Do less, better: Essentialism in a nutshell

Minimalist photograph of a light bulb hanging from the ceiling.
Photo by Adrià Tormo on Unsplash

As developers, we like to talk a lot about efficiency. Maybe it’s the engineering mindset or the sense that we want to always be improving and doing things better. Or maybe it’s because we care about making optimizations. Either way, it’s something that we value highly.

Essentialism is about applying that sort of efficiency to our life. It’s about cutting through the noise and the extra baggage and getting to the core of what needs to be solved or fixed. It does so primarily by eliminating what’s not working and focusing on what’s actually important. 

I just finished reading the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown and this is my take on it. It was recommended to me by a developer I respect and I thought I’d spend a few minutes sharing what I learned in hopes that others will find it useful too.

What is Essentialism?

The whole premise of Essentialism is based around the idea of doing less, but better. Much of the book is spent comparing two types of people- what the author calls Essentialists & Nonessentialists. The Nonessentialist is your classic overstressed workaholic who makes too many commitments. It’s the person that is always busy yet still says yes to everything. They’re the folks that are outwardly successful but always seem to get bogged down in the weeds. It could also be the person with a thousand side projects that never see the light of day.

For me going through the book, the descriptions of Nonessentialists often hit too close to home. We’re living in very chaotic times and life is rough for so many people. We’re also in a spot where it’s easy to get swept up into all of the “stuff” that doesn’t really matter.

What Greg McKeown is arguing for, though, is a different perspective and way of being, what he calls the way of the Essentialist.  It can be summed up with the mantra of “do less, better”.

Do less, better

The three main components of essentialism, then, are as follows: 

  1. Individual choice
  2. Prevalence of noise
  3. Reality of tradeoffs

Let me explain about each of them.

First, as individuals, the idea is that we have the power to make choices. A choice is an action. It’s something that we decide to do. It’s about recognizing that we have the power to say no to projects and ideas that don’t excite us. We can politely decline invitations when we have other important work to do. We can make fewer commitments and promises.

Second, we can recognize the prevalence of noise in our lives and work.  Much of what we read, see, and do is in the category of noise. It’s all of that unimportant and often “urgent” work that we get caught up in. There are infinite possibilities out there to distract us from what’s important in our personal lives and work. As a result, we end up focusing on points that don’t really matter. It takes a very focused approach to be able to cut through it all and to find what’s essential. 

Third, we can come to terms with the reality of tradeoffs. People run into trouble is when they try to do everything. The end result is that their attention and focus gets diluted over too wide of an area. You may make an inch of progress in multiple different areas, but you never excel in any one spot. By cutting out unessential tasks and projects, we can open up more space to work on what we care about. The most important component, however, is to choose. And choosing means yes that there is undoubtedly something else (possibly many things) that we’ll need to say no to. We need to welcome such tradeoffs rather than trying to always jam more into our schedules. Learn to be your own best editor by graciously cutting what isn’t working for you.

Be the editor of your life

Watch out for statements like: 

  • I have to.
  • It’s all important.
  • I can do both.

We want to think we can do it all and that we’re superheroes. The reality, though, is that we can’t. We can’t be in two places at once. We can’t focus on two activities at the same time. We can’t be experts in everything. We can’t be everything to everyone.

Instead, try these statements:

  • I choose to.
  • Only a few things really matter.
  • I can do anything, but not everything.

The idea is to focus on being present for the stuff (people, projects, work) that really matters. When in doubt, Greg McKeown recommends applying the 90% rule. It’s either a Heck Yeah!! or a no. Don’t get caught up in anything in between. To borrow from Marie Kondo, we have to learn to keep only what sparks joy. Everything else, we need to graciously and respectfully say no to.

Sleep more, rest more, play more

Finally, we need to recognize the necessity of rest, play, and sleep in our lives. As busy people, there’s a tendency to think of ourselves as machines (or at least I certainly did for a while!).  The faulty thinking goes that we can do it all, we can keep working, and we don’t need to take breaks. We just need to push a little harder!

