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Want To Be Happier This Year? Follow This 2019 Productive Habits Calendar (With Author Gretchen Rubin)

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New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap. And to be fair, they don’t exactly have the most promising success rate: a whopping 80% of resolutions fail by the first week of February.

But there’s a reason so many resolutions fail—they’re just way too ambitious. Trying to make a bunch of large, sweeping life changes all at once (Run a marathon! Lose 50 lbs! Quit your job and start your own company!) can feel completely overwhelming. And even if you start off with the best intentions, by the time February rolls around you’re exhausted, burned out, and ready to throw in the towel.

So, big resolutions don’t work for most people—but what about small resolutions? Can making small, sustainable changes make a big impact in your productivity, your happiness, and your life?

We spoke to Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits and The Happiness Project to get her insights into how small changes can create big results. Based on our convo we came up with 12 small, manageable changes you can make in 2019 (one for each month!) that will have a huge impact on your productivity, life, and overall happiness throughout the year.

Master Your Mindset: Set Yourself Up For Success

Before we jump into the small changes that can make a big impact on your productivity in 2019, let’s talk about how to set yourself up for success.

The first step to hitting your goals? Making them concrete and measurable.

People have a tendency to make very abstract resolutions. Like ‘be more present.’ What does that mean? Okay, it's Monday morning. Last week were you more present? You have no idea,” says Rubin. “Or even things like “eat healthier.” Okay, that sounds concrete, but it's not really very [measurable]. What does that mean? Are you going to bring a lunch to work every day instead of eating out? Are you going to skip dessert? Are you going to cook more? Are you going to not buy things out of the vending machine? What does [eat healthier] mean for you?”

The first step is to clearly define your goal, which helps you to actually hold yourself accountable and make sure you’re following through over the course of the year  

And step two? Work towards your goals in a way that works for YOU.

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 "People have a tendency to make very abstract resolutions. Like ‘be more present.’ What does that mean? Okay, it's Monday morning. Last week were you more present? You have no idea.”

— Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of "The Happiness Project"

 

Everyone is different; we all have different natures, different tendencies, and different ways of doing things. And no one way is better than the other—it’s about figuring out who you are and then structuring your life in a way that helps you reach your goals.

“Some people need accountability. So if they want to exercise, what they need to do is sign up for class or work out with a trainer or work out with a friend who's going to be really annoyed if they don't show,” says Rubin. “But for other people, accountability is actually counterproductive...They don't want to be held to a schedule. They want to do it their way, in their own way, in their own time...So to say, ‘oh accountability is great’ [isn’t entirely accurate]. For some people, it's great…[but] for other people, it doesn't work at all.”

The point is, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to implementing lasting change. There’s a million and one ways to hit your goals—the key to success is figuring out which one works best for you and then running with it.

So now that you know how to set yourself up for success, let’s jump into the 12 small changes to make in 2019 that will have a big impact on your productivity (and happiness!) year-round.

January: Choose A Theme

If you want to see lasting change throughout the year, it’s important to define what you want that change to be from the get-go. And a great way to do that? Choosing a theme for the year.

One thing we talked about on the Happier podcast is picking a one-word or one-phrase theme for the year,” says Rubin. “So maybe your theme is energy or it’s growth or it’s festivity or it’s bigger or it’s metrics or whatever [it is you want to work on].”

Think about what you want to accomplish this year, and then choose a word or phrase that encompasses it. Want to gain more knowledge? Have your 2019 theme be “Learn.” Looking to be more present in your daily life? Try “Centered.” Want to loosen up and stop taking things so seriously? Make “Fun” your word of the year.

Once you choose your theme, find ways to incorporate it into your daily routine. Change your computer password to that word. Or write down your word, put it in a frame, and hang it where you can see it every day. “Pick something when you start your day...that's reminding you of your more transcendent values, of what you want overall,” says Rubin.

Choosing a theme for the year and reminding yourself of it on a daily basis can help you stay on track with your goals, remember what’s important to you, and focus on a bigger picture mentality. “It's helpful to be reminded ‘This is the life you want.’ Keep your eye there,” says Rubin. “Some little thing in the morning, like when you're opening up your email or sitting down at your office computer and signing in...is a great opportunity to get that reminder to think big and not get lost in the trivia and the grudges and the to-do lists of every day. Think bigger for yourself.”

 

Small-changes-thumbnailThink about what you want to accomplish this year, and then choose a word or phrase that encompasses it. Want to gain more knowledge? Have your 2019 theme be “Learn.” Looking to be more present in your daily life? Try “Centered.” Want to loosen up and stop taking things so seriously? Make “Fun” your word of the year.

