It should be fairly obvious at this point that creating a change in your life takes time. Almost nothing happens overnight. Most changes are made up of little tasks done consistently, not one giant undertaking that happens quickly.
I mean, really, that’s what this whole blog is about—helping you make little changes every day that will one day add up to the results that you want to see.
So today I come to you with five suggestions for things that you can start doing right now that will change your life in a year. I’m not going to tell you to work out. You already know that if you start working out today and stick with it, you’ll see results in a year.
These suggestions will result in real, systemic change to the way that you live your life. If you’re looking to change your perspective, your mindset, your work ethic, and the way that you exist in the world, these small changes will have you living a totally new life in a year (or less. Realistically, if you stick to all of these things consistently, you’ll be living a different life in a couple of months.)
1. Read more
Stop me if this sounds familiar.
When I was little, I read all the time: The Boxcar Children, Magic Treehouse, Eragon, The Bartimaeus Trilogy, and anything else I could get my hands on. Then high school rolled around, and I stopped reading. I was busy, I had homework to do, I wanted to hang out with friends, and reading suddenly dropped off my radar.
I’m sure plenty of people are nodding along. I’m sure there are also plenty of people who didn’t experience this. Either way, if you’re not currently a reader, we need to change that.
Since graduating college in 2018, I’ve gotten back into reading. I picked it up slowly about a year ago, listening to audiobooks at the gym. In just a few weeks, my passion for reading came back. I set a goal of reading 18 books in 2019 and recently finished my 18th book with more than a third of 2019 still left to go. I think I’ll try to read 52 books in 2020.
How do I fit more reading into my life?
Well, you’re probably already reading more than you realize. It’s just that most of that reading happens in the form of Tweets, Instagram captions, Reddit posts, and the first paragraph and a half of news articles.
There’s also a very good chance that you have plenty of time to listen to audiobooks while doing mundane tasks—if you clean, shower, cook, work out, drive, or ride public transportation, you have time to listen to audiobooks. And if you don’t do any of those things, well, uh… consider seeking help.
Make it easy to read. I have books on my phone. Libby connects to your library card and lets you check out books and audiobooks from your library for free to your phone. I have a book on my couch. I have a book beside my bed. I take a book with me whenever I go anywhere that I’ll have even the slightest chance of downtime.
When you surround yourself with books, it becomes easy to pick one up and read any time you have a minute.
How will reading change my life?
How won’t it?
There are plenty of self help books out there that are specifically meant to change your life. If you’re not sure where to start, check out my recommended books. I’ve read all of those books and each has had a major positive impact on my life.
Even if you aren’t reading specifically for self improvement, reading any type of book will shift the way you think about things, the way you see yourself, and how you exist in the world. In my experience, the fastest way to shift your mindset is to read a good book.
Reading can help you be more productive, open your eyes to new perspectives, become a more empathetic person, feel less alone in the world, and find the mindset that you need to create your dream life. Reading can also show you how to create your dream life.
And if you’d like to dig into more than just self help, check out my Goodreads where you can see everything I’m reading, books that I recommend across all genres, and even set your own reading challenge!
2. Start working on a hobby or personal project
I’m sure there’s been something floating around the back of your mind for a while that you want to try but just haven’t. And if there’s not, then you need to read this post and get out there to start exploring the world.
So often, we let our identities rest in our occupation. We spend forty hours a week doing something for someone else, and we come home and do… nothing. A third of our life is taken by someone else, and yet we don’t embrace that bit of time that we have left to ourselves. It goes to Netflix or aimless interneting or whatever the latest video game is.
How do I start working on a hobby or personal project?
Use your time after work to do something. If you feel too tired after work to work on a personal project, I have two suggestions:
1. Create time before work for your personal projects. Build a morning routine so your mornings flow smoothly and you know when, where, and how you’re going to work on your hobby
2. Create a rejuvenating after-work ritual that helps you transition from work to you-time. Rather than changing directly into sweatpants, ordering takeout, and camping out on the couch for five hours until it’s bedtime, change into jeans, go for a walk, make yourself a cup of decaf tea, and sit down at a desk.
