Treat sleep like it’s a friend, make a single-item to-do list, and other unexpected ways to improve your life.
Unless you live a charmed life, chances are there are aspects of it you’d like to improve. Sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning, to find time for family and friends, to tackle that to-do list of mundane tasks, to get the printer to actually work.
Out of these everyday difficulties, a market for life hacks was born: seemingly simple ways to optimize and streamline life. Some of these tips proved useful — dropping a pin in Maps where I parked my car has prevented many panicked searches — others, not so much. Oftentimes, however, the most effective step toward self-improvement is the most straightforward. Small and accessible shifts can manifest the most change without totally upending our established routines.
Experts, ranging from authors to academics, offer their bite-size, low-lift advice on how to live a better life. While these tips are meant to be easily implemented, by no means should you attempt them all — just try what speaks to you and your circumstances.
Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Try to get natural light every day (and treat sleep like your friend)
“Number one in my mind is having light during the day, particularly in the morning. Sunlight is free. Even if it’s overcast, there’s still lots of bright light outdoors. It’s a triple whammy of being good because you get light, you get fresh air, you get to move your body. Going outside during the day is such a good thing for your sleep and overall mental and physical health.
My number two is to treat your sleep as you would treat your friend. This means prioritizing them and making sure you have time and space for them, but also not being overbearing and chasing them down and forcing sleep to happen. If you strike that balance between being there and holding space for your friend, sleep, but also being chill about it and not being too overbearing, then you’re going to have an easier time having the sleep health that you need.”
Outsource help with dating, work, or whatever else is on your mind
“Weekly, share one of your hopes, dreams, goals, or dating and relationship needs with a new person. This will increase the amount of people who are willing to help you reach your goals.”
Start a (small) to-do list
“The simple hack that has transformed my life is putting absolutely everything I want to do for myself, my family, and my work on a digital to-do list that I can check off every day. It seems so simple, but something about seeing those small tasks and checking them off daily has allowed it to become a permanent pattern for me. I recommend that people start doing this with one small task and slowly build up competence before they add more. Every time you check it off, you get the rush of having completed a task and you’re building a consistent habit.”
—Whitney Goodman, psychotherapist and author of Toxic Positivity: Keeping It Real in a World Obsessed with Being Happy
Cut through the chaos with meaningful rituals
“I think it’s important to create your own rituals. I’ve found that my own personal rituals help keep my work-life harmony in check. Whether it’s my monthly supper club or my morning ritual of preparing a hot beverage, I find that these things ground me in even the busiest of times.”
—Tina Wells, business strategist, advisor, and author of The Elevation Approach: Harness The Power of Work-Life Harmony to Unlock Your Creativity, Cultivate Joy, And Reach Your Biggest Goals
Take a breather before dealing with your finances
“Before you look at your finances, give yourself a two-minute transition exercise. For many of us, money is a serious stressor. We may not notice that we’re experiencing a fight-flight-or-freeze response as we sit down to go over accounts, but our body knows it. Set a timer for 120 seconds and do some deep breathing, make a list of three things you’re grateful for or appreciate about yourself, or simply journal for a page or two. Suppressing emotions and telling ourselves our anxieties are stupid or wrong leads to negative coping mechanisms like avoidance, while learning to self-regulate as a part of money management facilitates acceptance and presence of mind.”
—Amanda Clayman, financial therapist
Say hi to your neighbors
“My tip is to acknowledge the people I pass on the street: a smile, a nod, or a hello. I live in a small-ish town and while I know this can be a safety issue for some, I have found in my little community that I feel more a part of it, and feel like I’m contributing, even if it’s this very small acknowledgment on daily walks. My goal is to not be rushing around with blinders on all the time, just going about my business, but to actively work at noticing the people around me. I find I say things like, ‘Please go ahead’ now more than, ‘Oh I’m so sorry’ after having bumped into someone or cut them off. The small reminder to just pick your head up, make eye contact if you can, and offer a smile, nod, or even a hello has been a very worthwhile one.”
—Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute and author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, The Centennial Edition and Higher Etiquette: A Guide To The World of Cannabis, From Dispensaries to Dinner Parties
Prioritize the people who prioritize you
“Choose people who choose you back. This was something I realized on my own that changed so much about my relationships. We should be choosing the people in our lives who are actively choosing relationships with us as well, and anything less isn’t a relationship we have to accept.”
—Lane Moore, author of You Will Find Your People: How To Make Meaningful Friendships As An Adult
Reach out to that friend you’re thinking about right now
“If a friend comes to mind, contact them. It could be a text, a DM, a meme, or even an email. If all you say is, ‘Thinking of you. I just wanted to say hi,’ that is good. Even better: if you reminisce about a specific memory of the two of you together. Share something they’d find interesting — like a meme, news story, mutual interest — laugh again with them about a joke you once shared, or, if you can, honestly say, ‘I miss you.’ If they respond, plan to connect again — to talk on the phone, make a Zoom call, or get together in person. Get it on the calendar and make it happen. And if they don’t respond, give them the grace. People are busy, texts get lost, and even when we appreciate being contacted, we don’t always know what to say.”
—Jeffrey Hall, professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas
Make out with your partner… every day
“One small thing you can do to live better is make out with your partner every night before bed. Over time, couples in long-term relationships stop touching and kissing throughout the day. For many couples, the only physical contact they have is when they’re having sex or trying to initiate it. But if this is the only time you’re touching or kissing, that starts to create pressure. If your partner tries to touch you, you might find yourself pulling away because you don’t want it to ‘lead to more.’ Or you might start avoiding physical contact altogether. Instead, if you make the conscious intention to make out every night, you’ll start to break that connection between touch and sex. You’ll stop being so on guard around your partner, and you’ll be able to relax into the contact. Making out every night will help you feel closer to your partner, and you may even get those butterfly feelings from the beginning of your relationship back.”
—Vanessa Marin, sex therapist, and Xander Marin, authors of Sex Talks: The Five Conversations That Will Transform Your Love Life