 

February: Buy An Extra

One thing you can do this month to ramp up your productivity (and make life a lot easier in the process)? Buy an extra.

Chances are, there’s something in your life you can benefit from having two of—so figure out what that is and buy an extra. Is your phone constantly dying throughout the workday? Buy an extra charger. Do you always leave your glasses at home? Buy an extra pair of glasses and stash them in your desk.

The point is, if you use something often (and you often use it in different locations) having two of that something will make life easier and more productive. So just bite the bullet and buy an extra.

“People are like, ‘why would I have two? Who needs two?’” says Rubin. “[But] life is going to be a lot easier with two. It's worth it. It’s worth it to have two.”

March: Sleep In Your Exercise Clothes

If you want to be more productive throughout the day (not to mention feel healthier, happier, and just all-around better), you need to exercise. But starting (and sticking with) an exercise routine can be a challenge—which is why if you want to make it a habit, you need to make it as convenient as possible.

And one way to make working out a lot more convenient? Sleeping in your exercise clothes.

“If you want to do something, make it easier,” says Rubin. “I've heard from a lot of people who sleep in their exercise clothes—[that way,] they don't even need to change their clothes [in the morning when it’s time to hit the gym].”

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When you sleep in your exercise clothes, you’re removing one of the barriers to working out in the morning: having to get up and get dressed to go to the gym. Sleeping in your workout gear means all you have to do in the morning is roll out of bed and go.

This is an effective method even for people who aren’t into the idea of early morning workouts. If you sleep in your workout clothes, you’re ready to work out—no matter what time.

April: Get The Right Tools

Part of being productive is hunkering down and getting the job done. But if you don’t have the right tools to make that happen, all of a sudden GSD gets a whole lot harder.

If you want to make a huge impact on your productivity, invest in the tools you need to get things done as efficiently (and pleasurably!) as possible. When you have the right tools, you’ll be more engaged in work—and you’ll get more done in a shorter period of time.

Are you trying to write a book, but get a major backache every time you sit down to write? Invest in an ergonomic office chair. Do you want to cook more meals at home, but get frustrated when it takes you 30 minutes to chop an onion? Invest in a quality set of kitchen knives.

The point is, the right tools will make work easier and more enjoyable—and you’ll get more done as a result. “Beautiful tools make work a joy,” says Rubin.

May: Delete A Soul-Crushing App

Does your email keep you glued to your phone 24/7? Are you wasting hours every day on Facebook or playing Candy Crush? Is there an app on your phone that’s crushing your soul (and draining your productivity in the process)?

If so, there’s a simple solution: Delete it. Yes, that’s right.

“A lot of times, people have one app that is like ‘the app that rules them all,’” says Rubin. The app can be a game, a social media app, your email—even a productivity app! The point is, it’s taking up time and energy you’d rather spend elsewhere—and getting rid of it frees up that time and energy to spend where it matters.

Figure out which app (or apps) on your phone are draining your productivity and get rid of them. You’ll be shocked at how much time you get back in your day—time you can spend on the things that actually matter.

June: Give Yourself A Bedtime

Have you ever planned to get a full 8 hours of sleep, only to find yourself flipping through Instagram at 2am? If so, it’s time to kick it elementary school-style and give yourself a bedtime.

“Just about everything that's true for children is true for adults, I find. And we're extremely focused on how children need their sleep...So treat yourself like a kid,” says Rubin. “Give yourself an actual bedtime. Figure out how much sleep you need and say ‘my bedtime is 10:30 pm’ or ‘my bedtime is 11 pm.’”

Setting an actual time for your head to hit the pillow—and holding yourself accountable to that time—will make sure you get the rest you need to function at your highest level.

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July: Build A Strong Bedtime Routine

Setting a bedtime is important. But it’s also important to follow a nighttime routine to get ready for bed long before your actual bedtime, or you might find yourself putting off sleep because you’re too tired (ironic, we know).

I was finding that I was putting off getting ready for bed because I was too tired,” says Rubin. “Brush your teeth, wash your face, [and] change your clothes [ahead of your bedtime] so that when you're ready to go to sleep, you can just go to sleep.”

Set an alarm for a few hours before bedtime and, when it goes off, get ready for bed. It might feel silly slipping into your pj’s and brushing your teeth at 8pm, but it’ll help you stay consistent with your bedtime—and get more sleep (and get more done!) in the process.

August: Institute “The One Minute Rule”

The definition of productivity is getting things done. And one simple, easy way to get way more done during the day?

The One Minute Rule.

