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Why I Start the New Year in February

Why I Start the New Year in February
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    I’ve written about my idea of starting the new year off in February before here at Lifehack, but I only touched on some of the more obtuse reasons why it’s an ideal time to do so. This time around, I want to focus on the more practical reasons behind why I make the second month of the year my starting point…and why you should consider it too.

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    1. February is closer to tax time

    In the United States (and in Canada, for that matter), April is the time of year where we have to deal with taxes. By starting off the new year in February, you’re through the rush (and imminent hangover) that accompanies the tail end of the year and are fresh and ready to take on the undertaking of getting everything ready to go. Plus, it’s more at front of mind because any holiday credit card bills will have already arrived and any uncertainty left over from December and the start of January will have been dealt with by the time February 1st rolls around.

    2. Starting in February opens up July, August, December and January as vacation months

    Think about it. Those who take on new activities in January (thanks to those ever-present new year’s resolutions) start off the new year with less actual energy than those who hold off until February. They are still wiped from the events of the previous month. But if you give yourself that extra month (January) to wind up your year, you actually free it up for downtime. That also means you can afford to (both mentally and emotionally) take time off in December and enjoy the holidays without worrying about all the work that January is going to bring. You also give yourself a six-month buffer between thee winter months and summer months (in the northern hemisphere, that is). So as the kids leave school at the end of June, you’re not feeling like you need that mid-year break right away (you know, that break you don’t really get). Instead, you can ease into summer and take your mid-year break in the heart of the hottest months of the year.

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    3. Starting in February allows for gearing up for September

    Since starting the new year in February shifts your start date by an entire month, it makes the start of the school year (September) that much closer to the midway point. Rather than have it start of the final third of the year, it is positioned sooner and allows you to have that break in the middle of the year to reconnect and refocus just as September begins. This is great for parents who often look at September as another start to the year (renowned author of The Happiness Project Gretchen Rubin views September as the start of her year, for example), and if you don’t have children yet but are looking to do so down the road then you’re putting yourself in a great place to deal with thee month by making the halfway mark of your year now.

    4. February is a shorter month

    When we make any sort of resolution or start a new habit, we want to stick with it for as long as possible in order to give ourselves a greater chance of success. Often we will use the start of a month to start those efforts, and the beginning of the year is no different — except when you make February the beginning of the year. Since February is the shortest month, you’ll have less days in succession to concern yourself with. So that means you’ll be able to see the end of the cycle that much sooner come into play — and it may very well mean that you can continue to keep the momentum going into March and beyond.

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    The bottom line is that you can really start the new year you want anytime you want. The calendar is just more of a road-map than a rule. And the thing about a road-map is that it gives you many ways to get to where you want to go. I choose to take one of the roads with less traffic.

    Which road do you take…and why? Let me know in the comments below.

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    Photo: “February” courtesy of Shutterstock.

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    Mike Vardy

    A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

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

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    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.”[1]

    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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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    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 6 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.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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