James Clear is my some-sort-of hero. He wrote the book Atomic Habits and taught me the importance of developing a system to achieve a single goal or desired outcome. Goals have always been intimidating to me, especially as I crawl out of this pandemic like a hibernating bear. I have minimal energy and, lately, it’s harder for me to find instant joy. In his book, he reiterates that goals aren’t useless, but the collection of daily habits you follow will be the monumental tidbits that get you there. Even more importantly: daily habits will define who you are.
He challenges with these questions: Who do you want to be? And how do your daily habits define that aspirational person?
Great and difficult questions, James. I struggled to answer this at first. I want to be orderly. I want to be healthy. I want to sleep well and take care of my relationships. I don’t want to multitask all the time. I want to call my grandma more, and I want nice nail beds. I want to be the breezy woman who walks slowly and stops picking up my phone in bed.
It takes a lifetime to build a habit and define ourselves. So, after building a system that’s helped me get there, I wanted to share it with W&D readers. Let’s dive in.
I went forth and put together the first installment of my “Gentle Reminder Calendar” in January, filling it with soft to-dos that could make me feel calm, accomplished, and the last thing from overwhelmed.
In the back of her magazine, Martha Stewart publishes a monthly calendar of gentle reminders, helpful tips, and important dates. The calendar includes minuscule, merciful tasks like taking down Christmas trees, packing winter linens, pruning apple trees and saving branches for kindling, replenishing cat food and treats, planning out the vegetable garden, updating the address book, making homemade marshmallows… the list goes on. I almost buy the magazine for that calendar alone, until I realized I could make my own.
So, I went forth and put together the first installment of my “Gentle Reminder Calendar” in January, filling it with soft to-dos that could make me feel calm, accomplished, and the last thing from overwhelmed. On top of having mind-numbing daily tasks, I wanted to structure them to have legs and help me in different facets of my life.
First, I separate what I want to get done/goals throughout the year into four categories and fondly call them my Space of Infinite Possibility Categories. They are as follows: work, personal/hobby, friendship/family, and at-home. The work category pertains to my job. Personal hobbies relate to things I would like to accomplish in my free time including business endeavors. The at-home category focuses on things I would like to accomplish around my home. And, lastly, I have a space to take time for friendships and family.
At the beginning of the year, I broke down these categories with secondary goal items to propel me forward throughout the year. The lists seem SO BIG at first. There’s so much to do! But when I break them down into cute little daily tasks, they seem achievable. They feed me longer. For example, I broke them down into secondary goals below. Then I broke down small daily tasks that spanned a month.
- Get a raise
- Write more
- Share knowledge with peers
- Become an expert on the business
- Create boundaries with email
- Consume more news
- Save more money
- Read 35 books
- Make a website for personal writing business
- Be more physically active
- Write for (2) print pubs
- Move slower
- Wellness: get a monthly massage, facial, pedicure, something
- Talk to Grandma more
- Really focus on making birthdays special
- Be more explicit about how much you love people
- Reach out to friends to check in
- Finish wallpaper in the office
- Paint bathroom
- Update light fixtures
- Fix deck
- Plan out garden
- Remodel the main bedroom
Finally, each month, in my paper calendar (Writer’s Note: Using a pen gives me joy) I write down small daily tasks related to each category, a Space of Infinite Possibility Category a day, spacing them out in a variety of weekly, small tasks. Sometimes, I get wild and theme the month to keep focus.
Here’s what my January “Gentle Reminder Calendar” looked like (Theme: Organization):
January 1: Write 2022 goals
January 2: Clean out remaining packing boxes in the office
January 3: Put up one wall of wallpaper in the office
January 4: Make a gyno appointment
January 5: Text some friends that they give you joy
January 6: Reach out to partners about a business idea
January 7: Horseback riding
January 8: Exfoliate feet (I know, gross but very important!)
January 9: Clean out the linen closet
January 10: Call Grandma to say hi
January 11: Organize wallet and purse
January 12: Update Google Photos backup; delete photos from phone
January 13: Sing really loudly
January 14: Clean out the coveted junk drawer
January 15: Brainstorm future pitch story ideas (Only 3 is okay!)
January 16: Deep clean laundry room
January 17: Build out a strategy/business plan for your business idea
January 18: Write 2022 work goals (broken down by small tasks throughout the year)
January 19: Wallpaper one wall of the office
January 20: Write down a few things you’d like to manifest at work
January 21: Do face mask and use facial steamer (mini spa)
January 22: Bleach toilets
January 23: Text a friend how much you appreciate them and why
January 24: Write freely about a random photo in your office
January 25: Throw away old towels and buy new ones (PSA: Here are the ones I bought and I love them.)
January 26: Wash makeup brushes
January 27: Plan happy hour with best friend
January 28: Vacuum curtains
January 29: Send a check for LLC
January 30: Try a new recipe (May I suggest this one?)
January 31: Clean up work desktop
I have been doing this for almost three months now, and I can promise you, it is electrifying in every way a productivity list can be. I’m a big planner. However, I can get easily burnt out by big goals and beastly to-do lists. Building an individual task list in a snackable way makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something. And I look forward to checking out my daily gentle reminder.
As we enter spring, I’m excited to get some outdoor activities on my list. Like hosing off dirty doormats, planning my garden, cleaning screens, trimming bushes, buying myself ALL the tulips, and washing all my winter jackets.
Building an individual task list in a snackable way makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something. And I look forward to checking out my daily gentle reminder.
Additionally, when I theme my months, I can zero in on myself. What do I deserve that month? What do I need to separate from my busy life and take notice of? That’s how I theme each month. I consider this practice an internal manifesting. And personal reflection helps inspire task ideas throughout the month! If you need even more inspiration, here are the themes I’ve laid out myself for the year.
My Monthly Themes:
April: Growth (Yard)
I hope this doesn’t seem like a lot. Planning can be a form of procrastination, and the “Gentle Reminder Calendar” shouldn’t fall into numbness. It can be as simple as adding small tasks to your day-by-day without any structure. No matter what, these small tasks will put a soothing balm on your life. We are a product of our systems, not our goals. In the news and on social media we overvalue the outcomes instead of the process because the systems are hidden from view. We see “Look, I lost 50 pounds!” and not “I went on a nice, peaceful walk today.”
The four laws of behavior change, according to James Clear, are: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying. With enough practice, your brain will pick up on the cues that predict certain outcomes without consciously thinking about the consequences of laziness. I think this “Gentle Reminder Calendar” can influence our behavior in a safe, manageable way. He also abides by the “2-minute rule” to complete tasks. For example, going to the gym should be “take out your yoga mat.” Establishing something small, and using it as a foot-hold to improve to the next level, can ignite progress. And it should. There’s beauty in that simplicity.
My “Gentle Reminder Calendar” is the backbone of who I want to be. It’s a small thread in my life that weaves in and out in ritual. It takes care of multiple versions and levels of myself. It makes me feel like I can achieve things and move forward. James Clear said it best, “You don’t rise to the level of your aspirational courage [goal]. You fall to the level of the systems you have in place that make your culture brave.”
Rise to the level of your small aspirations. Become brave because of them.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her baby brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagram, read more about her latest book, Borderline, and (most importantly) go hug your mother.