12 days to a happier, more productive you

photo-259Laura’s note: This post reached newsletter subscribers as this year’s December missive. Since the 12 days of Christmas start tomorrow, I thought I’d re-post. Hope everyone is enjoying at least a little down time with family today.

12 Days To A Happier, More Productive You

I have never received two turtle doves or a partridge in a pear tree as holiday gifts, but I’ve always liked the idea of the 12 Days of Christmas. In our modern celebrations, the holiday ends abruptly. You clean up the wrapping paper. You return stuff you didn’t like. If you give the season the traditional 12 days, though, you can keep celebrating all the way to January 6th. And this year, given the way the holidays fall, some lucky folks will have almost all this time off work (at least until reality sets in on Monday, January 5th).

Why not make the most of it? Here’s a 12-day plan to give yourself the gift of a happier, more productive you.  

Day 1: Track your time. Lots of people tell me they’d like to keep a time log, but find the prospect daunting. So instead of a week, try it for just one day (you can download a time log here). Chances are this won’t be a typical day — especially if you start this project on December 25! — but it doesn’t matter. There are no typical days. Embrace the atypicality and see where the time goes. See if that matches up with how you’d like to be spending your time. See what you like best about your life, and what you might want to do differently.

Day 2: Work on your List of 100 Dreams. Make a good long list of anything you’d like to do or have more of in your life. If you’ve already created such a list in the past, great, but your priorities and interests may have changed. Do some editing. See what you might want to attempt in the next year. Check out BucketList.org for inspiration.

Day 3: Cancel things you don’t want to do. Wouldn’t it be nice to start the year with little of your time spoken for? See if you can keep recurring meetings from following you into January. Wipe Outlook clean and decide what you want to add back into your life.

Day 4: Build in a fun “obligation.” Human nature dictates that we’re more likely to do things that happen at certain times and involve commitments to other people. That’s why recurring meetings (see previous day’s task) rise on our priority lists beyond their actual importance. The good news is that you can tweak this phenomenon in your favor. Schedule in something you want to do for early 2015: a weekly girls’ night out, your bowling league, an art class. When you come home exhausted on a random Monday night, you probably won’t set up your easel and paint. But if you have a 7 pm art class blocked on your calendar, have shelled out the tuition, and have a friend in the class who’s depending on you for a ride, you just might.

Day 5: Finish one project. Still haven’t sorted and submitted those receipts for reimbursement? Carve out 90 minutes, give it your best shot, and see if the concentrated effort gets you close enough to the finish line to want to power through. Crossing a nagging task off your to-do list will make you feel like you can conquer the world.

Day 6: Change your food environment. I recently read Brian Wansink’s Slim By Design, which covers his research into how people make food choices. The takeaway: A lot of eating is more mindless than we think. Put fruit in a bowl on the counter, and move chips and candy to a hidden high shelf. Choose one simple habit to implement, such as “I always eat vegetables with lunch.” Over time, these choices add up.

Day 7: Get a step counter. Most New Year’s resolutions to exercise have faded by February. But what gets measured gets done. A step counter can nudge you to walk the office halls during a break or walk the dog a little farther than you otherwise might. Given that most people won’t spend an hour a day at the gym, this is the next best thing.

Day 8: Find a reason to get out of bed. Anticipation makes us into morning people. What would make your morning so exciting that you’d be happy to ditch the covers? Design a morning routine that gives yourself the gift of 30 minutes a day focused on something you want to do, rather than your obligations to the rest of the world. Just be sure to give yourself a bedtime that makes this routine feasible.  

Day 9: Lighten your load. Choose one household chore you really dislike and figure out how to get it off your plate. Can your kids take over lunch making or laundry? Would your spouse be willing to do the grocery shopping if you made a list? Or maybe you can get your groceries delivered or hire a lawn service. Then — this is key — consciously use the time you save to do something you really enjoy, like taking a nap.
Day 10: Back it up. Don’t let anything that matters to you exist in only one precarious place. Take digital photos of old, printed photos that could be wiped from existence in a flood. Then back up your favorite photos from your phone before you accidentally leave your phone in a cab somewhere (or out in the snow as I did over Thanksgiving. I found it — phew!). Hopefully you’ll never need these back-ups, but if you do, you’ll be glad you have them.

Day 11: Boost your wealth. Since you’re reading a productivity blog, I’m guessing you’re already saving and investing diligently. But if not, today is a good day to set up an automatic transfer to savings every time you get paid. If you just got a raise, use this day to increase what you’re socking away. You can also juice the quantity by finding any recurring expenses for things that no longer matter to you and using this day to cancel them and redirect the cash toward your growing pile.

Day 12: Say what you feel. So you’re back at the daily grind. It’s easy to be mindless, but expressing gratitude to those around you can remind you that life is a gift. I’ll start: thank you so much for reading this blog and my books. I wish you a fabulous holiday season, and a great start to 2015!

Photo: I can’t take credit for these snowmen. They’re my sister-in-law’s creation, and they were awesome.

4 thoughts on “12 days to a happier, more productive you

  1. ooh, I like this. I think I missed this post last year, or it got lost in the shuffle, but I think this is a great way to end the year.

  2. Laura, I’m really thankful I found your blog (through The Frugal Girl) because it helps me to use my time wisely. I’m really working to be more productive each day.And it’s really nice to read blogs like yours that focus on productivity.

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