My friends can tell you that I love keeping lists. They include collections of tattoos I want to get, products I enjoy using, and little Québécois expressions from my family. I have lists of favorite physical sensations and mental satisfactions. I have a list of common things my partner says if I ever want to make a pull-cord action figure of him one day. I even have a list of things I don’t like. Most of these lists are not series of to-dos (though some are), but rather collections around a common theme. They were born out of an urge to group and catalog–a passion I’ve had my whole life.
One list that I revisit frequently is my list of personal maxims. These rules of conduct and snippets of advice are mantras I’ve collected over 30 years (yes, I can say that now) that dictate how I think, interact with people, and structure my routine. As I begin a new year and a new decade, I want to share a few and how they’ve improved my daily life.
🤝 Treat everyone like a friend, unless they prove otherwise.
Empathy can establish common ground with strangers who occupy the same space. Having grown up in a small(ish) town, I learned the importance of this lesson quickly once I moved to the dense city of San Francisco. The third places in an urban environment are occupied by people with their own needs and motivations, not much different from one’s own. Acknowledge them. Be polite, give them the benefit of the doubt, and treat them like a friend.
⏱ Do it if it takes less than five minutes to do.
Time is precious. As someone who religiously commits to eight hours of sleep per night, my waking hours are limited. To help prioritize tasks and maximize available time, I’ve adopted the habit of doing something immediately if it takes less than five minutes to complete. If I’m in the kitchen with a spare five minutes, I’ll put the dishes away. If I have five minutes to spare on the train, I’ll respond to that email. Five minutes before my partner gets home? I’ll take the compost out. I don’t think about it, I just do it.
Quickly move through your list of to-dos by getting those small items out of the way. They may not be the most fun, but they allow you to focus on more important things.
🔑 Invest in your everyday carry items.
Investing in the items I use regularly has improved my day-to-day and optimized my routine. By “invest,” not only do I mean in money spent, but the thought put into them. For example, my keys are well-labeled, arranged in order of use, and held on a quality keychain perfect for clipping to my backpack. The handkerchiefs I carry, always available in the same pocket, are quick-at-hand when the occasional sneeze attack strikes or if a bathroom dryer doesn’t work. The watches I wear are made with quality scratch-resistant materials and allow me to check the time faster than it takes to reach for my phone.
Personal items that are used every day should be carefully selected to optimize for efficiency. It’s well worth the time to research quality tools that compliment your routine and outlast cheaper alternatives. If you notice friction or a chronic need in your routine, consider taking a closer look at the causes and see if a handy tool can help.
🗑 If you plan on returning, clean before you leave.
When I arrive at work on a Monday morning, I am fresh from the gym ready to hit the ground running. As I place a hot cup of coffee next to my mouse, I give Past Joe a mental high five for cleaning my entire desk the Friday before the weekend. The spotless work area welcomes me and allows me to take full advantage of my morning without distractions. Though my work areas have changed over my career, I’ve learned that cleaning before I leave for the weekend is something Future Joe is always thankful for.
This practice has permeated into my personal life. Before my partner and I go on trips, we always clean our apartment before we leave. It’s amazing how impactful clean bed sheets can be for returning travelers weary from a flight. Returning to a clean apartment can free you to focus on what’s important, like relaxing!
🙋 Don’t compare yourself to others, but only to yourself a year ago.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, we are surrounded by smart and talented individuals who seem to have their entire lives figured out at such a young age. Not to mention the influence of social media, which exposes us to highlight reels of attractive athletes, entrepreneurs, and models that unceasingly share their grandiose experiences and successful careers. It’s often difficult to avoid comparing yourself to these people. It’s almost second-nature.
However, over the past couple of years, I’ve learned that the only person worth comparing yourself to is you, a year ago. Everyone has their own journey, where time and good fortune are relative and fleeting. The only person that matters is the one looking back at you in the mirror. Personal success is a marathon, where small achievements add up.
What is different about the you today versus the you a year ago? If you are happier, more financially stable, and closer to reaching your career goals, I’d call that success.
Starting a new year is a great time to check in on one’s habits and ways of thinking. I’m taking 2018 head on with a renewed commitment to these personal maxims and seeking new ways to improve how I think and behave. Similar to my other lists, this collection will continue to grow and change as new experiences influence my routine and point of view.
Thanks for reading! :) If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to 👏👏👏! And if you have any maxims of your own, feel free to comment below!