5 Ways to Start the Year You Want Anytime You Want

5 Ways to Start the Year You Want Anytime You Want

by Mike Vardy of Productivityist.com

As we head deeper into the year, many of us have seen our BIG resolutions that we made fall by the wayside.  Why is that?  Perhaps it’s because our energy levels dipped and we couldn’t maintain the new habits that we had adopted.  Perhaps it’s because we weren’t really committed to giving them full effort in the first place and just felt that we ‘had’ to make some resolutions.  Or perhaps we simply lost our focus.

No matter what the reason is, just because we’re well past January 1st doesn’t mean we can’t have the year we want.  I’ll go as far to say that making resolutions at the start of the year is not the best idea anyway.  We’re just getting to the end of six weeks of holiday madness, our energy levels and emotions are scattered all over the place, and we’re feeling the pressure of a new calendar year that seemingly forces us to make decisions on adopting a new way of life – decisions that we haven’t completely thought out and habits we aren’t quite ready to adopt.

If you’re feeling like you’ve let yourself down because you haven’t kept up with your resolutions, don’t fret.  I propose that you can start the year you want anytime you want.

Here are 5 things you can do starting now to make that happen.

1.  Take a month to reflect and recharge.

If you find your mid-month or mid-year routines spinning your wheels, take one month and simply reflect on what you’ve done in the past few months – what’s working, what isn’t, potential changes that need to be implemented, etc.  Recharge your focus so that you can take on the months ahead.

Don’t start this process mid-month while you’re juggling a hundred different things; make sure you prepare yourself to start this exercise at the beginning of the next month and fully commit to it.  So, if you’re reading this in mid-March and you’re looking to take one month to reflect and recharge, plan to start promptly on April 1st.  Doing so will give you enough time to prepare for the month ahead in terms of lowering your workload and setting up proper expectations for both yourself and those who rely on you.

2.  Theme your months.

Another clever way to ensure that you can start the year you want anytime you want is to apply a theme to each month of the year.  For example, if you have a project or goal that you’ve been dying to work on, take a month of the year to make it your primary focus.  This isn’t to say that you have to completely ignore everything that’s unrelated to what you’re trying to achieve during that month.  Instead, by aligning that month with your specific project or goal, and making it the focal point, or theme, you are more likely to put forth the time and effort necessary to make significant progress on it.  (Read The Front Nine.)

3.  Classify days for heavy-lifting and light-lifting.

Use your days accordingly.  There are some days where you’re going to be able to spend a significant amount of time on your goal or project, and there will be days where you simply won’t be able to at all.  I use a system of ‘heavy-lifting’ and ‘light-lifting’ days to help me make measured progress on my goals and projects.  By taking the days that I know I’m going to be able to spend the bulk of my time on my goal or project, I allow myself some emotional support for those days where I can’t – and don’t feel bad about taking those days off in the process.

For example, if you work a day job from Monday through Friday, perhaps Saturday and Sunday could be a heavy-lifting days for that side project you’ve been working on, and the other five days can be light-lifting ones.  Or if like me, you’re a stay-at-home / work-at-home parent, you will have some days where you can work on that big goal, while others you are focusing on fulfilling your duty as a parent.

The key is to evaluate and plan your schedule enough to know which days are for heavy lifting and which days aren’t.  It’s going to be different for everyone, but by classifying both types of days it helps you prioritize and emotionally separate the various kinds of work you “should be doing.”  This prevents you from neglecting what you need to do for the sake of what you want to do, or from trying to do too much at once.

4.  Capture and curate.

Being busy and being productive are two totally different things.  For instance, rocking in a rocking chair can keep you busy, but it’s not going to get you anywhere. It’s all about figuring out how you can deliver the greatest positive impact on your projects and goals in a set amount of time.

Obviously you can’t do everything and still be productive; trying to do so is futile.  This is where capturing and curating come into play.  You should spend at least two weeks capturing and tracking your daily tasks on an hourly basis, or as often as you can through each day.  It’s a challenging habit to adopt, but once you’ve spent some time doing it, you can then begin the selective process of curating those tasks.  This involves reprioritizing, reordering, expanding, and eliminating tasks so that you really spend your time getting the right things done, instead of simply being busy just for the sake of appearing to be productive.

Again, by first tracking and capturing everything you do and then fine-tuning and curating your efforts, you give yourself the luxury of being able to accomplish more of the things that matter to you.  (Read Getting Things Done.)

5.  Manage your time realistically

Even after curating your tasks and time effectively, you’ll still have to give yourself the freedom to let some things go.  Some of what you tracked is not immediately important and will have to go on the back burner, and some of it will have to drop off your radar altogether.

The key to having the year you want anytime you want is to accept the limited amount of time you have to do something really, really great.  The value of quality over quantity is essential when it comes to how you mange your time, which in turn is essential to your long-term happiness and success.  Better to do one amazing thing than ten mediocre things.  Better to do one thing you really want to do, than ten things someone else wants you to do.  (Read 1,000 Little Things.)

One of the most powerful ways you can change your perspective on the time you have is to get a bird’s eye view of the year ahead.  A wall calendar that displays the entire year at a glance can do that for you (I use a large one-page calendar) as you can see what you’ve mapped out in the months to come and celebrate what you’ve achieved in the months gone by.

Get real with your year and you are well on your way to making it great, no matter when you decide to start it.

