Unless I happen to slip into a flow state where I’m so focused that I lose track of time on a task, I find myself needing a break about ever hour or so when I’m trying to get something done. My focus wanes and I need to do something that recharges me a little bit.
It’s during those little breaks that I might be tempted to play a game on my phone or play a quick computer game or do some online shopping or something like that, but I find that when I do those kinds of things, I don’t really feel refreshed to go back to whatever task I was working on, and sometimes I’ll even have spent some money.
Instead, I’ve come to fill the little cracks in my day with little free and simple things that simply make my life better. They don’t cost money and they usually don’t take very long, but they provide a nice little perk to my day. I usually do one or two of these things whenever I take a break from working or any bigger task I’m involved with, and on lazier days I often do several of these things scattered throughout the day.
I find that on days when I do these things, I find myself in a better and more focused mood later in the day, which often gives me the energy to do things like make a great dinner for my family, be present with them throughout the evening, enjoy time with my wife after the kids are in bed, and even dabble in some of my hobbies with a clear mind.
Here are 25 free and simple things to do that will make your life just a little better.
Sit outside for five or 10 minutes without any distractions. Leave your cell phone inside and go outside to a comfortable spot with a nice view. Plop yourself down and just look around for a while. It’s often pleasant to do this with a beverage in hand – a glass of water or a cup of coffee works really well. Look at the world around you and notice little details like your neighbor giving his daughter a hug before she goes off to camp or a rabbit hopping across the yard or a little kid learning how to ride his bike or the warmth of the sun on your skin. You’ll feel better and more connected to the world.
Go on a walk around your neighborhood. A walk is a great form of low intensity exercise. It’s not intense enough to leave you sweaty or anything, but it gets your blood moving and your heart rate up a little bit. That little bump in blood flow, the fresh air and sunshine that you’re getting, the ability to simply explore the area around you and see/greet neighbors makes a short walk around the neighborhood a great little break in the day.
Go on a nature walk or hike in a nearby park. Take the walk around your neighborhood a step further and head to a local park to take a nature walk. This combines most of the benefits of walking around your neighborhood with the known calming benefits of being in nature. The practice of “forest bathing” – simply spending time in a forested area – has a number of known short term and long term health benefits.
Drink a big glass of water. Most of us can afford a little bit of additional hydration throughout the day. Simply drinking a large glass of water can help all of our body’s systems function properly, it can help stave off hunger and help us feel more sated. I often genuinely feel better after drinking a glass of water if I haven’t had any water in a while. It seems to awaken me.
Stretch out your body by stretching your various muscle groups for five or 10 minutes. Simply stretching out all of your muscles feels incredible. It’s a pretty low intensity thing to do – I often do it while listening to a podcast or audiobook – and it leaves you feeling more flexible and just feeling good all over. I generally follow Bruce Lee’s stretching routine to the best of my ability. I’ve been doing this for several months and have seen gradual improvements in my flexibility, it just feels good to do it and it provides a moment of calm in the day. Note that it’s a good idea to warm up a little first before stretching by doing some jogging in place or jumping jacks.
Clean out the inside of your car. Over time, most cars collect little pieces of detritus – a wrapper, an empty beverage bottle, a forgotten bag, a receipt, a forgotten folding chair in the trunk, a bit of grass from a hike, some dust on the dashboard, and so on. That little bit of messiness can contribute to a small negative feeling when you get in the car, a feeling that can be easily washed away by spending 15 minutes clearing junk out of your car. Clear everything you can off of the floorboards, give them a quick vacuuming, and wipe down the dashboard and panels to remove fingerprints and dust. This little task can make your car feel fresh and new again and you’ll feel good when you get in there to drive next time.
Eat something really healthy, like a piece of fruit or a vegetable. Grab a banana or an apple or a stalk of celery and just munch on it. This is a great thing to do in combination with just going outside and sitting down and looking around for a bit. I’ll often grab an apple and just sit on the front step in the sunshine eating it, watching the life around me. Eating a quick healthy snack usually helps you feel better in the moment and fills you up with something truly good for you, which can take the edge off of cravings for lower quality food.
Document a day in your life (or in the life of someone in your immediate family). Spend a day in which, every 15 minutes or half an hour or hour, you take a picture of whatever it is you happen to be doing at the moment. You can do this with a loved one, too, if you’re spending the day with that person. You can do a selfie or a picture of your environment or whatever. I do this every once in a while, just fully documenting a day. When I’m done, I’ll stick all of the pictures in a document somewhere and add captions explaining it. It’s enjoyable to put this together because it provides a nice meditation on how I actually spend my time. It’s also really fun to go look at older documents like this. It can turn a completely ordinary day into something surprisingly thoughtful and memorable.
