5 Things I Do at the Beginning of Every Year
In her book Happier than Before, Gretchen Rubin discusses the strategy of new beginnings as a way to set ourselves up for success in starting or maintaining good habits. According to this rationale, new beginnings (like a new job, new school year, or move to a new house) meaningfully interrupt old routines and thus provide an opportunity to enact new, better habits that may lead to greater success, productivity, or general happiness (broadly defined).
Despite the weird emotions surrounding New Year’s resolutions, the start of a new year provides many people with the kind of new beginning Rubin is talking about.
Bearing this in mind, there are five things I do at the start of every year to set myself up for
success sanity. I tend to tackle these within the first week of the new year–not necessarily on the first of January (which is a big family get-together day for me), but before that sense of new-year freshness has worn off. What do you do at the beginning of the year to start new habits or streamline things for the rest of the year?
1. Organize (and Delete!) Files on My Computer
I guess this is pretty self-explanatory. I’m amazed, though, at how a thorough digital organizing session sets the tone for the year to come. When I haven’t taken the time or effort to do this (cough cough LAST YEAR), I feel slightly disheveled the whole year. Along with organizing files, I set up new folders for upcoming years’ photos, client work, and writing files.
Here’s where the sacrilege comes in. Another thing I do is that I delete most or all the unfinished drafts I wrote during the previous year. I do this not only in my Word document file folders, but also in my Evernote notes, Trello boards, Google docs, or any other places I’ve been storing my written word.
Extreme as this measure may seem, I am easily overwhelmed by visual or psychological reminders of unfinished business–even if they are filed away in an archive folder. And I don’t like having to slog back through files that are years old, trying to retrace my intentions behind each piece of writing. So I clean things up–drastically–on a yearly basis.
I have found that if an idea really has potential, it will come back to me. When it does, I am the kind of writer who does better starting from scratch than scrapping together half-formed thoughts previous drafts.
Along with keeping my computer’s memory stores low, there are numerous other benefits to simplifying files like this. In general, it helps me cultivate what feels to me like a healthier relationship to my writing. First, it helps me let go and not take my writing so seriously. I tend to write better when I am not hinging my emotional identity on what I write or on my creative ideas. It also gives me a sense of freedom–when I’ve got folders of unfinished drafts, I feel a pressure to finish them, which distracts me from the work of the present. I don’t have to finish everything–it’s okay to start, stop, and bid farewell to the things that haven’t panned out.
Second, going through files I’ve written helps me develop a mental inventory of what I’ve been up to for the year. Occasionally, I uncover a few gems–and those I do keep. But they are typically two or three items at most. Some years I keep nothing.
2. Begin a New Journal
OK, I don’t always start a new journal at the beginning of the year–it all depends on how far I am in my previous journal (or if I’m even journaling at all–it comes and goes). But the last year or two, I’ve really gotten into the question-a-day journals that give you a small space to answer a question each day. My husband and I began a couple’s version last year, and this year I started Gretchen Rubin’s 5-year one-sentence journal. I do have an additional journal that I write in at greater length when the need arises, but it’s really nice to have a more structured, low-pressure way to keep track of memories.
3. Write our
Christmas Epiphany Letter
Instead of writing Christmas cards and letters, my husband and I send “Epiphany Greetings” on January 6 or shortly thereafter. And instead of a letter, we update an unlisted website we started five years ago with pictures and memories for every year and send the link to family and friends with a personalized email. It works well, and provides an archive of previous years that is fun to look back on.
4. Address and File Birthday Cards
As part of my quest to become an adult, I’ve been on a several-years-long campaign to learn to send close family and friends actual birthday cards.
The hardest stumbling block to achieving this is looking up people’s addresses, which always seems like a hassle. So at the beginning of every year, in one sitting, I gather cards and address the envelopes to recipients. (Task batching!) This year, I may even put stamps on the envelopes, since last year that got in the way of me sending some of the cards.
I place each card in a tiny, card-sized file box I have. The box has homemade dividers for each month, so I put each card in the month that corresponds to the person’s birthday. From there, all I have to do is grab the card, write a line or two, and drop it in the mailbox. You may be wondering how I remember to send each card? Well, that’s also a struggle I’m trying to systematize 🙂 Last year, I experimented with sending cards on the first of every month regardless of when in the month the person’s birthday was. It was easy to remember, but I didn’t like sending some cards nearly four weeks early (when a birthday occurred at the end of the month). Better late (or early?) I suppose, but I’d like to find a better system. Maybe by this time 2019, I will have found something that works for me!
5. Make My Goals Visible
Whether I’ve got new year’s resolutions or am just trying to make continued progress on other goals, I use the beginning of the year as a chance to make sure my goals are visible. Sometimes this means writing goals into my calendars on the months of the year, other times it means posting them in my journal or setting Google reminders for later in the year. This time around, since I recently got a desktop computer, I’m making a screensaver with my goals on it. This has the added benefit of broadcasting my goals to my husband, which may act as an added form of accountability.
What do you do in January to get your year off to an organized or successful start?