you do when you flake. Conversely, try very hard to agree only to things you will actually show up to and go on time.
By building on this foundation of newfound self-awareness and comfort in saying no and holding yourself accountable, you’ll be able to shed your flaky skin. (Ew. But, seriously.)
Try a tipsy grocery store shopping trip
Here’s a miracle of modern life I recently discovered: grocery store bars. Yes, bars in the grocery store. Stick with me.
Finding time to maintain friendships as an adult only gets harder as we age. Family and work obligations often take precedence over other relationships, so one of the keys to fitting socialization into a slammed schedule is to find ways to hit multiple activities at a time.
Here’s my secret: Invite pals to join you for chores you’re obligated to tackle, like grocery shopping.
Everyone’s gotta eat, right? More supermarkets across the country now feature bars, sometimes serving only beer and wine, but that’s just fine. These watering holes — like what’s colloquially known in my city of Atlanta as “KroBar” (formally Kroger Marketplace at Glenwood) — serve as a super convenient meeting place for you to down a healthy pour of house Malbec and catch up with another busy friend before you both tend to your respective shopping lists.
Grocery-based bars are unpretentious; even in a Whole Foods bar featuring 16 craft beer taps, it’s unlikely you’d also find Edison bulbs buzzing over patrons. What could be better: booze, buds and tending to the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, all at once.
And really, who wouldn’t find delight in navigating an aisle with a shopping cart and a light buzz?
Can’t make the party? Don’t apologize
There is no greater joy in this world than being unable to go to a get-together, a baby shower, a gender reveal, an engagement party or a karaoke party. Most people secretly love canceling plans, so when you do invariably bail, enjoy it and, most important: Don’t send that message apologizing for your absence.
There are limits to this. If you’re expected at a dinner where the table is reserved for a certain number, you have to tell someone you’re not coming. But if it’s a gathering of any size larger than what one might describe as intimate, your silence is the best gift.
No one cares that you can’t come! Really! Unless you’re the mother of the bride, the birthday boy, the pallbearer or the accused, it’s unlikely anyone will even notice you didn’t show up.
In fact, sending apologies for not attending an event gives the host more responsibility: Not only do they have to put out an appropriate cheese spread and make sure no one spills wine on their hosting slippers, they have to accommodate your excuse and apology.
Just stay home, don’t send the “omg so sorry but I have work!!!” lie-text, and sit in the dark, silent, hoping people keep inviting you to things you don’t want to attend.
Don’t worry about leaving the house at the same time as your partner
I dislike being rushed. I leave for the airport early, and I like to be at the movies with time to spare.
It’s not because I am a punctual person by nature — I am not — but rather because I am both slow and easily stressed. Part of adulthood is knowing oneself, and what I have learned so far is that, under pressure, I am happiest moving at the pace of an arthritic retriever.
My boyfriend is the opposite. He loves rushing. The more rushed, the better, he says. He walks at a respectable marathon pace. He loves the thrill of impossibly tight train connections, because it makes him “feel like Jason Bourne.”
For years, this was a source of tension. Then we discovered the answer: Leave at different times. “I’m going to get a head start!” I’ll say, and leave for the restaurant, while my boyfriend is still showering. And then I go, at my pace — a pace ideal for noticing new storefronts, or attractive dogs — and he shows up at his pace, and no one is angry or stressed or secretly resentful.
When we tell friends about our system, they are often baffled: You leave at … different times? To go to … the same place? Yes. That is exactly what we do. And you can, too! It is even (sort of) romantic, in a way. As the old saying goes: If you love something, set it free and then meet it at the movies.
Some fights are necessary; what time to leave is not one of them.
Order a cocktail without annoying the bartender
You know the feeling: a bartender places an intimidating cocktail menu in front of you with words you’ve never heard before. Panicked, you want to order something you think will be simple, giving the bartender few instructions so she can simply work her magic.
“Can I just have something with gin?” you ask. Or something “strong.” Or worse yet, the phrase every bartender hates: “not sweet,” which can mean anything from “I love citrus but not strawberry” to “I really just want cold vodka in a glass,” making it impossible to tell what you truly want.
Instead of asking your bartender to read your mind to discern your tastes, try reversing your thought process: What do you like in a drink? Things like “tropical” or “spirit-forward” give the bartender much more to work with, because they indicate flavor profiles that can be developed in multiple different ways, from spirit choice to the addition of syrups and bitters.
Style is also essential: If you don’t like the bitter, boozy gin Negroni, you might still love another gin cocktail, like an easy-drinking gimlet. If you tell your bartender that you love ginger beer, she’ll likely steer you toward a Moscow Mule or a Dark and Stormy; if you use words like “bubbly” or “effervescent,” she’ll know that an Air Mail is a safe bet.
When all else fails, use this simple formula: strength + flavor. For example, “I’d like something light and tart,” or “I’m looking for a strong, herbaceous drink.” Just a few extra words will make your night — and your bartender’s — much more enjoyable.
Listen to video game music while you work (really!)
You know when you just can’t stick to a task that takes deep concentration because you keep getting distracted? Here’s something that might help: music, but not the often-recommended Mozart or Beethoven.
Rather, my solution is video game music, which is designed to help players remain involved in singular task for an extended period of time. The melodies are pleasant to the ear but, crucially, not overbearing. Just like I’ve endured training my characters for more than an hour listening to the same tune, with video game music I can stick to the most boring aspects of my work for extended bursts of concentration. This is my recipe:
Choose between ambient and rhythmic
Whether you prefer atmospheric or rhythmic tracks, video game music offers great options for both categories. I’m a fan of melodies with a slight “oompah,” as they give my workflow a rhythm to follow. Here is one of my favorites, and here are some other great options: Waltz for The Moon (rhythmic), Star Maze (rhythmic), Forest Interlude (ambient) and Arrival (ambient).
Find tracks you associate with good memories
Pavlovian reflex comes into play here. Water themes can be beautiful, but they remind me of depleted oxygen bars. Mid-tempo tracks of grassland, beach and sometimes desert levels put me in the right mind-set. Here are some examples of those: Artisans Home, The Road of Trials and Gerudo Valley.
Take these melodies beyond your desk!
Just be a better listener
Good listeners are far and few between, and the endless distractions calling us away from conversation — hello, smartphones — aren’t helping.
“When we fail to listen to one another, we can’t reach any meaningful dialogue or resolution,” said Dr. Helen Riess, founder of Empathetics and an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Disturbed by a listening deficit in hospitals, Dr. Riess developed a program to teach doctors how to better tune into their patients and save lives. Here, she shares simple strategies from “The Empathy Effect” to hone your empathetic listening skills at work and at home.
Mind your body. Make eye contact and maintain your gaze. Keep your face relaxed and lean slightly forward to show you’re alert and attuned to the conversation. Open postures convey approachability. Don’t cross your arms, as that can be seen as being defensive. Be receptive by adopting a quiet, inviting tone of voice.
Be an emotion detective. Pay attention to people’s faces because they provide a road map of emotions. Subtle signs like a raised eyebrow or lip turn can reveal feelings of disgust, anxiety and joy. If you don’t watch closely, you can miss important clues to their state of mind.
Make a connection. Be present, ask open-ended questions and most importantly, don’t interrupt. Show genuine curiosity in the story being shared. After all, as humans, we all want to be heard.
So go ahead, put down your phone and have a real conversation. Doctor’s orders.