Big choices & events in life almost always set the stage for the vast majority of love, happiness, wealth and overall quality of life. But it’s also interesting to me how marginal, incremental improvements can compound over time to product extraordinary improvements as well – aka the snowball effect.
I started cataloging some of my small daily habits and actions to notice little changes that made a big difference in my quality of life…
1. Swap spinach for lettuce
Spinach has the same texture and taste (more or less) as lettuce with like 100x the nutrients. Seriously, spinach is really ridiculous. I started subbing spinach for lettuce whenever offered – salads, toppings, etc and single-handedly increased my daily vegetable serving consumption.
2. Turn on the fan
Stagnant, stuffy air is no fun. Just turn on the fan. It has lots of benefits.
3. Put clothes in the drawer vertically
For years, my clothes selection had a strong bias towards the shirt that was on top. No more! Also – much more space.
4. Using Google Weather
Stop going to weather.com or weatherunderground.com – or whatever ad overloaded site you’re using to get the temperature.
Set a bookmark for https://www.google.com/search?q=weather and let Google show you the weather directly.
5. Purging my wallet contents
I’ve never had a ridiculously large wallet stuffed with dozens of credit cards, but every marginal improvement counts a lot since my wallet is with me all the time. I did a quick 80/20 analysis on what’s in my wallet (ie, what 20% of cards do I use 80% of the time) and put the rest in storage. So much better.
6. Organizing my keychain
I tried to figure out the 20% of keys that I use 80% of the time and put the others in storage. My keys are with me all the time.
7. Using scrubby gloves in the shower
Hat tip to my wife on this. I started using either scrubby type gloves in the shower – so much cleaner. I have no idea why more people don’t do this.
8. Doing the Notice 3 Times Then Fix Rule
If anything bugs me 3 times, stop and fix it. It’s an easy rule to help stop procrastinating little annoyances (say, a loose toilet seat) while also not getting annoyed by small things. More info on the concept here.
9. Raising the height of lamps
Someone out there has figured out the optimal height for lamps & light bulbs. I had no idea, and had sub-optimal lamps. We used a book or two to raise them, and WOW. I had no idea.
10. Replacing door screws
Kicking in a door is too easy on nearly all houses. And more dead-bolts don’t make it more secure because the plate is only screwed into the jamb…which is what’s easy to break anyway.
I swapped out my door screws with 4″ screws that go all the way into the frame stud (which is not going anywhere). 5 minute fix for more peace of mind.
11. Using floss sticks
Flossing is the cliche habit that everyone should do, but doesn’t. And that was me for wayyy too long. I gave floss sticks a try. They are not perfect, but they are so easy that it’s easy to start and keep the habit. Simple switch to make in the dental care aisle.
12. Using amazing shaving cream
I shave every single day. Foam is awful experience. Oil clogs up my razor. Switching to shave butter from Dollar Shave Club seriously made those 10 minutes a day more satisfying.
13. Automating majority of finances
Choosing to save (and spend money) uses up decision points. It also leads to bad decisions anyway. I automated 401k, savings, bills, etc. Everything is done.
14. Toasting sandwich bread
For reasons that I can’t comprehend, toast is a completely different food than untoasted bread. Taking 4 minutes at lunch to toast is transforms a boring sandwich.
15. Washing car windshield while pumping gas
Even if my windshield isn’t dirty, being productive for those 4 boring minutes and getting a refreshed view is a powerful small change.
16. Lowering my chair at work
I always thought that sitting higher was better. It’s not. Here’s the science on chair height. Lowering chair = better circulation and less back pain…though not as much as from a standing desk. tk
17. Doing the flip a coin and see how I feel to force a decision
It’s really quite alarming how long I can take to decide with lots of options – or even just two options. I rarely know what I truly want. Solution?
Flip a coin to decide a winner. But here’s the twist. Before and during looking at the result, I pay attention to how I feel. If I feel regret or excitement over a choice…then that determines the winner (not the actual result). More info on the concept here.
18. Bringing vegetables with lunch
When I’m packing my lunch, I add in lots of raw vegetables. At lunch, I’m usually extremely hungry and/or bored, so it’s really easy to eat a ton of raw vegetables that I may not have normally eaten just out of interest.
19. Turning my alarm clock & electronics face down
Even the slightest bit of light can inhibit sleep tk. I started flipping my alarm clock and phone face down at night.
No light = better sleep. I also don’t have that mild panic type A personality-inducing feeling of looking at the time as I’m falling asleep.
