If you want to make meaningful adjustments to the way you live, don’t start with a mammoth challenge – start small! We asked 18 experts for their top tip that will make life better, easier, more productive – or just a little bit more fun…
1. Jump out of bed
Not literally, but Sam Eastwood, celebrity trainer and founder of Get Set Body (sameastwood.com) says that a great way to start the day is to get cracking even before it’s time for that first coffee. Eastwood recommends a few stretches next to the bed as soon as you’re awake, then a nice big glass of water and, if possible, getting yourself straight outside. “Whether you’re a walker, runner or hiker, the fresh air and movement will energize your body and release those feel-good endorphins that fuel a good mood, push away stress and set you in a positive frame of mind for the day ahead,” she says.
2. Start the day with fat
“This can be a serious game-changer,” says UAE-based nutritionist Rashi Chowdhary (rashichowdhary.com). “When you start your day with a tablespoon of ghee, butter or coconut oil, it has a blunting effect on your insulin levels.” This not only has a stabilising effect on insulin levels, she says, but it helps protect your stomach lining and gets it ready for efficient absorption of all the nutrients you put into your body later in the day. “It also has a calming effect on digestive issues like acidity, bloating and constipation,” adds Chowdhary.
3. Wave goodbye to lousy lunches
You’ve probably looked down at your sorry excuse for a home-made sandwich and thought, “must try harder tomorrow” – but even if you do up your game you’re likely to fall back into your old routine (or simply opt for an unhealthy store-bought snack) very quickly. “Instead, prepare your food for the week at the weekend and then refrigerate it or freeze it,” says Neil Carruthers, UAE manager at health insurance specialists Salama – Integra Global. “It will help you stay in control of the ingredients’ quality, and if you prepare three or four small portions for each day, these can be eaten every few hours to stay energised and boost productivity.”
4. Keep regimes simple
“No matter if it’s food or exercise,” says Marcus Smith, founder of Dubai-based health and performance company InnerFight (innerfight.com), “the amount of research and/or opinions available just seem to cause confusion – meaning that, in the end, it often leads to us doing nothing for any sort of sustained period of time as we yo-yo from week to week on what the latest news article reports.”
Simplicity is the answer, he says, suggesting, for example, that when it comes to exercise, you could set some goals to be active even just three to five times per week for 45-60 minutes. “If walking 500m is all you can manage without a break,” he says, “then do that, have the break and repeat for 45-60 minutes.”
5. Re-style in half the time
Redecorating a room can cost huge amounts of time and money – but there’s a cheaper, quicker option which Dubai Art veteran Sharon White (sharonwhiteart.co.uk) says can result in high-end style in double-quick time. “Simply focus on a couple of pieces of art you already own – real focal points of the room – and then add co-ordinated interiors, such as matching cushions, drapes and other accessories,” she says.
6. Supercharge your PC
According to a recent study, the average person’s patience with slow tech lasts just 60 seconds before they start to see red – and sloth-like PCs are among the biggest sources of annoyance. Jonathan Weech at computer memory experts crucial.com suggests a little maintenance. First, he says, you should remove any bloatware (pointless programmes you don’t use or need) and then clear your cookies and cache: “The cache folder will build up over time and will eventually slow down your computer,” he says.
Next, scan for viruses, limit the applications that open on start-up (check your task manager/system preferences) and then run your computer’s disk defragmentation programme to boost performance.
7. Maximise natural light
It’s amazing how many living rooms are set up to plonk everyone in front of the TV, but what about when you’re reading a book, or having a quiet moment? Wouldn’t it be nice to soak up a little natural light when you do? Biophilic designer Oliver Heath (oliverheath.com) thinks so: “Natural light is fundamental to our levels of energy and our ability to sleep,” he says, and suggests that a quick redesign might be easier than you think.
“It may be about positioning furniture next to windows, so that you can have a higher level of natural light and greater opportunity to look out onto an external space,” he says. “Try and make sure you look out onto nature/greenery, as this has been proven to be very good at helping you to restore your mental and physical cognitive energy very quickly.”
8. Make more food than you need
Leading foodie expert and BBC London contributor Stephanie Brookes (stephaniebrookes.com) says that leftovers prove how food can often be tastier the day after meals are actually made – so why not make a bit extra? “Think about that leftover chilli or Bolognese sauce from the night before, which in many instances, tastes better the next day,” she says. It’s not just sauces – Brookes recommends popping a few extra potatoes in when preparing a roast dinner. “A delicious way of using them up is by slicing thinly and sautéing in a pan until crisp, and then seasoning well with salt and pepper,” she says.
9. Improve your passwords
“We all like to use a password that is easy to remember,” says Nick Braund, head of technology and innovation at PHA Media (pha-media.com), “but this puts us in a potentially dangerous position as it’ll also be easy to guess.” Instead, he says you should use numbers and symbols in passwords so that they’re less obvious to hackers. This doesn’t have to make them impossible to remember, however: “A simple password of ‘hello’ could easily become ‘h3!!0’,” says Braund, “and this would make your files, emails or anything protected that much safer.”