Unfortunately, though, we’re humans. Trying to burn the candle at both ends usually ends in… well, exhaustion and burnout.  As someone who has personally struggled with these issues, I can tell you that it’s just not worth it. Make space when you can, particularly when you feel the most resistance. When we’re at our busiest, that’s often when we need our rest and play time the most.

TLDR: We need to make room in our schedules and lives for the things that matter the most.

Closing thoughts

In summary, Essentialism has been an eye-opening experience for me in a lot of ways. It builds upon a number of books and concepts that I’ve previously read about, most notably the book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang and Marie Kondo’s lovely book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

If I had a complaint about the book Essentialism, it would merely be that the author focuses perhaps too much on CEOs and people whose lifestyles are frankly out of reach for many of us. His target audience is not the “everyman” or “every person”, it’s the high functioning business executive. So if you do read the book, keep that in mind.

I also want to recognize that the ability to say “no” and to guard your time aggressively in and of itself can be rife with a lot of privilege. If you’re struggling to make ends meet or fighting for survival, it’s a lot harder. If you’re in a toxic work or home environment, it’s a lot harder.  If you have kids, it’s a lot harder. If you are from an underrepresented community in tech, it’s a lot harder. If you’re currently dealing with fallout from the pandemic, it’s a lot harder. You get the idea. 

However, in its defense, I might argue that setting boundaries on your time and energy is even more critical when all is not going well or when you’re coming from a place of low personal power. It might even help you regain some semblance of your focus and control over your life to help you work toward a better situation.

Either way, as with most things, take what you can from it and leave what doesn’t work for you. No judgment here. Be gentle and kind to yourself. I just know that engaging with this philosophy has helped me already.

Some changes that I’ve personally made after reading this book is that I decided to quit volunteering once a week. I realized that it wasn’t contributing to my goals and instead it was leaving me exhausted after. I’ve also moved all of my teaching lessons to the weekends so that I can focus more on my writing and development skills. Baby steps toward a less chaotic schedule and hopefully baby steps toward honing in on what’s most important to me. 

Take-away Points:

I’ll leave you with my three main take-away points:

  1. Learn to guard and protect your time & energy. If it’s not a heck yeah, then it’s a no.
  2. Focus on what’s important to you, ignore the rest.
  3. Sleep more, play more, rest more. Especially when there’s no time.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What personal philosophy have you relied on? Have you used a version of essentialism in your life? What have you found that works for you?
  • How do you go about saying no to various nonessential commitments or responsibilities in your life? How do you decide what your priority is and where your focus should be? 
  • Are there any nonessential projects that you could say goodbye to this next week? What would your schedule look like if you had more time to do what you love? 

That’s all for now! 🙂

I welcome your feedback. If you enjoyed this article or if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me on Twitter or write to me in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!

How to create your own Roadmap: A Self-Assessment Tool + Guide for New and Aspiring Developers

Are you an aspiring developer, or know someone who is? Or perhaps you’re someone later down the road but feeling stuck and looking for a new direction? No matter what stage you’re at, I hope you’ll find this tool useful in getting your thoughts out of your head and moving forward in a meaningful direction. 

Photo by Jaromír Kavan on Unsplash

Why this tool exists

With the advent of the internet, we have an infinite number of potential choices to make with regards to being developers. Do we want to be self-taught or should we sign up for a class? What languages should we learn? How should we arrange our schedules to learn the skills we need? What skills do we need anyway and how should we navigate all of that?

We’re also in the unique position of being our own teachers more often than not now. Faced with so many challenges, it’s easy for people to get stuck or burnt out. I know that I’ve seen this pattern time and time again with my students and with people I’ve mentored. I’ve also seen it in myself.

What I’m hoping to help with

I’d like developers to have more clarity of purpose and to be more easily able to define what they’re doing and why. I’d also like to help developers feel like they’ve got a sense of direction and that they know where they’re going.

