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How to Do the Bare Minimum

Get necessary tasks done without knocking yourself out.

Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/CanvaPro
Source: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/CanvaPro

There are times in life when our energy ebbs, our spirits are low, and we just don’t feel like facing the day.

And yet we must. Because there’s another new day waiting for us to do something with it.

At times like these, the best we may be able to do is the bare minimum.

Once you’ve gone through enough days conserving your energy by doing just the bare minimum, eventually you’ll be ready to pick up the pace again.

The key to doing the bare minimum, and nothing more, is to define the term for yourself. What is your bare minimum?

If you’re a teenager stuck at home during a quarantine, you might be blessed (or cursed) with no obligations. If you wanted to, you could stay in bed all day and all night for as long as you could stand it. Your bare minimum would be zero, beyond breathing.

But if you’re responsible for the care and feeding of another being, whether human, plant, or animal, your bare minimum includes meeting their basic needs.

Here’s how to figure out (and do) your own personal bare minimum:

1. Take it one day at a time.

When you look at your to-do list, think only about today. You don’t have to decide right now what you will do tomorrow. Your only responsibility today is to do what must be done today.

2. Define today’s minimum.

What’s on your list that absolutely, positively must get done? Nothing else should appear on today’s agenda.

Don’t crowd your list with chores just because you have a few free hours. If you can vacuum the living room today, you could probably just as well do it tomorrow or next week. Cross it off today’s bare minimum list unless the Queen is coming to visit in the next 12 hours.

3. Choose the easiest path.

For each task that you absolutely must do today, ask yourself what’s the easiest way to do it.

Need to eat? What’s the easiest meal you could make? If you don’t want to cook or there’s nothing in the house to eat, what’s the easiest way to obtain a meal?

Everyone’s different. One person may be overwhelmed by the thought of going to the grocery store. Another may find doing so much easier than cooking, or even ordering in.

Pay attention to what’s easiest for you, just for today. Your version of easy might be different on different days.

4. Take your time.

When you’re in your bare minimum mode, there’s no need for perpetual motion. Feel free to pause, sit, lie down, look out the window, pace, or daydream before going on to the next activity.

This is not a day to hurry. Doing the bare minimum is the opposite of being in a rush.

5. Don’t multitask.

Even on your best days, single-tasking beats multitasking for productivity. Do just one thing at a time.

6. Cut yourself a lot of slack.

You made a decision: Nothing is required of you today beyond the bare minimum. So don’t be rude and call yourself names just because you’re taking it easy.

On a bare-minimum day, you don’t have to be a slave driver. If you do the absolute bare minimum, you are successful.

7. Acknowledge that you had a bare-minimum day.

Notice what you did, congratulate yourself for getting done what absolutely needed to be done. Then think about whether you’d like to do it again tomorrow.

Don’t let empty moralizing — yours or anyone else’s — cloud your judgment. You don’t have to fill every hour with productive output. You’re not a machine.

Listen to your body and your spirit. If you feel pulled toward spending time in bare-minimum mode, you probably need the rest.

To everything there is a season. Doing the bare minimum may be your season right now. Honor your own rhythms and do the bare minimum intentionally, with self-compassion.

If you do this wholeheartedly, another season will come around in due time.