10. Hit ‘flight mode’ to boost creative thinking
“We’ve become addicted to smartphones and we’re always switched on, ready for the next message or alert,” says creativity expert Claire Bridges, author of the book In Your Creative Element (nowgocreate.co.uk). “When companies need ideas – even small ones, at the department level – this obsession with devices can make it hard to focus and to let the creative parts of the brain come to life.” She recommends putting the phone onto flight mode for 20 minutes a couple of times a day and, if possible, getting away from your desk. “You don’t need to think too hard about it consciously,” says Bridges. “Do any reading or information-gathering before you set off and see what connections your mind makes as you wander.”
11. Beat procrastination
“It all starts with taking time out to plan,” says David Arnott, Principal Teaching Fellow in Marketing & E-Business at Warwick Business School (wbs.ac.uk). “To-do lists are a start, but you should then prioritise which things are important.” Next, he says, schedule a specific (and realistic) amount of time for each task and stick to it. “Tasks important to your boss or to the business or for achieving your goals should be the priority,” says Arnott, “so highest priority should be given to those things that are important and urgent, followed by important but not urgent, then urgent but not important and the last option – not important and not urgent – can often be ignored unless they rise up the ladder.”
12. Try the 5:2 Financial Diet
Rob Moore of Progressive Property (progressiveproperty.co.uk) is the best-selling author of Money: Know More, Make More, Give More, and recommends rethinking your spending habits completely. Here’s how the 5:2 Financial Diet works: “If you plan well, you can do your shopping for necessities just once a week,” he says. Alongside this, simply allow yourself one other day per week to spend money. “Much like food, small regular consumption often leads to larger addictions,” says Moore, “so try and see spending money as a reward, not a daily action. Work out a budgeted weekly spend, spend it over just two of the seven days and each week move the surplus into your savings account so you can’t touch it.”
13. Trade your expectations for celebrations
“We spend way too much time focusing on what we think we want and need and as soon as we have got these, we start chasing the next thing,” says management consultant and creative business coach Nimisha Brahmbhatt. “But we can flip that, and celebrate what we have accomplished or received so far.” It’s true – how often have you sought something, only for it to arrive (be it a promotion or a new car) and you then subconsciously start wondering what’s next? “When we achieve or attain something we should celebrate it wholeheartedly,” says Brahmbhatt.
14. Change your holiday
“When planning your next trip, think a little differently,” says Laura Mitchell of bespoke travel specialists Brown + Hudson (brownandhudson.com). “Rather than focusing solely on your destination, turn the focus on how you want to feel.” This small but important adjustment, she says, can dramatically change the whole holiday. “Keep whatever it is that you want to feel in mind – or on a note on your laptop screen – and ensure every choice you make on the holiday serves that goal.” She says that this will allow you to appreciate the destination differently and result in more surprises along the way.
15. Create a hideaway
Not really applicable for holidays, but if you’re away from home for a few months or have recently moved to somewhere new, Adam Ewart, founder of SendMyBag.com, recommends finding a little corner to call your own – a space where you can retreat to when it becomes all too overwhelming. “This could be an armchair in the corner of a lounge, a hanging chair outside or a cosy corner in your new local coffee shop,” he says. “Not only should you have somewhere to escape to, but something to pick you up when you retreat there.” He suggests keeping an emergency box filled with your favourite foods from home and little trinkets, which will help lift your mood.
16. Tack new habits onto existing ones
UAE-based life-coach Deena Almansoori (fortitudoconsultancy.com) uses neuro linguistic programming – NLP – to help people change behaviour and habits, and says an easy way to apply this kind of thinking at home is to mentally “staple” a new habit to something you already do. “For example, if you want to build a new habit like drinking more water, you can associate it with another drinking habit, such as coffee,” she says. “Then, every time you get up to make a cup of coffee, you also drink a glass of water.”
To make this as easy as possible, she says you should ensure that there is water near the coffee machine so that you don’t think, “Ah, forget it” and quickly lose the association. “The reason this would work is that the coffee drinking habit already exists,” says Almansoori, “and you simply link the new water-drinking habit to it. It’s easier for our brain to create new neuro paths that are linked to existing ones.”
17. Save face at parties
Etiquette expert William Hanson (williamhanson.co.uk) is a master at handling delicate situations, and has a gem up his sleeve for when you’ve forgotten someone’s name at a party and you suddenly have to introduce them to a friend. Legend has it that this was popularised by the late Noel Coward. Hanson explains how it goes:
You: “Hello Richard, good to see you again. May I introduce… gosh, I’m so sorry, I’ve forgotten your name.”
You: “No, Henry – I meant your last name.”
You: “Thank you – Henry Smith, may I introduce Richard Saunders.”
“This must be done with total conviction and courage if it is to succeed,” warns Hanson, who points out that it’s also doomed if the person gives their full name initially.
18. Smile away a frown
“When you’re in a bad mood,” says UAE-based psychologist Dr Mona Moussa, “try smiling, even if you don’t feel like it, and see what happens.” Often, she says, this will create positive energy and increase the likelihood of others responding to you positively, which in turn can lift your spirits up. “The James-Lange Theory of Emotion states that contrary to common sense, we experience a particular emotion because of a physiological change and not the other way around,” she states. “If we smile, we are likely to feel happy as a result.”