The truth is that much of the work of learning development skills or becoming a programmer is internal. It’s about you as a person growing, making decisions, solving problems, and gaining new knowledge. There’s no shortcut or secret sauce that’ll quickly get you there.

The other truth is that I don’t have all of the answers. I can tell you what’s worked for me and give you advice, but that’s not always very helpful. Instead, what I’d like to do is to equip you with the tools you need to figure out what’s best for yourself. You are the one who will best guide yourself through this process. That’s the way I’ve designed this.

So, your secret weapon, and also one of the most helpful places to start is with is a critical self-assessment. What I mean is simply examining your life, where you’re at, and figuring out how to realize your dreams and aspirations. The one who can answer those questions… is you. If you don’t know where you’re at, where you’re going, or where you want to end up, you’ll almost certainly never get there.

A Quick Overview

With all that said, let’s get started by talking about the main components you’ll need for your dev journey. 

You need five primary components to get started. They are as follows:

  1. A clear decision 
  2. A solid direction
  3. A detailed plan
  4. Consistent action
  5. Review and reflection

For many people, you’ll probably find that these steps happen naturally for you over time, and that you’ve already been doing them (consciously or not) on some level. Many of us are taught at least some version of this in school, at work, from their parents, etc. It usually comes in the form of basic life skills. Please note: None of what I’m going to talk about is going to be particularly original in that regard.

So if you’re shaking your head saying you already know all this stuff, then let me be the first to say it– That’s awesome! If what you’re already doing works for you, please skip this article. Or better yet, please share your wisdom! Reach out to those around you and help them.  We need more people like you. 🙂

However, if you’re anything like me, simply knowing the main steps involved isn’t enough. We need to actually put them into practice. And particularly for those of us who are self-taught in some way or who are prone to ending up in uncharted territory, I find it useful to shine light on each component.

After all, the first step to debugging any system is figuring out where the problem is. That’s what we’re going to do. 🙂

The Dev Roadmap

The following questions should help you get a start on recognizing each of these five components in your own decision making process. 

What you’ll need is to set aside some time to work through these questions. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend trying to power through it all as fast as you can. Instead, try doing a chunk or a section at a time, or skip to the one that seems to be bothering you the most right now.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s start.

1. A clear decision

A decision is your firm resolve. This is the “why” of your journey. Why have you decided to become a developer or to learn these skills? Without this first commitment, none of the other steps matter.

The question you are trying to answer is: 

Do I want to become a programmer/developer/software engineer?”

Write down as many reasons as you can, from the tangible to the not so tangible.  Here are some prompts to get started:

  • Who are you learning to program for?  This could be for yourself, for future employers, for your customers, for your community, etc
  • What are your primary motivations for wanting to gain this skill set? 
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you to learn to code?
  • Why are you trying to learn to code, study algorithms, learn about computers, etc?
  • Why do you want to make stuff?
  • What problems are you trying to solve? Why do these problems matter to you?
  • Who are some programmers that you admire and why? What is it about their work that you find fascinating or worthwhile?
  • How do you imagine your life will be different as a programmer?
  • What do you think the purpose of software development is and how do your other life goals fit in with it? 

Where/how this can go wrong: You spend too much time making a decision that you don’t ever get to the planning stage. Maybe you second guess yourself. Or, maybe you skip this step entirely and end up with a much bigger crisis later down the road (see also- “help! I picked the wrong profession!”).

My recommendation: Don’t overthink it, but give yourself a deadline for making a final decision. Then, stick with it. You can always change your mind later.  Also, beware if your motivation is anything less than an enthusiastic YES. You’re embarking on a big life commitment. If you’re already having second thoughts, it might be time to step back and rethink other aspects of your life. 

Your goal is to be able to say:

“I’ve decided to do this!”

2. A Solid direction

Next, you need a solid direction. You need to know where you want to end up, or at least some general idea of it. Obviously you’ve never been there before, so it’s okay if the details are still a little hazy. The point is to just generate some ideas at this stage. 

