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5 Things to Do If You Aren’t Celebrating Christmas

5 Things to Do If You Aren’t Celebrating Christmas
5 Things to Do If You Aren’t Celebrating Christmas

Christmas is a great holiday — you get to spend a day with your family, wallowing in nostalgia and familial love, and you get presents on top of that! But what if you don’t celebrate Christmas? What if you’re not Christian, or your family is too far away, or you have no family, or you just aren’t in the mood?

If you aren’t celebrating Christmas, it can be a real drag — most stores are closed, there’s nothing good on TV, and everywhere you go there are constant reminders of the wonderful time other people are having. It’s no surprise that depression spikes around Christmas!

Well, here are a few things you could do to take advantage of the time off Christmas gives you.

  1. Get organized. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, why not make December 25th of every year your day to clean up and get organized? Collect your tax receipts in a box or folder to get ready for tax time, finish off any filing that’s been waiting to be done, throw out old magazines you aren’t going to read again (or at all — you know who you are!), straighten up your office or working area, clear off your bulletin boards, put up next year’s calendar, and just generally get ready for the new year.
  2. Be productive. We run a lot of posts at lifehack .org about dealing with distractions. If you’re not celebrating, though, then Christmas is a day without distractions — unless you lack the willpower to avoid watching that It’s a Wonderful Life and Christmas Story marathon on the oldies channel. Fire up your computer and get to work on whatever project’s been sitting on the back burner all year. Start your novel, write your business plan, or email the college buddies you’ve been out of touch with for years. Take this one day that society demands you take off to get started on something new, and let the momentum carry you through into the new year.
  3. Catch a movie, or two, or four. Most movie theaters are open on Christmas day, especially in communities where large non-Christian populations are found. Drive by a theater on Long Island (NY) on December 25th, and you’re liable to see a line around the building! Use the time to catch up on all the latest releases without feeling guilty about anything else you’re supposed to be doing. Go early in the day and catch matinées — you can probably squeeze two or three good ones in without spending too much money.
  4. Volunteer. In a perfect world, you’d be able to volunteer regularly throughout the year but if your schedule doesn’t allow it, at least take advantage of the one day you know you’re free to pitch in at a local charity. Look up local shelters, soup kitchens, or pantries in the Yellow Pages or online and call the day before to see if they can use some help. Leave behind the attitude that you’re offering your time and people should be grateful — you weren’t using that time anyway, remember? Go with an open mind and an open heart, and seriously think about doing this again next week, and the week after, and the week after that…
  5. Do An Annual Review. If you follow the GTD or similar systems, you already know how important regularly reviewing your todo list, projects, and goals can be. Why not take a couple of hours on Christmas Day, when you’re not doing anything else and distractions are at their lowest, to do a yearly review? Leave your daily lists out of this one, and think instead about the “big picture”: what did you accomplish the last year, what are you particularly proud of, what could you have done better, what bridges have you built — or burnt — along the way? What do you want to achieve next year, what projects do you want to start, who do you want to meet or get in touch with, what lessons can you apply to the new year? Really dig into yourself and figure out where you’re headed and what you have to do to get there.

If you’re not Christian, or you are but really don’t care about Christmas, it can feel as if Christmas is forced on you. And you’re right, it’s not fair, especially when you have to get special permission to celebrate your own holidays. But you can spend the day stewing over it, or you can take advantage of the fact that, for whatever reason, you’ve got a day off with minimal distractions — there’s not even mail! What is normally little more than a pipe dream — a day all to yourself! — comes to you all wrapped up with a pretty red-and-green bow.

What about you, lifehack.org readers? Those of you who won’t be celebrating tomorrow, what are you planning to do? How can your fellow readers make the most out of this day off?

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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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The power of habit

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to make a reminder works for you

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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