I know that I have always struggled with the second option, so I embraced the first. Becoming a morning person gave me the time and energy that I needed to go after my goals.
You don’t have to spend hours working every day, either. In fact, twenty minutes spent on a hobby each day after work is nearly ninety hours in one year. You can get way more done in ninety hours than you think.
If you can bump that up to an hour a day, five days a week, that’s more than 250 hours each year. You can accomplish a lot in 250 hours. You can probably write a book in 250 hours.
What I’m getting at here is that you have time. You just have to figure out when that time is and put it to good use.
How will it change my life?
This really depends on what hobby you take on. Working out will make you fitter, give you more energy, and boost your confidence. If you really did write that book and manage to get it published, who knows how far that will take you. You could learn a language, learn an instrument, or finally redecorate your house.
No matter what, though, having some sort of hobby or personal project that you regularly work on and typically enjoy is fulfilling. Life becomes more meaningful because you create meaning.
Spending your time on something that creates results is so much more satisfying and worthwhile than saying “I spent all of my free time last year watching The Office.”
3. Turn off notifications on your phone
I know that this post is about things that will change your life in a year, but this really is one of those things that can change your life overnight.
Over the last few months, I’ve been turning off more and more of the notifications on my phone and putting my phone on Do Not Disturb (and even airplane mode) more often, and it’s made a huge difference in a number of ways.
How do I turn off notifications on my phone?
Do I really need to answer that? It’s under settings. Search for “notifications.”
How will it change my life?
The biggest difference that I noticed was when I turned off my email notifications. I don’t have that little red number hovering above my email, so I have no idea how many emails I have or if I’ve gotten a new one, and I don’t get notifications of incoming emails.
The only time that I ever know how many emails I have or what they are is when I actually open the email app and check.
And let me tell you, I feel great. Turning off my email notifications instantly reduced my stress levels by like 50%. I no longer feel worried about who’s going to contact me or how quickly I’ll have to email them back. I check email on my terms, which usually ends up being about once a day (or less). And nothing catastrophic has come from me checking my emails less often.
Aside from that, turning off notifications for Instagram likes and random other bits of social media interaction has reduced my phone time quite a bit.
Did you know that those notifications are specifically designed to get you to spend more time on the app? Twitter doesn’t send notifications because it thinks you need to know about something. Twitter sends notifications because it wants you to spend more time on Twitter so they can make more money.
I’ve reached the point where I leave my phone in another room (or at least out of reach) for much of the day. Most of my time on my phone is time that I spend there intentionally, not because the screen lit up and had an insatiable urge to find out why. (This isn’t to say that I never scroll aimlessly, but it doesn’t happen nearly as much as it used to.)
Basically, turning off notifications on your phone will give you your time back. When you get your time back, you can use it for all of the other wonderful things on this list.
4. Start working on that side hustle
Start that blog. Start making inventory for your Etsy shop. Start studying for that certification.
Even if you currently have a 9-5 that you’re happy with, that can change at any moment. Nothing is guaranteed. Things are unstable. They’re unfavorable, unsavory.
You have no way of knowing when that 9-5 won’t be there anymore. Or, as I’ve seen happen several times recently, when something will happen that makes you suddenly hate your job. Whether it’s a new manager, a new project, or a shift in policy, you have no idea when you might show up to the office and find that your dream job has turned into a nightmare.
You don’t want to be stuck with nowhere to go when things suddenly go south. Your side hustle likely won’t make money at first, so it’s best to get it started before you need it. It takes time to build up a steady source of income, and it’s best to do this when you have time on your side.
How do I start working on a side hustle?
Well, if you already have something in mind, start there! Whatever your passion is, there’s a way to monetize it.
And if you don’t have any idea what your side hustle should be, ask yourself some questions:
What am I better at than the average person?
What can I talk about for hours?
What skills do I have that other people need?
What have I experienced that other people are also experiencing, and how can I use what I learned to help them?
