If you're looking to improve your life, I'd like to share some useful activities -- backed by science -- that can be done in as little as a few minutes per day. Others will require some stretching and soul searching, but the payoffs are tremendous.
1. Express more gratitude.
Here's a practical use of your time with great benefits. Make a list of five people at work for whom you are thankful. Think back on the key contributions they made, or events that have happened in the past week involving these people. Your next task should be to express sincere gratitude to them. Whatever your method (email, text, handwritten note, or phone call), make it personal and heartfelt and let these people know how you feel about them and their work.
It's been scientifically proven that if you perform this ritual for 21 days straight, you'll be training your mind to scan for positives instead of negatives. This has been found to be the fastest way to teach optimism and significantly improve your outlook; its effects are noticeable even six months later.
2. Be intentional about learning from someone.
The best conversations in life are initiated by wanting to learn about what other people do, how they do it, and why they do it. People love to talk about themselves, and if you're smart enough, you'll show up with the humble gesture of "I want to learn from you." Starting today, spot three people you'd like to learn from and schedule coffee time with each one, even if it's for 30 minutes. It will make you a better person, and the other three people will appreciate the chance to pay it forward.
3. Invest financially in others.
Science has determined that a giving mindset leads to happiness. In one study of more than 600 Americans, as reported by Greater Good Magazine, "happiness was predicted by the amount of money they gave away: The more they invested in others, the happier they were. This relationship between 'prosocial spending' and happiness held up even after taking into account individuals' income." Greater Good also mentions a survey conducted by the Gallup World Poll between 2006 and 2008 that found that in 120 out of 136 countries, people who donated to charity in the past month reported greater satisfaction with life.
4. Forget time management -- be a good manager of "self."
By managing your life, tasks, and priorities efficiently, you can seamlessly transition to more productivity, higher work satisfaction, and better personal well-being. Here are five ways to reach your most optimal level of self-management:
- Don't multitask or juggle too many things. Research says it can be damaging to our brains. You end up splitting your attention over many tasks, losing focus, lowering the quality of your work, and taking longer to hit your goals.
- Start and end meetings on time, and don't get sidetracked or allow the meeting agenda to get hijacked.
- Set boundaries and say no to people when needed, so your valuable time is protected.
- Identify the time of the day when you're most productive and focus your energy on doing the most important things during those times.
- Be aware of time-wasters such as visitors dropping by your workspace to gossip, useless meetings, distracting phone calls, and anything else that disrupts your state of flow.
5. Practice forgiveness.
Before you deem it some sort of religious fluff, practicing forgiveness in the workplace, new research has shown, has a positive impact. In one study involving more than 200 employees, forgiveness was "linked to increased productivity, decreased absenteeism (fewer days missing work), and fewer mental and physical health problems, such as sadness and headaches." As Greater Good reports, the research is important because it raises our awareness about potential outcomes when the people we work with hold on to negative feelings after a conflict. If they can't cope by forgiving, they are likely to be disengaged, lack collaboration, and act aggressive.
6. Replace your "to do" list with a "to be" list.
Billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, believes happiness is not about doing; it's about being. He advises people to write a "to be" list instead of a "to do" one. Here's Branson expressing this idea in his "Dear Stranger" letter written a few years ago:
The world expects grandiose aspirations: "I want to be a writer, a doctor, the prime minister." But that's all about doing, not being. And while "doing" will bring you moments of joy, it won't necessarily reward you with lasting happiness. Stop and breathe. Be healthy. Be around your friends and family. Be there for someone, and let someone be there for you. Be bold. Just be for a minute.