The question you are trying to answer here is:

“Where am I at, and where am I trying to get to?

  • What would you like to make? 
  • If you could learn to make anything you wanted without concern for budget, skills, time– what would that look like? Be specific.
  • What topics excite you the most?
  • What are some of your favorite apps, games, websites? What do you like about them? 
  • What do your favorite programmers do? Is that something that you’d like to learn too? 
  • What skills do you already have? Is there a way to combine them with your new dev skills?

Where/how this can go wrong: You get stuck in the inspiration / idea exploration stage or you get distracted by shiny project ideas. Multiple directions all seem exciting. Or perhaps you skip this step entirely and end up working on a project or topic that you hate. 

My recommendation: Do some research and take time to explore. Talk to people if you’re unsure and figure out what they do on a day to day basis. See if it’s something you might be interested in. Give yourself a set amount of time to explore. I’d also recommend you limit yourself to one or two subjects max so you don’t get too distracted. Like before, you can always change your mind if you realize you’ve made a mistake.  

Your goal is to be able to say:

“This is the direction I’ve picked.”

3. A Detailed Plan

Third, you need a plan. You need to have some way of breaking down the steps needed to get to where you want to go. Some milestones would be great, too. Milestones are helpful landmarks that you decide on that will let you know that you’re on track. Celebrate your wins, no matter how small.

This step is about converting your vision into actionable goals & steps. The primary question you’re trying to answer here is: 

“Where am I at right now, and how can I get to where I want to go?” 

  • What are some of the core skills that you’ll need as a programmer? How can you find out more about each of these skills?
  • What do you need in order to make this dev journey work for you?
  • What tools and resources do you have available to me?
  • How can you build in feedback systems to help yourself know you’re on track? Can you set up any milestones along the way? 
  • When or how should you reach out to mentors or guides?
  • Should you sign up for an online course, enroll at a university, or be self-directed? What are your options?
  • What is your main priority right now? What other commitments do you have right now that could get in the way of your current progress? 
  • How fast do you want to make progress on this? 
  • How should you divide up your time and what should you focus on during each learning session? 

Where/how this can go wrong: You spend too much time making plans and strategizing, so much so that you never move past this stage. Maybe you want to know all of the details before diving in or you spend too long considering what to learn and how to learn, but never actually start learning.  Or, you skip this step and end up getting lost frequently. Perhaps you experience a mismatch between your learning style and your chosen learning method. Keep in mind that some people really don’t do well as when self-taught and need more structure, while others thrive on it. You’ll need to figure out what will work for you via trial and error. 

My recommendation: Plan ahead about a week and have some long term goals in addition to your short term goals. But also, don’t overthink it. Make plans with what resources you have available and create a foundation. 

Your goal is to be able to say:

“This is my plan of action.”

4. Consistent Action

Next, you need consistent action. Having and making plans, even very detailed ones, are not enough without the action to back it up. To make this a worthwhile journey, you need to be able to dedicate resources to the endeavor– time and energy, usually. Sometimes money too, depending on your particular situation. 

This is the point in time when Shia LeBeouf comes on stage to tell you to JUST DO IT. But more realistically, it’s about showing up. Consistently. Day after day, even when the going gets tough. The primary question you’re trying to answer here is:

“How can I translate my plans into consistent action?”

Some questions to consider:

  • How can you add accountability & resiliency to your development journey? 
  • How will you track your progress? 
  • What resources should you make use of when you get stuck? 
  • How can you make sure that you bring your best self to each coding session? 
  • What does a good study session look like to you?  
  • How can you study and learn the materials more effectively?
  • How can you reduce distractions while you work & study?
  • How and when should you ask for feedback from others?
  • What does your support system look like?
  • What are some learning techniques that have worked well for you in the past? Can you apply them here?
  • How can you get the most out of each of the learning tools that you’ve currently got available to you? 

