6 Secrets to a Calmer, Saner Life
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6 Secrets to a Calmer, Saner Life

Stick out your tongue, refuse to answer work e-mail, carry a lot of cash. Sounds risky, but these "bad" behaviors may be the key to a less stressful life.

"Bad" Habits to Keep

Sometimes even the best rules need to be broken -- especially when doing so will help you get ahead, get over an argument, or get more free time. We asked experts in everything from finance to romance for their take on when you should shake off conventional wisdom. Here, their tips on when it's okay to color outside the lines.

1. The Rule: Don't go to bed angry

Break it because...endlessly rehashing a disagreement only amps up agitation. Sometimes, the smartest strategy is to set the fight aside and let tempers cool. Peter Post, author of Essential Manners for Couples, recommends that you learn to recognize when you're getting nowhere and then just "put the argument out of its misery." It can be as simple as saying "I'm sorry we're so mad at each other, but I still love you" or even "I don't want this to be a huge issue." Then pick up the subject again when you've calmed down. "One couple I know sticks their tongues out at each other at the end of a fight," says Post. "It signals that they're both ready to move on and helps break the tension."

2. The Rule: Return every e-mail right away

Break it because...if you're a slave to the ding, you'll have maybe only 5 to 10 minutes between receiving each new message to tackle a project -- not exactly the best way to achieve deep focus. "To get more work done, block off one e-mail-free hour during the day," says Julie Morgenstern, author of Never Check E-Mail in the Morning.

How do you avoid missing important messages? Try setting the automatic out-of-office notice to turn on at the same time every day. Word the reply so that people know you won't be checking e-mail and to call you if the matter is urgent. Tip off your boss and coworkers that you're trying to boost productivity -- not ignore them --during this time. Can't spare an entire hour unplugged? Check your mailbox only every 10 to 15 minutes, and even then, scan the subject line and sender. Finally, don't get pulled into a gossipy e-mail discussion with your chatty friend from down the hall; save that for your afternoon break.

3. The Rule: Cleanliness is next to godliness

Break it because...although having an orderly home can reduce anxiety, getting your house in order shouldn't stress you out. Instead of berating yourself for not keeping on top of your housework, adopt a kinder and gentler (to you) clean routine. Rather than devoting hours to getting rid of your junk, stop the clutter before it even makes it inside your house by employing rigid border control. "Remove two items from your house for every new one you bring in," says Jan Jasper, productivity expert and author of Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, and Technology. Sure, it might be hard at first to pass up that set of vintage plates or those great new books, but finally being able to find your favorite sweater in your closet or see the countertops in your kitchen will make it all worth it.

4. The Rule: Always make time for friends

Break it because...forcing yourself to attend every social gathering, regardless of how overtired, overstressed, or overworked you are, will not only burn you out but will also make you resent your pals for intruding on your scarce time. "Stop worrying about disappointing someone else, and learn to say no to the things you can't -- or don't want to -- do," says Yvonne Harris Jones, leadership-training expert and CEO of Yvonne Harris Jones Enterprises.

We're not saying it's easy to turn down your cousin's barbecue or brunch with the girls. We're saying it's worth it. The next time someone asks you to do something you'd rather skip, try responding, "Thanks for inviting me, but I already have too much on my plate." If the other person keeps insisting, just repeat your answer, says Harris Jones. Taking control over your schedule will ensure that you spend time on the friends and activities you value the most, which will make you feel more empowered, invigorated, and happier.

5. The Rule: Multitasking = Maximum efficiency

Break it because...no matter how consumed with work you are, you decrease your odds of becoming more successful if you're constantly flying off in a million different directions. "Pick your number one goal for the day, then start off by doing one thing that helps you achieve it," says Dorothy K. Breininger, owner and CEO of the Center for Organization and Goal Planning in Canoga Park, California.

If your schedule keeps you crazy busy, do a little task triage by delegating smaller jobs and relegating nonpressing items to the back burner. "Put a dot next to the priority moves on your to-do list and make sure to tackle them first," she suggests. For example, identify bold initiatives you can take to raise your profile with your boss. "Ask yourself what is the brashest thing you can do to bring in more clients, business, or money," says Breininger. "Or figure out one small step you can make toward getting a raise or promotion." That way, you'll feel like you're accomplishing big goals instead of just spinning your wheels.

6. The Rule: Don't keep a lot of cash in your wallet -- you'll just blow it

Break it because...it's easier to lose track of just how much you're spending if you're repeatedly withdrawing money from the cash machine or charging everything. "Limit yourself to hitting the ATM just once per pay period, and take out enough to cover all your expenses," says Dave Ramsey, author of The Total Money Makeover. This will help to take your money management out of the nebulous realm of credit- and debit-card purchases.

Draw up a budget for all purchases that can be made with cash, like food, restaurant meals, transportation costs, clothing, and entertainment. "Then put the money you've allotted for each expense into individual envelopes," says Ramsey. On the front of each envelope, make a note of every cent you take out. That will help you keep track of where you spend your money. Once the groceries envelope is empty, for example, you can borrow from the entertainment or clothing one -- but with the understanding that you'll have to skip seeing a movie or put off buying that new pair of shoes you've been eyeing. And don't fall back on plastic -- cut up your cards or put them away. "This will keep you from spending the money you should be saving," says Ramsey.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, August 2006.