A formula for giving yourself something to look forward to

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Illustration: Dora Godfrey

As pandemic life drags on, many of us are appreciating (and/or missing) the joy of having something to look forward to. An upcoming party gives structure to a weekend. A planned beach vacation makes the winter doldrums bearable. Some research has found that anticipating positive events can reduce negative feelings in stressful situations; other studies find that thinking about future positive experiences can nudge wiser choices in the present.

Covid-19 has made this all more challenging, and the predictable psychological result is a certain level of malaise. Fortunately, you don’t need tickets to Tahiti to reap the mental benefits of…


All you have to do is picture yourself on the other side

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Illustration by Dora Godfrey for Forge

A few years ago, one of my children became obsessed with roller coasters. He watched video after video to study them from afar. He designed his own in computer games. There was just one problem: He was terrified of actually riding one.

Eventually, he identified the “Sooper Dooper Looper” at Hersheypark as a potential option: It wasn’t too tall or too fast, and had only one inversion. But when we actually went to the park, he started to lose his nerve. I knew he would regret it if he didn’t ride the roller coaster after all that, so I reminded…


‘Planning privilege’ is real

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Illustration by Dora Godfrey for Forge

To me, planning is a fun part of life — what’s better than figuring out how we’d like to spend our time, and then turning those desires into reality? — but I know that, oddly enough, not everyone shares this love.

I was reminded of this recently when I listened to an episode of the Best Laid Plans podcast, a show all about planners and planning, in which the host, Sarah Hart-Unger, addressed a question from a listener named Erica: “How do you encourage others to plan, or is it futile? Asking for my husband.”

The short answer, Hart-Unger noted…


A two-step system to end everything you do on the right note

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Illustration: Dora Godfrey/Medium

Early in the pandemic, I started a podcast called The New Corner Office, featuring a short daily tip on how to work successfully from home. When I began this project, I assumed that it, and the pandemic, would be short-lived: Everyone would hightail it back to the office in a few months, and I’d adjust accordingly.

Then “two weeks to flatten the curve” stretched into months. Eventually, 200 episodes in, I realized I was going to need to make a conscious choice. …


The lists you aren’t making but should be

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Image source: seamartini/Getty Images

We make all kinds of lists: To-do lists. Grocery lists. Bucket lists. Anti-bucket lists. Making lists helps us corral information and get our heads around big tasks. Some research has shown that it can keep us from ruminating about what we haven’t done.

But lists are still a tragically underused tool. They’re great for productivity and big goals, sure, but when you get creative with them, that’s where the magic really happens. A good list can streamline your days and improve your weeks in radical, unexpected ways. …


Here’s the real way to change a habit

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Photo illustration; Image sources: Zen Rial/diyun Zhu/st_lux/Getty Images

Many years ago, I developed something of a Filene’s Basement shopping problem. I was in my early twenties and in my first office job, so I did in fact need affordable work clothes. But the real reason I found myself browsing the racks daily is that I needed to walk through the store to get from my Metro stop to the exit closest to my house.

That’s how habits work: We do what’s easy. We’re much less likely to do what seems complicated or difficult. I like to think of myself as a disciplined person, but that’s not how I…


Improve each week before it even begins

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Photo: Poh Kim Yeoh/EyeEm/Getty Images

For most of us, Monday mornings look like this: You grab your coffee, go to your computer, look at your calendar and your inbox and ask yourself, “Okay, what should I do?” You think through the upcoming week. You get a sense of timing and what’s on your plate.

Monday morning might seem like a great time to plan. It is, after all, the start of the week. Many teams even have a recurring meeting on Monday morning to hash out the week’s workflow.

However, devoting Monday morning to planning exacts a huge opportunity cost that can be avoided by…


What would you get done if you only had until 10:30 a.m. to work today? Do that first.

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Photo illustration; Image sources: © Eggy Sayoga/Francesco Milanese/Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush/EyeEm/Getty Images

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon an incredibly useful thought exercise I’m calling “the 10:30 a.m. question.” It occurred to me when my part of Pennsylvania got hit with a heavy winter storm one Wednesday. The forecast called for snow, heavy winds, and ice, and the power company warned of potential outages. I worried I’d only have until mid-morning, 10:30 or so, to work.

Like most people who work from home, I rely on my internet connection. …


Plan it out ahead of time to make the most of it. Yes, even now.

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Photo illustration; Image sources: C Squared Studios/RICHARD EDEN/Getty Images

In late 2019, I got an idea: I would plan the entire next year’s vacations at once.

There were a few reasons I thought this was a brilliant approach. First, my husband and I could block the same dates that our kids weren’t in school, so all our days off would coordinate. Second, it allowed for better interfamily PR; the ski faction wouldn’t grumble about spring break beach plans, since they knew we had a booking in Colorado over Christmas. …


A new way to look at personal growth

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Photo illustration; Image sources: Artem Varnitsin/EyeEm/titoOnz/ilyast/Getty Images

Let’s do a little math to find out how much free time we really have.

There are 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, 8,760 hours in a year.

Some of those hours are spoken for. If you need eight hours of sleep a night, that’s 2,920 of the 8,760. If you work 40 hours a week for 49 weeks (so, excluding holidays and two weeks’ vacation), you’re working 1,960 hours.

Subtracting all this takes us down to 3,880 waking, nonworking hours. Of course, people have vastly different levels of caregiving or chore responsibilities, and some people…

Laura Vanderkam

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management books including Off the Clock and 168 Hours. She blogs at LauraVanderkam.com.

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