Where/how this can go wrong: You try to jam too much into one session and end up feeling too overwhelmed. You give yourself too large of an assignment and don’t break it down enough, so you get in over your head. Maybe you give yourself too little to do, and you get bored. Or perhaps you get busy with other parts of your life and fall off the bandwagon. You might also limit yourself to thinking you need to pay for a fancy course or bootcamp. While it could help, make sure you’re not just procrastinating.

My recommendation: Learn to pick yourself up again when you get stuck. Plan far enough ahead so that you can get into the flow of your work. Weekly might be a decent schedule to aim for. Also, keep in mind that research suggests that you’re better off dedicating a small amount of time daily to developing your skills than setting aside a marathon session once a week. Make your plans accordingly. But if your scheduling is too grueling due to other commitments or if you’re exhausted, also don’t beat yourself up about it. Just do what you can when you can. Your system doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to work for you. Small amounts of daily progress are better than none.

Your goal is to be able to say:

“I commit to consistent practice.”

5. Review and Reflection

And finally, you need to set aside some time for review and reflection. 

People often forget this step, or think it’s unimportant. But a periodic review of all of your answers to the previous sections is helpful. You might find that your answers change over time. That’s okay. That’s good, and normal. Either way, it can help give you direction. Regular reviewing and reflection can also help you not sweat the small stuff. It can also remind you why you started this process in the first place. Be honest and patient with yourself. 

The primary question you’re trying to answer here is: 

“Am I on the right track right now?”

Here are some other questions to consider:

  • How does your dev journey feel to you right now? Are there any big chances that you’d like to make?
  • If you’re being 100% honest, are you happy with where you’re at right now career-wise? Education-wise? School-wise?
  • Are there any skill tracks that you’d like to focus more on moving forward? 
  • What areas have you been making progress in, and what might you be neglecting?
  • Do you need to switch up your focus? Are there other parts of your life that need attention? 
  • Have your goals or aspirations changed at all?
  • How is your schedule? Does it work with you and for you? Or does it cause you stress? Are there changes that you can make so that different parts of your life work more smoothly?
  • How is your concentration? Do you need to take more breaks or schedule in more down time? Are you feeling burnt out?

Where/how this can go wrong: You never take time to reflect on your goals, so you may continue working in the same way and on the same projects even after your goals have changed. Your destination has changed but like a good little robot, you continue doing the wrong job and can’t figure out why you’re not seeing the results you want.  

My recommendation: Keep a journal or devlog. Regularly revisit your goals, especially when you’re feeling stuck. Make course corrections as needed. Better late than never. You’ll thank yourself later, I promise. 

Your goal is to be able to say:

“I will review my progress on a regular basis. If I’ve gone off course, I commit to making changes.”

In Conclusion

Becoming a developer is a skill set and profession that takes time. Despite what anybody will tell you, it’s going to take a mixture of time, hard work, and luck. Success, of course, will be determined by what your goals are. However, I can almost assuredly guarantee that there will be setbacks along the way, and plenty of things that won’t go your way. There will be times when you make big mistakes or go off course. There will be wins, losses, and no shortage of unexpectedly painful bugs. However, there will also be great fun and excitement for those who seek it. 

What will the journey look like for you? 🙂 

I sincerely hope that it’s a fun and meaningful one!

I welcome your feedback. If you enjoyed this article or if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me on Twitter or write to me in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!

Tired? 17 Activities for Low-energy Days

Photograph by Jonathan Fink on Unsplash

Tired? Need a pick-me-up? We all have those days… and some days we need more rest than we’d like! Especially with all of the happenings around the world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Over the past year or two, I’ve been on a quest to figure out what helps me relax and what doesn’t. As a former workaholic and someone who has dealt with burnout in the past, learning how about this essential skill relaxation has become increasingly important to me.

After reading a few books, including Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pan, I’ve been giving serious thought to how I refresh my energy when I’m not working.

Please note that this list was not developed with any true scientific rigor. It was, however, created with love and by carefully noting how I feel before and after each activity, and giving myself an honest assessment. Because human nature is as it is, everyone’s list may be different. For that reason I’d recommend that you modify this list and find what works for you. I offer suggestions at the end of the article for how to develop your own list.

