Life is good. Or is it? We work hard, we play hard, and we have more stuff. But we're stressed out, swimming in debt and spending more time working than with family and friends.

And we know we're doing it. According to a survey released by the Center for a New American Dream in Takoma Park, Md., most Americans think that society's priorities are too focused on work and money, and not enough on family and community.

That knowledge, though, isn't enough to squelch our often-frantic lifestyles. “I think it's a real overload among many people,” says Dr. Alan Keck of the Center for Positive Psychology in Altamonte Springs, Fla. “We have a subculture of people who are overworking, epitomized by [the saying] ‘get rich or die trying.'”

Indeed, the daily grind of balancing school, work, family, pleasure and down time can bring an array of stress-related maladies, including high blood pressure, heart attacks, depression, anxiety and immune-system deficiencies. Too much stress also can affect interpersonal relationships, as well as slow mental processes and make it hard to concentrate – real detriments in the classroom and workplace.

Maybe it's time to take steps toward simplifying your life.

–First, scrutinize your values and priorities, Keck says. “I see ... people changing their lives for the sake of health. It often involves changing their expectations.”

To identify your core values, ask yourself what is really important to you, says Mark Ellwood, owner of Pace Productivity Inc. of Toronto. “Then determine if you're spending your time and money in keeping with those values.”

Is your priority getting ahead in class or at work, or is it being with your friends or at the gym? Are the things you want necessary to your life? Will they advance your happiness?

–Set limits, suggests Laurie Bryant of Bryant Organizing Solutions of Orlando, Fla. “Your life is a container that can only be so full before it starts to run over.” For some – especially women – it's tough to refrain from pitching in. “It's very difficult in our fast-pace information-overloaded world, where we are constantly accessible, to say no,” Bryant says.

–Keep track of appointments and commitments on a calendar or day planner so you don't overextend yourself, Bryant says. “Make sure everything you're involved in is fulfilling. If you feel obligated and it's not fun, it's a no-brainer – just say no. We all want to give a little bit, and I think that's fabulous, but give according to what time allows.”

–Block out times for dealing with things such as e-mail and returning phone calls, and look for creative solutions to circumstances that complicate your life. For instance, form a school carpool with other parents, or create your own systems for home organization. “Maybe it's as simple as a key rack at the door” so you know where to find your keys, Bryant says.

_In the workplace, look for a job that fits your style. “Don't take that promotion if it's going to require you to work five nights a week,” says Dr. Randall Hansen, a Stetson business professor and founder of Quintessential Careers (, a career-development Web site.

Employees often complain they have no control over deadlines and meetings, but that's not necessarily true, Hansen says. “Most Americans have been brought up with this work ethic that it's rude to say no to people. Find out where that line is in the sand and draw the line. Do you want kudos and the next promotion, or do you want to have a home life?”

Negotiate solutions, he says. “Ask if it's necessary that [the work] has to be done today. Ask ‘Hey, can't we just do it by e-mail rather than in a meeting?'”

–Organizing paperwork can smooth the way at home or work, says Athenée Mastrangelo of Chaos Organizing in Altamonte Springs. Collect it in a designated area, then set time aside to deal with it. As you sort it, “you either file it, act on it or toss it,” she says. “It should take two minutes.”

Block out time each day or week to file paperwork and deal with the “act on it” pile, she says. That way you're not fitting the duty around other things.

Most of all, plan. “When people plan ahead, then they get excited,” she says. “If you don't plan time in your schedule, you're kind of fantasizing about time you don't have.”

© 2006, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.