It seems as though this is the year of simplicity—maybe because this might be the last year for all of us, according to the Mayans—and everyone has tips to help you trim down, refocus, and actually enjoy life this year. But, even with impending doom hanging over our heads, we don’t need to give up our goals and scheduled lifestyle with reckless abandon: the truth is you can be productive and happy! There is a middle ground that creates a lifestyle for you with the right priorities, the right amount of productivity, and the right amount of appreciation for life. You just have to put in a little work to find where that balance is for you.

Determining Your Priorities

It shouldn’t have to take a life-altering event to remind you where your priorities should be, but we often hear people claim that’s the wake-up call they needed. Decide that today will be your “life-altering event” and re-evaluate your priorities. For most people, the priority is people—spouse, children, family, friends—because connecting with other people gives you purpose. Social interaction is the best way to influence and make a difference in others’ lives, so prioritizing your interactions with those you love will most likely bring you the most joy and fulfillment. Other priorities are specific to the individual—just recognize which areas of your life make you happy and which encumber you. Adjust your priorities so the majority of your time is spent focusing on something you love.

Making and Completing Goals

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has stopped making goals: he doesn’t want to be restricted by them. While I believe goal setting is essential and can be positive, I still agree with the premise of his argument—we need to stop focusing so much on lists of accomplishments and more on how we live our lives. Take a look at your list of goals. Are you making goals that have direction, long-term benefits, and purpose? If you aren’t, establish one to three strong goals for yourself. Make a plan to achieve these goals, and then remind yourself that the plan is just a guideline. Having direction in your life is important, but when things don’t go according to plan—and they almost never do—you need to adapt and relax. Which leads me to:

Letting Things Go

One of the biggest tasks you can do to bring down your anxiety and stubbornness over being busy and productive is to let things go when it’s time to. If something isn’t working out, it’s not the end of the world (yet). You have the power to let go of those things that are holding you back or hindering your ability to enjoy life. You know your priorities now, and you have a specific goal or two for your life. Everything else you do should help you maintain those priorities and work toward those goals. Things that distract you or bring you down don’t need to be in your life anymore.

So take the advice of the writers out there that tell you to simplify, reduce, reuse—but remember, your productivity system isn’t necessarily at odds with your happiness.

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