The Happiness Project

A chronicle of my attempts to test-drive every tip, principle and scientific study that promotes happiness

5 Ways to Make Your Day Work for You

A simple shift could change everything.

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I’m writing my next book, about how we make and break habits—an issue very relevant to happiness. Each week, I’ll post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other.

This week’s story comes from Paige NeJame:

My husband and I own a small company. For the most part, I am able to do my work from home in order to stay flexible for our three kids, fitting in most of my work around their schedules. When I would find a “crumb of time,” as I called them, I would rush to my office (in my bedroom) and work.

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When the kids were younger I was constantly stressed because after they stopped taking naps, the crumbs of time were rare and short.

As they entered school, it was much easier for me to find the time – as long as nobody was ill, I had 6 hours to myself to get my work done.

But then there was summertime. It was like back to the crumbs of time again since all three kids were underfoot again. I knew I had to do something different this summer and remembered that you often write from 5 am-7 am. I decided to try this schedule. The first morning I went downstairs and got my coffee and one of my kids was already up. I got pulled into cleaning up the kitchen and discussing with him something about the upcoming day and before I knew it my “golden hours” were gone.

That day, I moved my Keurig coffee machine, coffee pods, sugar cubes, and Coffeemate to my bedroom. Now I still get up at 5am, but I don’t go downstairs. I get my coffee in my bedroom (which feels like a treat) and I don’t go downstairs until I am done with my work. Just by moving the coffee machine, I am able to stay put, do my work, and have the rest of my day to be with my kids!

There are several aspects of this habit-change that I think are worth pointing out:

  1. Identify the problem. This sounds so obvious, but it’s actually a crucial, and often over-looked, step. Once you’ve truly identified the problem, solutions become more obvious. What was the problem? She didn’t have time and space to herself during the summer—even at 5:00 in the morning.
  2. Change your surroundings, not yourself or other people. Instead of trying to persuade her kids to act differently, which can be tough, she moved the coffeepot. Much easier.
  3. Do what’s right for you. For many people, getting up earlier is a great way to claim a part of the day for themselves. I love my early-morning time. But this won’t work for night people, so if you’re an Owl, don’t try to make yourself attempt this solution, which is so contrary to your natural inclinations.
  4. Be willing to ignore conventional advice. I often see the advice, “Never work in your bedroom. Keep your bedroom a place of relaxation, enjoyment, and rest.” That’s good advice, for some people. But maybe for you, working in your bedroom is the right answer. It’s always helpful to consider suggestions, but be willing to reject them if they don’t work for you. I experienced this as an Abstainer. It took me a long time to recognize my Abstainer nature, because people kept telling me that I “should” learn to be moderate, because moderation is “better.” But for me, I finally realized, abstaining is easier. And I want to shape my habits to suit me.
  5. Habits are easier when they feel like treats. Try never to let yourself feel deprived.

The sad fact is that there’s no magic, one-size-fits-all solution for habits.

Self-knowledge! Everything in habits and happiness always comes back to self-knowledge.

 

How about you? Have you ever made a few small changes that gave you a big boost in this way? If you’d like to share your story, contact me here. To hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.

 

My book on habits, Better Than Before, comes out in March 2015 (Crown). If you’d like to hear when it becomes available, sign up here. Habits! The most fascinating subject ever.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a book and a blog about her adventures learning to be happier.

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