Eat the marshmallow today!

In a classic psychological experiment from the 1970s, called the marshmallow test. Standford researchers found that a child’s ability to delay gratification (i.e., to not eat the marshamallow in front of them in order to get two marshmallows later) correlated with higher achievement later in life. Good to power through the pain now to see it pay off later, right? Not always, Holmes says.

Research has sincde shown the less-explored flip side “the tendency to be excessively farsighted, always choosing the future over the present.” Holmes writes in her book, “In our highly competitve school system and professional environments, there’s a great compulsion to work rather than play, to get things done rather than relax.”

Persistently sacrificing your pleasure today for some unknown future (in which you’ll probably turn down the marshmallow again) is not a recipe for balance or joy. Some days, just eat the marshmallow, whatever that is–with happiness and without guilt.

Schedule around your worse impulses.

Holmes is a big fan of “committment devices”-various ways to lock yourself into following thr;ough on a goal if you’re a workaholic who struggles to schedule personal time, you could pay for a nonrefundable vacation or sign up for a cooking class so you have to step away from work. For me, if I dream of completing a book proposal before my next birthday, I could block off two hours ever Thursday on my calendar. That way I Do’t have to remember to make time for it, and I won’t punt it down the road when things get too busy.

Break your focus tiem ito larger blocks.

To achieve what’s known as a “flow state” –when you’re so engaged, you lose track of the hours–you need uninterrupted time. Three hours in a row is not the same as three hours broken up by phone calls and school pickups, because constantly checking the time and coming in adn out will make a flow state impossible. “Research shows that transitioning between tasks is costly because it keeps you from getting into the groove,” Holmes writes in her book. Of course, you can’t make every block of work time uninterrupted, but when possible, try to build long focus periods into your week.

Clear away visual distractions.

Physically rearranging your work space can help you avoid the temtation of smaller tasks, the ones that, bundled, leave no room for the bigger projects that would fulfill you. Visual distractions could be as seemingly harmeless as plants on your desk, if you’re the type who tends to prune dead leaves. Working from home can be especially challenging in this regard, as there’s always a dish to be washed or other mental household task calling your name. When you can’t resist the pull, try relocating to a library or coffee shop.

Say no more often

“Will you serve on this committee?” “Can I pick your brain over a cup of coffee?” “Can all my friends come over for inner after soccer?” So often, we say yes and then regret it when it’s time to make good. (Who among us has not said, “Yes, I’ll join your book club,” and then prayed for a sudden bout of food poisoning when the time came to meet about the novel we didn’t read?) According to research, people, especially women, are reluctant to decline requests. Holmes say. We tend to agree to future events because we consistently believe we’ll have much more time available next month than we have today. News flash: You won’t! So try flexing your “no” muscle. “Only say yes to requests that you would be happy to spend the time on today,” Holmes says.

Craft our time.

While the word “craft” may recall ceramists sculpting overpriced bowls, Holmes uses it to convey the idea of active participation: Make more time for what you really want. One way to do that (again, it’s not by zipping through more work faster!) is to identify the insidious “sand traps” in your day, those chunks of time when you are not productive and you’re doing something that doesn’t bring you any joy…like mindlessly scrolling social media or binging a show you don’t even like. Replace that tiem with small, joyful experiences–a one-on-one date at a coffee shop with your tween, 15 minutes alone with a book after dinner-and savor them. Turn them into rituals, and protect them in your schedule.

Accept that your to-do list will never be done.

“Never,” Holmes says. We may feel good about ourselves when we get the gold star, but “checking off a series of small, routine stuff is rarely the path to life satisfaction,” she says. Stop trying to do everything on your list before you have any time for what you genuinely want to do. (Nope, “optimizing” your workday with productivity strategies to “earn” more leisure time isn’t the answer.) Block out some time for to-dos and some time for leisure.

Examine the root of your devotion to productivity.

When you were growing up, did your relationship with your parents feel transactional, with their love, attention, or rewards doled out based on your performance rather than your inherent worth? Deep down, do you ever feel like breaks are for wimps, whiners, and entitled people who aren’t as tough or hardworking as you? Do you ever feel like you haven’t earned the right to take a break yet? Our life experiences, families, and culture can instill the desire to overachieve. Understanding where your toxic productivity comes from-and creating a new story for yourself, in which you deserve love and rest-can help you carve out time for yourself, unapologetically.

How to be less busy

Sure, you have the same number of hours in the day as, say, Beyonce. But as Catherine Hong discovers, happiness doesn’t always come from a finished to-do list.

As a kid, I must have read The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster a dozen times, always lingering on Jules Feiffer’s illustration of the Terrible Trivium, an elegantly dressed demon with a terrifyingly featureless face. When I recently revisited the book, the character once again stopped me in my tracks. A “demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit,” he persuades the protagonists to do endless, pointless activities, such as moving individual grains of sand with tweezers. (After working for hours, one of them calculates the tasks would take another 837 years to finish.) “If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you’ll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult,” coos the villain. “You just won’t have time. For there’s always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing.”

Reading these words now, as a 50-something grown-up. I’ve never found them so chilling. My desk is full of my own petty tasks: a dozen notes reminding me to call the dentist, find a driver’s ed class for my daughter, track down disability paperwork for my husband’s upcoming surgery, get our dog groomed, have the car inspected, deal with the perpetually regenerating mounds of laundry, and meet all my work deadlines. Lots of us are champs at getting ourselves and our families through the tasks of the next day or week. but don’t we all have a Terrible Trivium whispering over our shoulder that we need to accomplish all this before we can get to the good stuff–lunches with friends, trips to the botanical garden with Mom, using the backyard hammock, or starting that elusive creative project?

It would seem the solution is to get more hours in the day so we have room for all our must-dos and want-to-dos. Yet “happiness is not really about the amount of time we have. It depends on how your spend whatever time you have,” says Cassie Holmes, PhD, author of the new book Happier Hour: How to beat distraction, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most. A marketing and behavioral decision-making professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where she created the popular class Applying the Science of Happiness to Life Design, she teaches business graduate students to think of time–not money–as the most precious resource.

Recently, my life drove home my own priorities. My husband’s surgery was a serious one, involving a week’s stay in the hospital. Not long afterward, my father fell ill and I spent another couple of days in yet another intensive care unit, supporting my mother. These events demanded all of me, and for the first time in my life I cast aside both major projects and trivial ones. I turned down assignments, begged off deadlines, canceled appointments, and told the kids I couldn’t give them a ride. I let everything on my to-do list go.

I’m happy to report that my husband and father made it through–and that whatever tasks I failed to accomplish during those days made not an ounce of difference. It was liberating, in a way, to focus on one thing and one thing only: being there for my most beloved people when they really needed me. It was also a good reminder that while our to-do lists will never end, our brief lives on this earth will-which is a pretty powerful reason to spend our time here doing what we value most (and not feeling bad about ignoring the dishes).

Here’s how to tame your Terrible Trivium and start treating your time as a chance to recharge and focus on what really matters to you.

What’s the best way to store jeans?

Fold? Hang? Roll? Crumple on the floor outside of your Zoom frame? Here’s the good news: It doesn’t really matter. Unlike heavy crochet knits (which can get long and stretched-out when hung) or silk and satin tops (which crease the second you put them in a drawer), denim is one of the most resilient fabrics on the planet, and you can stash it wherever best fits your storage space. Easy!