But without any further ado, here are 17 possible activities to try…

The List of Relaxing Activities

Close your eyes

Eye strain can be a very real problem, especially when looking at the computer for long hours. Be sure to take regular eye breaks, which can include closing your eyes for a short while.

If it’s a consistent problem for you, check out this article on eye strain from Mayo Clinic for more information.

Go for a walk

I can’t tell you how many times simply going for a nice walk has helped me. Something about the fresh air, or body movement helps me to feel refreshed whenever I get back.

Here’s another article from the Mayo Clinic about the benefits of walking.

In the time of coronavirus, maybe we can’t go outside as easily. In that case, even doing some laps in our home can be helpful!

Curl up in pajamas or comfy clothes

Never underestimate the comfort of simply wearing comfortable clothes.

If you have nowhere pressing to be for the day (or are stuck inside anyway thanks to the quarantine), it can be wonderfully relaxing just to hang out in PJs.

Make a smoothie

Although this one won’t be an option for everyone (it requires a blender), I find that a smoothie can go along way in helping me feel more energized. Probably it’s the sudden influx of sugar and nutrients, but you also don’t have to make your smoothies super sweet to get benefits.

I personally like green smoothies with orange juice, spinach, apple, ginger, and blueberries, but figure out a recipe that might work for you!

Put on lotion

This is one that I always drag my feet about. I don’t really like putting on lotion as it can sometimes leave my hands or feet with a slimy or oily feeling. However, putting hand lotion on can be very refreshing. I live in the desert right now so it’s even more critical that I remember to do this. Likewise, if we’re washing out hands often, they will dry out more frequently. Cracked, dry skin serves no one.

Extra bonus points if you also give your hands a massage.

Clean your space

This one also might be controversial, but cleaning & tidying is incredibly relaxing and cathartic for me.

Whether it’s the feeling of tossing out unneeded paperwork, dumping literal trash, shining a mirror, or dusting, I find that cleaning can leave me feeling refreshed and energized.

At the end of the day, too, it can be very satisfying to look over my handiwork and see how everything feels much better. It even seems to sparkle. Silly, I know. 🙂

Do laundry

I put this one on here specifically, even though it could technically fall under the category of cleaning. Either way, there’s something very refreshing about having clean clothing, towels, or sheets, especially when I’m exhausted or not otherwise feeling well

I wanted to add though that sometimes laundry can be a stress point, though, too, depending on the way you do laundry. Coin laundries are decidedly less fun, especially when you have to wait for long hours.

When I lived in Japan, we would let our clothes out to dry on the balcony, which was pleasant but also labor intensive. Sometimes waiting for good weather was difficult and you had to watch out for sudden gusts of wind 🙂

Either way, the end result is usually satisfying- clean, nice smelling clothing!


Sometimes I don’t like exercise very much, but I always feel better after I’ve gotten some physical activity. There’s really no wrong answers here. Stretching, body weight training, cardio… just do what feels right to you. And just a reminder that you don’t have to overdo it. Even 5-10 minutes can make a big difference.

Personal activities that have worked well for me include walking, cycling, hiking, stretching, dancing to a favorite song, or following along with the Wii Fit. Make it fun, make it silly. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Listen to music

Try putting on Spotify, Pandora, or your favorite YouTube playlist and just kicking back for awhile.

I know I tend to listen to music when I’m actively doing something, but it can also be nice to just make the music your primary focus– Have fun getting lost in it!

Shower or take a bath

Showers especially are always my go-to whenever I need to feel refreshed. They’re great for thinking, but also for just resetting my brain.

I’m almost always in a better mood after.

Put in eye drops

This one goes along with closing your eyes for awhile, but when you’ve been staring at the computer for far too long, sometimes eye drops are called for. I recommend lubricant eye drops.

