Last week, while taking some time off of work, I sat down to do my annual Past Year Review (see below). As I reviewed my year, week by week, I was struck by two things. First, how many more positive experiences I had in 2023 than negative ones. Second, how clear I’ve gotten on what brings me joy and energy, and what doesn’t.
The first insight reminded me that while I’m very hard on myself for many things I’ve failed to achieve, I’ve made some really important changes over the past few years. Mainly, I created a job that I love. The second insight prompted me to put my “Not to Do list” right at the very top of my daily reminders. I started scheduling fun activities for 2024 that very day, and felt great. I can’t tell you how much I recommend the Past Year Review as a way for resetting your priorities at the beginning of the year. Try it! You’ll see! Here’s a post to show you how to make the most of 2024:
Like many people, I was simultaneously horrified and energized by an essay in The New York Times entitled, “How Covid Stole Our Time and How We Can Get it Back.” Its basic point was as follows: Most of us have eaten up hundreds of thousands of hours in our lives we can never get back. (Yes, he actually counts them for you. )
That’s the bad news. The good news, according to the article’s author, Tim Urban, is that: “The time we have left with family and friends is not a law of nature like the weeks we have left to live. It’s a function of priorities and decisions.” In other words, we have it within our own power to enjoy whatever time we have left more.
I’ve struggled throughout my life with how to be happy. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to have more fun during the first quarter of 2022:
Create a “Not To Do List”
Quite possibly the single best piece of work/life advice I got last year was from author, podcaster and productivity guru Tim Ferris. In a blog post he ran towards the end of 2021, he explained why he no longer makes a list of New Year’s Resolutions. Instead, he does a Past Year Review.
A Past Year Review entails sitting down and going through your entire calendar from the previous year, both work and personal. As you examine how you spent your time, you identify all those things that gave you the most joy—and the most displeasure—in a given month. You then insert those items in two columns respectively.
Next, you identify the top 20% of the negatives and the top 20% of the positives. Ferris then counsels you to place the top 20% of negatives into a “Not to Do list.” You look at that list every day for the first few weeks of the year to remind yourself NOT to do them.
Oh my goodness how the Not To Do List has changed my life! I let go of one client where my effort didn’t justify the pay, eliminated all-but-essential business development for my company, and dramatically reduced all social engagements that feel obligatory.
Just doing those three things has left me feeling 10 times lighter and less stressed out.
So much for the negatives in my life. How about the positives? Here, Ferriss’s advice is to identify those top 20% “fun leaders” and put them into your calendar immediately. Because if it ain’t in the calendar, it ain’t real.
I’m one of those people who plans her work way in advance, but always leaves the fun stuff until the last minute. That’s because I’ve always put work first, and life second.
But as soon as Ferris said this, I immediately grabbed the phone and called a friend of mine. Like me, she also loves live theatre. We booked in not one, not two, but three dates over the next six months to see shows together. Then I made a list of all of the films I’d missed in 2021 because of the Omicron variant. I started booking tickets to go to the cinema and see them live.
Best of all, I grabbed a complicated but absorbing game called Dialect I’d purchased a year earlier for my daughter, but was still sitting in its box. I promptly wrote to four highly verbal friends whom I thought might enjoy playing a game about language. We blocked out an afternoon in February and spent four hours playing this game. It was the most fun I’d had in ages.
As Laura Vanderkam, author of Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done puts it, creating memories takes work. But when you put energy into “scheduling fun,” rather than just sitting in your bedroom watching yet another series on Netflix, you are literally building your own happiness. Those are memories you can return to, day in and day out, and they will bring you joy.
Which is possibly why I spent much of last weekend planning a trip to Paris with my husband and daughter. It’s a trip we had to postpone twice during the pandemic. Frankly, figuring out how to best utilize all of the different vouchers we’d accrued and where to stay and eat took up at least one full day of our time.
But I’m already so glad that we made the effort. Because I know that once I stroll along the Seine in a little over two weeks from now and sip my first Kir Royale, I will be so incredibly happy.
What’s in your calendar this year?
Note: This post originally appeared on Sixty and Me