20. Always having water near me
Drinking more water = better health. Trying to make myself drink more water always failed, so I just started carrying water everywhere. Since it was available and convenient, the habit took hold. I drink a 120+ oz of water per day all because it’s there.
21. Paying for music
I’ve lived through full transformation of the music industry. I bought CDs in 1998. I downloaded from Napster. I switched to Kazaa then Limewire. I purchased MP3s from Amazon, iTunes, Buy.com and Google. I started using Pandora. I use Songza. I signed up for Spotify the day it came to the US.
But the biggest change came when I started paying the $9.99 per month for Spotify. All I can say is – just do it. Stay legal and pay for the value you are enjoying.
But here’s the thing (and this goes for Play, Rdio, whoever) – you get access to an infinite choice of music anytime, wherever you are with not a single advertisement. You don’t even have to use data if you set your playlist to offline mode.
Seriously – it’s like life-changing magic that is so amazing that no one is happy with it. I’ll pay for that.
Aside – Pandora One is $3 per month to remove ads. If you don’t do Spotify/Play/etc for $10/mo – I’d recommend that also.
22. Walking backwards into cold showers
Here’s the trick to making them tolerable: walk backwards into the stream of cold water so that it hits the top middle of your shoulders. Unlike your chest/stomach, you have a lot more muscle & fat to absorb the nerve shock of the water.
23. Using the timer on my cell phone
I’m a horrible judge of time, and not correctly gauging time can be a serious source of minor anxiety or regret. Your smartphone has a timer. Use it for anything that requires any bit of time judgement.
When I’m playing with my son, and I say that we have to go in 5 minutes, setting the timer allows me to focus on the time at hand AND gives me a 3rd party to blame when time is up.
When I’m making coffee, I think I can keep up with 4 minutes. But I can’t. Set a timer.
When I sit down to read for 20 minutes, setting a timer allows me to not look at the clock every few minutes.
Outsource to machines what humans aren’t good at.
24. Using headphones to cancel out noise
Headphones aren’t just great for listening to music. They also muffle sound, especially if combined with ambient noise. It took me way too long to figure this out.
25. Doing proper posture while riding a bike
I’ve ridden a bike for commuting, exploring, fun and getting around. Never had a coach. Like most things in life, having a 10 minute coaching session would have been worthwhile. There is a better way to sit on a bike & pedal.
For me, I accidentally shifted my hips back and legs down from my default position and there was like 50% more power with the same effort. It was like driving a car your whole life in 3 and then discovering Drive.
26. Double knotting my shoelaces
I tied my shoes wayyyyy too many times growing up before someone mentioned this. And yet, apparently some people don’t do this.
27. Doing a 5 second video every single day
There was a TED Talk that explains this concept better than I can.
Basically, don’t forget life because you procrastinate your journal. Also don’t live life via your phone. Take a short video of a day to help trigger all the other memories you have from that day. It’s simple and small, but powerful.
28. Writing a bullet list daily journal
I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t in theory want to journal to remember thoughts and happenings from life. But they are a pain to write.
I changed the format and it made a world of difference. It’s daunting to “write about the day” but simple to “make a short list of stuff.”
29. Setting a really low writing goal
Writing is tough. But really it’s just tough to get started and get in flow. Once you’re rolling, you’re good. I found myself setting writing goals that were daunting and just spurred procrastination.
I made them embarrassingly low so that now I actually start. And once I start, I always end up writing longer than planned.
30. Not reading the daily news
This change is straight out of the concept of a low information diet. The daily news is created to sell advertisements not to inform and educate. It took me a very long time to finally admit this.
It’s junk food for your brain. And quitting it is really quite simple.
Just don’t go to news sites. Unfollow friends who share the latest craziness. If something is actually important and timely, I promise, you will hear about it. Otherwise, just ask someone “hey, so what’s in the news?”
If you really need news, then find news sources that are curated, classy, relevant and have a sustainable business model.
31. Using a habit tracking app
One of the more famous habit forming methods is the “don’t break the chain” method. The trouble is that keeping up with the chain can be tedious, especially if you are building multiple habits. Enter in Habit Tracking apps.
I use Coach.me (formerly Lift) but there’s a million out there. I define a habit. When I accomplish it, I open it and tap the check box.
Simple – but ridiculously powerful. All those habits that you want to start, but you can’t keep traction with? Try a habit tracking app.
32. Using Google Calendar reminders
I used to be horrible at remembering to do stuff in the medium term future. You know – those random tasks that you can’t do now, but will absolutely get buried in a task list or post-it note?