Drink water or make tea

Staying hydrated is important, and some of us simply don’t drink enough water. Here’s an article from the Mayo Clinic that can give some recommendations for water intake. Hint: It’s highly individual.

Making tea, especially herbal tea, can also be very refreshing and soothing. If you’re not a big tea drinker, you could try cucumber water or some watermelon.

Find a sunny spot

This one will depend on the time and your location, but sitting in sunshine for a short while can be wonderfully relaxing and comforting. Channel your inner house cat and find the nearest sunny spot.

Pro-tip: Don’t sit in the sun for so long that you get sunburned. 😉

Related, but if it happens to be raining or snowing, park yourself near a window and just watch the weather for awhile. There’s a meditative quality about just watching and observing.

Take care of plants / gardening

I love caring for plants! There’s something really nice about being able to care for them and watch them slowly grow over time.

Whether you’re raising houseplants or have a full garden to attend to, I know I’m always happy after I’ve tended to the plants.

Bonus: It’s also fun to play in the dirt and wrangle plants with shears!

Hang out in nature

Again, this one will depend on the current time and location (and the relative safety of your living arrangements), but if at all possible, hanging out in nature can be wonderful. You could visit a park or garden if you live in a city, or find a hiking trail if you’re the adventuring type. There are ways to make this work with social distancing, too!

Either way, getting away from everyday life and civilization and connecting with the natural world on some level is welcome.

Watch a nature documentary or feel good show

I love documentaries & silly children’s cartoon shows. I also love cooking shows. One of my go-to pick me up series for awhile was The Great British Baking Show. There was something special about the way the contestants all became team mates and friends over the weeks, and the joy of watching all of the amazing recipes somehow come together. I’d find myself in a much better mood & refreshed after. Other good candidates might be movies you remember from childhood, or your favorite cheesy soap opera.

Sleep / take a nap / go lay down

I saved the best for last! For me, though, one of the best recommendations for sleepy & tired days is simply to go lay down for awhile. I’m a proponent of 20-30 minute naps, as needed. But even if you’re not able to sleep during the day, simply closing your eyes and reclining can be helpful.


I wanted to finish up with a short disclaimer at the end. Just because you do a task for fun, or find it especially worthwhile or rewarding doesn’t mean it’s going to help you relax. I intentionally left out some activities that could potentially be relaxing for some people, and that’s because I’ve found that they don’t always work for me. The short list includes video games, reading books, making art, playing music, writing, meditation, programming, and a few others. These are all tasks that I find deeply enjoyable and fun. I would never give them up.

The primary reason I’m NOT including them is just because I’ve found in my experience that they aren’t always relaxing as their central purpose. Especially video games. I love games dearly and I recommend them for other reasons (play and creativity is SO important!), but I just don’t find that I’m necessarily more relaxed after. It depends on the game, of course, but I just wanted to throw that out there.

How do you find what works for you? That brings me to…

Tips on making your own List

If you’re unsure about anything on my list, or want to find out what works for you in your life, I’d highly recommend taking notes before and after you do an activity. The most important part is just to observe yourself and to be honest with yourself.

Questions for before:

  1. How do you feel?
  2. What is your current mood?
  3. Do you notice any tension or discomfort anywhere in your body?

Questions for after:

  1. Have there been any changes to the way you feel now vs how you felt before?
  2. Do you feel any more alert or awake now?

For me when I did this self-assessment, I was most surprised that games didn’t work for me. I was also surprised that exercise and particularly cleaning helped me feel better. If you decide to do this self-assessment, what most surprised you? Were there any activities that you thought were relaxing, but actually left you feeling more stressed after?

Wrap-Up Questions:

Now that we’ve gotten through everything, I thought I’d end on some questions & final thoughts.

  1. What relaxation techniques work for you when you’re cranky, tired, or exhausted?
  2. What are some ways that you make room for rest in your life?
  3. How can you structure more relaxation and rest in your day?

Thanks for reading! I welcome your feedback. If you enjoyed this article or if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me on Twitter or write to me in the comments section below.