“Anything you can do in less than a minute, do without delay.” says Rubin. “So, if you can print out a letter and file it. If you can look at a document and throw it away. If you can put your coat on a hook instead of on the back of a chair. Anything you can do in less than a minute, you just go ahead and do it.”

It sounds like a small change, but all those less-than-one-minute tasks can add up to massive productivity shifts throughout the day.

“Over and over people say this just gets rid of a huge amount of minor—but super annoying—surface clutter...it doesn't take any time or energy because it's all less than a minute and yet over and over people say, ‘wow! This just makes me feel like I've opened up a whole new vista.’

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“Anything you can do in less than a minute, do without delay.”  — Gretchen Rubin

 

 

Tackling small tasks as they come up (instead of pushing them off for later) is key for avoiding overwhelm. And when you feel like you have a handle on your life (instead of feeling completely overwhelmed by everything you need to do), it’s much easier to be productive.

September: Choose One Room/Area In Your Home To Declutter

Have you ever heard the old saying “messy bed, messy head?” In other words, when your outer environment is cluttered and chaotic, your inner environment will also feel that way. And it’s true, isn’t it? When your office, car, or bedroom is a mess, you feel messy, too.

But the opposite is also true. When your outer environment is in order, your inner environment will feel like it’s in order—and your productivity will ramp up as a result. So, if you want to be more productive, choose one room or area in your house and clean it up.

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“For most people getting outer order seems to release a disproportionate amount of optimism and a sense of possibility and calm,” says Rubin. “Someone said to me once, ‘I finally cleaned my fridge and now I know I can switch careers.’ And it's like ‘I know what you're talking about!’”

(In fact, Rubin is such a believer in the power of decluttering, it’s the focus of her upcoming book Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter and Organize To Make More Room For Happiness.)

October: Invest In Your Senses (Pumpkin Spice Recommended)

Mindfulness can improve productivity in a myriad of ways, from increasing stress resilience to improving immune function to boosting attention and focus. But you don’t have to spend hours every day meditating in order to become more mindful—it can be as simple as tuning into your senses.

Spending a few minutes a day investing in your senses—whether that’s taking the time to close your eyes and listen to a favorite song or really feel the water on your skin as you’re washing your hands—can ground you in the present moment, which increases mindfulness.

“It's a great thing to be like I want to be here right now, I'm really going to smell these clean towels. I'm really going to smell this gingerbread cookie. I'm really going to smell the smell of this parking garage,” says Rubin. “[Or to] look for color in your environment…say ‘I'm always going to look for purple. I'm always going to look for scarlet.’”

Choose one sense to focus on each day, and spend a few minutes really invested in that sense. Taking the time to experience things through your sense will make you a more mindful (and productive) person.

November: Go Outside Every Day

As the weather changes—and it gets colder, darker, and drearier—it can be easy to retreat inside and hole up until spring. “It's very easy...during the winter [to] just never see the sun,” says Rubin. “You drive to work in the dark. You park in a parking garage. You work all day. You stay in for lunch because it's so cold out. You just never go outside.”

But not getting enough sunshine can make you feel tired, depressed, and can mess with your sleep cycles—not exactly a recipe for productivity.

So no matter how cold or dark or rainy it is, this month, make a commitment to go outside. Getting outside, even on cloudy days, can help boost creativity, improve mood and immune function, and give you the energy you need to power through your day.

Even on the most overcast day, if you go outside, there is far more light in your face than if you were [in] even the most brightly lit interior [or] artificially lit place,” says Rubin. “So it's overcast. You don't have that feeling of bright sunshine—but you're still getting that light and it's [still] stimulating your brain.”

December: Put Your Phone In The Other Room

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Your phone is one of the biggest drains on your productivity. In fact, just having your phone in the same room—even if it’s turned off—has been shown to decrease cognitive capacity, making it harder to focus and get things done.

So, if you want to increase your productivity, one small change you can make that will make a HUGE difference? Put your phone where you can’t see it.

“If you can reach for it, you will. That's just human nature. [So] put it out of reach,” says Rubin. “Don't put it on the kitchen counter. Put it away. Put it in a bag, on a shelf, in a closet with the door shut where you really have to go [and] get that thing out.”

If you put your phone in another room, you’re not going to be distracted by it or tempted to check your texts or apps every five minutes (out of sight, out of mind!). Giving yourself a break from your device while working will make it easier to focus on the task at hand, and get more done during the day.

Small Changes = Big Impact

All of these changes are relatively small. But if you implement them (and stick with them throughout the year), by the time 2020 rolls around, you’ll be a completely different—and more productive—person.


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Next: What's Microproductivity? The Small Habit That Will Lead You To Big Wins