Be helpful to someone who needs help, without expecting anything in return. If you see someone that needs a hand, whether it’s someone at the grocery store or someone in your apartment complex or someone at the park or someone in your house, just give that help without question. Load someone’s groceries into their car for them and return their shopping cart. Help your neighbor lay bricks for his new patio. It just takes a few minutes and you’ll be incredibly glad that you did this.
Fill up a bag of items to give to Goodwill. This is a wonderful way to declutter your home quickly and get rid of items that you’re not going to use any more. Just get a big canvas bag and fill it up with items that you don’t use any more that someone else could probably use, then drop off the contents of that bag at Goodwill (or your preferred place to drop off secondhand items) the next time you’re nearby. In one swoop, you’ve cleaned up your living quarters and reduced the amount of stuff you have to maintain and pick up and deal with while also being charitable.
Read a chapter or a section of a really thoughtful book. Check out a book from the library on a topic that you’ve always been curious about, and then in short bits throughout the day, read a chapter or a section of that book. The goal is to read just a handful of pages so that you’re not reading for an extended period. With a thoughtful book, you’re probably going to have a few new ideas to think over after reading that chapter, so you can let those ideas percolate in your head as you go about your day. It’s a great way to slowly digest and learn a new topic, which is a great way to understand the world a little better.
Take care of a task that’s nagging you in the back of your mind. We all have lists of undone tasks. Right now, the faucet on the sink in the upstairs bathroom needs replaced, as does an infrequently used light fixture on the main floor, and I’d like to do some rearrangement in one of the other bathrooms, and there are some closets that need rearranging… it’s quite a list! Just choose one of the things on that list and either complete that task or make a serious start on it by ordering the supplies you need or taking some other first step on that project. You’ll feel like you made real progress on things left undone and that will feel quite good indeed.
Go through your print photos and digitize and organize them. This is a great ongoing project if you have a large collection of photo prints just sitting in a box or an old photo album. Start digitizing them now before they degrade too much and then you can make prints whenever you like, you can use those old photos for digital picture frames and screensavers and other tasks. All you really need is a flatbed scanner, which is inexpensive these days, and some time. This is a project that you can do in ten minute chunks over a long period of time – just leave out a box of photos near the scanner and spend a few minutes scanning a few pictures here and there and saving them to your photo archives.
Go through your digital photos and organize them, too. Similarly, if you have a giant collection of digital photos, spending some time organizing them can be a great help when trying to find a photo. A good tool for doing this is Google Photos, where you can easily add descriptions to your photos so that you can search them and quickly find pictures of your aunt Mildred. You can also keep a full copy of all of your photos on your computer, of course, and by using Google Drive, you can share your full photo archive with all of your devices automatically. This is another task that can be done in short batches when you have a few free moments and it’s one of those tasks that becomes more and more valuable the more pictures you’ve described.
Send a quick appreciative message to someone who helped you recently. If someone helped you out or did something thoughtful for you in the recent past, take a moment to send that person an email or a text genuinely thanking them for their help. When people help others, it feels good to feel appreciated for that effort and it takes just a moment to give that kind of appreciation. Not only that, it feels good for you to have given thanks for something good that happened to you.
Write a letter to someone who was a great mentor to you when you were younger. This is just an extension of the previous tip. Rather than simply giving a quick thanks for someone who did something for you recently, take some time and write a letter to someone who really helped you in the past and express your sincere gratitude for that help. Spell out exactly how they impacted your life in a positive way. Writing a letter like this is a great task to do in little pieces, especially if you want to write a draft or two to make sure it’s perfect. A letter like this can be hugely meaningful for both the person writing it and the person receiving it.
Explore your local library. Many people have the impression that the library is just a building full of books. While the library is definitely that, it houses many, many more things. Most libraries have audiobooks, DVDs and Blurays, free internet access, study rooms, meeting rooms, equipment you can check out, community meetings, presentations, and many other things going on there. Trust me – it’s an underappreciated feature of your town. Take a few minutes and see what your local library has on offer.
Fill up your backpack or a basket and go on a picnic. This is a great way to turn that walk around the neighborhood or that walk in the park into a longer adventure without breaking up your day. Just fill up a backpack or a picnic basket with the items you’d need for a picnic lunch and take it with you on a walk. Find a comfortable place to sit and spread out, then enjoy a meal in a natural setting. Better yet – don’t bring any distractions along with you. Leave your cell phone at home or in the car and just enjoy the environment. You’ll end up feeling subtly relaxed and walk away feeling much better about the state of things in your life.