Yeah…create an event in Google Calendar and tell it to send you an email or notification on some day in the future. Free your brain space and rely on software for that boring stuff. Also – never forget anything!
33. Using a single digital task list
I don’t subscribe to any specific productivity system, but my favorite idea from Getting Things Done is to have a single gathering spot for Tasks. Having multiple places for reminders just creates more confusion. And having those reminders in physical format makes them inflexible.
I have Google Tasks in my Google Calendar and the Tasks app on my phone. All the random non-work tasks go straight there to be done, sorted, or sent to the future.
Aside – all my work projects and to dos (and occasional personal projects) are managed with Trello. The best project management system ever.
34. Batch checking email
Imagine if the mailman dropped off a piece of physical mail randomly throughout the day. Would you walk to go get each piece as soon as it came in? No! You’d waste half your day.
I know timeliness is important, but so it productivity. I check email in batches. No notifications, no leaving the tab open.
35. Archiving email in Gmail
I went years just leaving my emails sitting in my inbox. I had heard of the archive button, and seen it of course, but always thought it was kind of pointless to just shift email out of my inbox without deleting it. Turns out that having 1000s of emails sitting in my inbox added a small nagging feeling in my brain. Archive your email.
36. Doing Inbox Zero
I had heard of this concept, but didn’t even know it was an actual thing. I can attest that it’s legit. Getting rid of all your emails is a little thing that reduces minor stress.
37. Use the unsubscribe button in Gmail
Ruthlessly unsubscribe to emails. And if you can’t find the unsubscribe button, then use Gmail’s unsubscribe button.
38. Use Gmail keyboard shortcuts
The keyboard is way faster than my mouse. I finally broke down and learned a few key shortcuts. I clear out my email ridiculously fast so I can get on with what matters. Learn the shortcuts here.
39. Subscribing to favorite sites in RSS reader
I loved RSS back in the day when it was cool, but then I started consuming Internet media via social and manually visiting my favorite sites.
After going on a social media diet, I moved everything to an RSS reader and found it to be so much better on many levels. More focus, less distractions, less clickbait, and curated sources.
It’s a very small change. Just pick an RSS reader and drop your favorite sites in there. Pro tip – many social sites like Reddit even have RSS options.
40. Using the unfollow button on Facebook
I don’t frequently check Facebook, but when I do, I (like everyone) don’t enjoy being overloaded with game invites, mean or banal comment threads, irrelevant or divisive news stories, etc. Everyone I know complains about all of this, but what a lot of people don’t know about or don’t use is the Unfollow button.
I’ve used it a lot aggressively curate Facebook, and get a better feed.
41. Using a Read Later browser extension
There’s a lot of amazing content on the Internet. But reading it right when you find it can rapidly kill off productive time. I use Pinboard.in because it’s amazing, simple and open (it also has a business model). But you can also use Pocket, Chrome Bookmarks, or even Delicious – just something to bookmark something to read later when you have time to read it and preserve productive time.
42. Turning off all push notifications on my phone
When I got my first smartphone, the fact that every app could interrupt my life at any moment was definitely a bad idea. I took 5 minutes to dig around and turn off all push notifications. No interruptions so the phone does what I want it to do – not the other way around.
43. Changing my phone’s background
Again, default settings can be changed. I look at my phone a lot during the day. Taking the 1 minute to set a better background makes all those other moments happier.
44. Installing Flux for monitors
Too much screen time inhibits sleep…and yet I must/want to use the computer right up to bed. Flux slowly dims the screen brightness to sync with the time so that I fall asleep faster.
45. Properly writing computer file names
Whether I was creating a Word document, a text file, or a Google Spreadsheet, I used to just name files whatever…and proceed to lose them.
Create a standard syntax for all your files and stick with it. For me it’s [category initial]-[name]-[date]-[version]. For example, a personal travel document might be NS-Travel-Document-1.23.15 V1
46. Learning Shift + left mouse click to highlight a range
For years – years, I tell you, whenever I had to select several things on my computer, I would hold CTRL (or CMD on Mac) and slowing click…click…click…click until I had selected everything.
And then I discovered selecting my first item then holding Shift and clicking the last item on the series highlighted all the things – saving mindless minutes from my life.
That’s all for now! Hopefully you found an idea or two. Even if you aren’t actively making marginal improvements:
1. Start paying attention to things that you do differently now from the past
2. Notice small actions and habits that take place regularly – or even daily
3. Look for ways to change – ideally small changes since they are by their nature, small