I’ve also got a whole post about how to brainstorm that will help you think creatively and come up with ideas that you hadn’t thought of before.
Once you’ve come up with an idea, start spending an hour or two each week working on it. Just a couple hours every Saturday or one evening a week after work is enough to get you moving. That’s all the time that it takes to start getting something off the ground. Start growing an audience before you need an audience.
Don’t give me lines about how your preferred industry is saturated or how someone else is already doing what you want to do. Those are excuses.
No one is doing what you want to do in the exact same way that you’d do it, and because you bring your own unique perspective to things, people will come.
Are there other people out there with productivity and self-discipline blogs? Yeah. But you like what I do, and you like what I have to say, so you read mine. You may also read other people’s blogs, which brings me to another point—people consume content and buy products and services from many different places. If you put your own unique twist on whatever you offer, people will come.
How will it change my life?
It’s hard to say, though I can say for sure that it won’t make your life worse. In the worst case scenario, it becomes a valuable learning experience so that you can be more successful in your next venture. Most likely, you’ll earn some extra money that you can save or put toward a vacation or something.
There’s also the possibility that your side hustle takes off and you get to live a life that you never could have even imagined. Whether that means setting your own schedule, working from a balcony overlooking the French countryside, or owning a business that changes lives for the better each day, the possibilities are endless.
5. Take time to reflect on your progress
The internet is full of advice. Some of it is great. A lot of it is terrible. Some of it will work for you, and some of it won’t.
Similarly, you’re working toward your goals. Sometimes you make great progress. Sometimes you’ll take one step forward and three steps back.
And if you never take time to stop and reflect on which advice is working, which steps are moving you forward and which are wasting time, and how you can do a better job tomorrow than you did yesterday, you’re wasting time.
Blindly following something you read online is a terrible idea, even if that thing you read offers good ideas. They may be good ideas, but there’s no guarantee that they’re the right ideas for your life in this moment, and you have to be the person to decide that.
By starting a habit of self-reflection to consider your progress so far and adjust your direction for the next steps, you significantly speed up your progress toward your goals.
How do I take time to reflect on my progress?
My strategy is to do a weekly review. Each week, I do what I can to wrap up everything that I had going on the previous week, and take time to consciously consider my goals and progress toward them. If needed, I’ll set new goals, modify old goals, come up with new routines, and build new habits that will better serve me.
But it would go against this very advice if I insisted that you take my strategy. There are plenty of other ways that you can reflect on your progress. Maybe a few minutes of nightly reflection would work better for you. Maybe your life is going pretty well and a monthly check-in is all you need.
In all likelihood, if you’ve never taken time to reflect on your goals and your progress, you’ll want to start with frequent periods of reflection. As you hone your direction and start to automatically consider new routes when an old one doesn’t seem to be working, scheduled check-ins may become less necessary. Experiment to find something that works for you.
How will it change my life?
You know that goal that you’ve had in mind for ages and have barely made any progress toward? This is the first step in making that goal into reality.
Not only that, but taking time to reflect will help you make faster progress toward your goals. It can help you avoid missteps and unnecessary failures. It makes you more observant, more thoughtful, and more intentional. Rather than putting effort into something that isn’t working, you’ll catch yourself and have the opportunity to modify your course.
Taking time to reflect on your actions, your habits, and how you spend your time is one of the most important things you can do to lead a more intentional and enjoyable life.
I want to wrap this post up by reminding you that, as I said in Sunday’s post, reading about all of these things doesn’t make an ounce of difference unless you act on them.
If you read these posts and don’t act, all you’re doing is wasting time. You’re probably procrastinating, and I’m calling you out.
This article offers five actionable strategies for changing your life in the next year. It tells you how to do them, as well as how they will change your life. If you implement them, they will change your life.
But if all you do is read this list and think, “Oh, that’s a good idea,” but you don’t act on that thought, your life won’t change. You are the only person who can change your life, and it is only through action that you can realize those changes. Do something.
At least turn off the notifications on your phone. Seriously, that one’s so easy.