Close your eyes and focus on your normal breathing for five minutes. This is my basic meditation technique that I use at least twice a day to calm my mind. It’s a subtle effect, but it works wonders over the long term with regards to calming anxiety and feeling more aware and in control of your life and just generally content with things. Just find a comfortable place to sit, close your eyes, and focus your mind on your natural in-and-out breathing. If you notice your attention slipping away and drifting into random thoughts, bring it back to your breath. Do this for five minutes. You might not notice a huge change from doing this, but over time there’s a real positive effect in many subtle ways.
Take a longer than usual shower or bath. A daily shower or bath is a hygiene routine that most of us follow, but most of the time it’s a quick and automatic task to be done at the start of the day or the end of a sweaty activity. Rather than just making that task automatic, instead consider a long and luxurious shower. Let yourself soak in the water and carefully scrub every inch of your body. You’ll walk out of the bathroom feeling wonderfully invigorated.
Do some simple bodyweight exercises for five or 10 minutes. This is a great way to improve your fitness in just a few minutes a day. The seven minute workout has become quite popular in recent years and for good reason – it’s a good way to exercise all of your body in just seven minutes. You don’t have to follow that exact workout, but by simply devoting five or 10 minutes to a fairly vigorous set of calisthenics that works all of your body, you’ll get your blood flowing and your endorphins rushing in your veins. You’ll feel quite good when you’re done and you’ll gradually get yourself into better shape and thus more able to tackle an array of everyday tasks in your life.
Make a really great meal for you and your family. Most of the time, we prepare simple meals for ourselves and our family. Rather than going the simplest route, invest a little more time and effort to make something better. Rather than just dumping in a jar of pasta sauce, saute some onions and peppers in a skillet and add the sauce to those. Rather than just grilling something, put it in a marinade an hour or two beforehand to add a ton of flavor. It takes just a few minutes to jazz up a meal, but it almost always pays off in terms of flavor and family appreciation and a general sense that you can, in fact, make amazing meals at home.
Read the archives of a really good blog. Pick out a blog you really like – such as, say, Money360 – and start digging through the archives. Start from the beginning and read all of the entries over time until you catch up to the present day. It can sometimes be hard to find the earliest entries, so dig around a little. You’ll often find really fascinating nuggets and ideas in the earlier writings of your favorite sites, and you’ll also often see an evolution in writing style and changes in the writer’s life. Since each article on most blogs can be read in just a few minutes, this is a great way to read a site one bite at a time.
Think about something in your life that you’re grateful for and reflect on it for a minute or so. Just consider something that makes your life better – whatever it might be – and think about how much it really adds to your life for a good minute or so. Think about a loved one or your favorite chair or a really great book or one of your personal skills or something as simple as warm sun on your shoulders. You’ll find that such a practice is really effective at brightening your whole day.
Pick a spot in your home that’s messy and clean it for 15 minutes straight. Simply cleaning up one of the messy areas in your home by clearing out all of the junk, getting rid of the useless things, and putting other things back where they belong makes such a huge difference in making your home feel more organized and livable and presentable. I’ll stop and do this with things like my office desk or my office bookshelf and I’ll quickly feel a lot better about the space around me. I also regularly find things that inspire me or things I’ve left undone and forgotten about that I should pick up, which again leads to a greater sense of contentment and control over my life.
But all this stuff is BORING! Whenever I make a list of frugal tips or things to do, I often hear from a reader or two who tells me that everything on my list is boring or somehow not applicable to their life.
If you feel this way, I have two suggestions. First, recognize that perceiving things as boring is very much a “cup half empty” way of viewing the world. We all have the capacity to choose how we see the world, and choosing to see only the negatives in the options before you tends to produce general overall unhappiness. Instead, evaluate the options before you with a nod toward the positive aspects rather than the negatives. What’s good about this option? Ask that question instead of focusing on the negative. Second, lists like these are like a dinner buffet – you should choose the ones that click for you and not worry about the rest. Everyone is different, and different things click with different people. Rather than trying to do all of them, pick out five or ten that seem like they might click well for you or are simple and short enough that you can try them without much risk and just see how it works out.
For me, though, these little perks add a great deal of my value to my day without costing me anything other than just a little bit of time. They put me in a positive mindset about my work, leave me feeling energized even late in the day, and contribute to an overall sense of living the good life without emptying my pocketbook one iota. That’s a pretty great thing, in my opinion.