Why it’s best to invest in frequent doses of small, nice things

Illustration: Dora Godfrey/Medium

We’ve all heard the maxim that money can’t buy happiness. But what if it sort of can? Or at least a little smidge of happiness? Or think of it this way: Let’s say you’ve found yourself with a bit of extra money. What could you do with it to have the biggest impact on your daily life?

The good news is that money really can make life better. The bad news is that we tend not to take human psychology into account as we make our money decisions. …

You probably have more leisure time than you think. Here’s how to maximize it.

Magnifying glasses looking at an alarm clock.
Magnifying glasses looking at an alarm clock.
Illustration: Dora Godfrey/ Medium

The time between the moment you close your laptop on Friday and the moment your alarm goes off on Monday morning can feel shockingly short. But it isn’t. Assuming eight hours of sleep a night, there are 37 waking hours between 5 p.m. Friday and 10 p.m. Sunday. That’s nearly the equivalent of a full work week — which seldom feels like it disappears into nothingness, even for people who like their jobs.

But a key difference between weekdays and weekends is that work hours have built-in accountability. We think through how we’re going to spend our working hours with…

Take advantage of remote work’s greatest — and most overlooked — benefit

Illustration of a calendar with times blocked off with colorful images of actions/activities.
Illustration of a calendar with times blocked off with colorful images of actions/activities.
Illustration: Dora Godfrey/ Medium

It’s no wonder polling shows that nearly half of U.S. workers want to keep working from home even after restrictions lift: There’s so much more flexibility. Without a commute, hours are less set. Without an office, everyone is less subject to the group norms that have night owls trying to look alert at 8 a.m., and that makes people self-conscious about leaving the building for any reason.

Still, many people feel reticent about using this freedom. Anecdotes abound of people sitting hunched at their computers without ceasing, not so much as leaving the house for days at a time. …

A formula for giving yourself something to look forward to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

Laura Vanderkam

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

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store