Mike Vardy is a husband, father, writer, podcaster, speaker, and ‘productivityist’.  In addition to writing for his blog, Productivityist.com, he contributes guest articles to several online and print publications on the topic of productivity, time, and task management, and just recently published his latest book, The Front Nine.

Photo by: Cornelia Kopp


  1. says

    Great list, Mike. A technique I use to “reset” my year after a slow start is to (a) think in terms of calendar quarters e.g. What do I want to achieve this quarter, and (b) follow the academic year, meaning my new year starts after Labor Day so I skip the self-fulfilling prophecy of breaking my New Year’s resolution. Every little trick counts when you’re in a slump!

  2. says

    Hey Mike.

    Here’s some reset questions I ask myself:

    1. What’s the best use of my time, energy and ability today?
    2. What do I need to achieve today?
    3. Am I the best person to do this job/task?
    4. Can this wait?
    5. In the context of my goals and priorities, is this important?
    6. Is there a more effective way to get the job done?


  3. Dev says

    Thanks for the bold reminder that each one of us always has the choice to turn things around and take another shot at our goals and resolutions. January 1st is just an arbitrary date. I really needed to read something like this in my life right now… thanks.

  4. J.J. says

    I work on this kind of productive stuff all the time and I have to say, this is one of the best, most clear and succint articles on the subject I have read – simple tips that work. I am going to be reading your other articles as well Mike. It can be so difficult to stay on track, but I really believe that giving ourselves little these chances to try again, and picking ourselves up every time fall short, is the way to success in the long term.

  5. says

    This is a great post! It’s funny how some people will make resolutions, slip up on them then feel bad about it and merely resolve to do better next year. Oh no! Tomorrow is a blank slate and you don’t have to wait long to work toward your goals.

    I like what you said about being busy doesn’t mean you’re productive and that you can’t do everything and still be productive. So true! I think about how help wanted ads will say “Must be able to multi-task” and I think huh?? Do you just want someone to do the job or do you want it done WELL? Anway, thank you for writing this. Very motivational/inspirational stuff here!

  6. says

    Great post!
    Love the idea of theming your months, going to implement that for next month. Thanks for that!
    For tracking your time, an app that really helps me is time tracker pro, might as well use technology to our benefit.
    I also find 3×5 cards to be very useful in reminding me of my goals. I can carry them wherever I go to remind me to stay on track.
    Awesome insights. Thanks for your excellent work!

  7. says

    Psychologically it is easier for a person to justify starting something new from a new year. For example my husband tries to quit smoking from the beginning of the month or the next week. I see it as an excuse. If you really want to change something or do something, just do it right now and today, there is no point to wait for the end of the month, year or week.

  8. says

    I have read somewhere that during certain times of the year our body feels more energetic and at times it is on a low.

    A person’s ability to observe this closely and do the important things during the high energy times is very imp for success.

  9. David Rapp says

    1. Fire
    2. Aim
    3. Ready

    I understand where all these ideas are coming from, but it sounds like productivity studies on assembly lines.

    Fire: do something. Enlist the core friends for support. Buy the books. Copy the articles, Etc. Aim: find the themes you did not know existed, mix with your own themes and see what turns out. I stumbled on keystone habits, a cure for regret and guilt, and an idea for poetry all while getting ready to change careers.

    Ready: now you can dig deeper, and use the approach from this article. Its good stuff, but I believe it works better when you have data from efforts versus a calendar.

  10. says

    @Tony Khuon It’s definitely true — whatever little tricks you can use to propel you forward when you’re stuck can make a big difference! Thanks for your insight — and for reading!

  11. says

    @Craig Harper – Those are great questions to ask yourself for sure. Anything you can use as “touchstones” to get you back on track — or on track in the first place — are good to have in your arsenal. (I may just use some of these myself!) Thanks for your comment and for giving my piece a read.

  12. says

    @Dev Glad the piece resonated with you — and glad it came along at a time when you really needed it. All the best to you — and thanks for your kind words!

  13. says

    @J.J. – Thanks for the “thumbs up” on my work — I’m pleased that you’ll be looking at my other stuff over at Productivityist.com (and hopefully beyond the walls of my own site). I’m happy the piece worked for you and look forward to running into you elsewhere online. Cheers!

  14. says

    @Akshay Nanavati — I carry around index cards with me wherever I go for capturing ideas, thoughts, potential projects, goals, and the like. There’s nothing quite like knowing that you’ve got something that won’t fail you (like a smartphone can when it runs out of juice) no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

    I’ve not looked at Time Tracker Pro…I’ll check it out. I’ve used RescueTime and Time Doctor in the past. I’m more of a “focus on task, not on time” kind of person, but I’ll definitely give it a look.

    Thanks for reading — and for sharing your thoughts!

  15. says

    @Jessica — The idea of waiting until the start of a month or week works for a lot of people because it gives them a visual touchstone to work with — one that doesn’t take up a lot of bandwidth to deal with as much as the actual actions required to start the new project/goal or (in your husband’s case) stop the bad habit. If the lack of follow-through is a repeat offence, then the start time isn’t the problem; the behaviour is. Starting is rarely the problem…it’s the finish that people have the problem with (that’s why there’s so many unfinished books out there, for example).

    No matter when you start, you need to plan for that start so that you have a better chance of seeing things through to the finish. Remember that old adage: If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.

    Thanks for teh comment — and for reading!

  16. says

    I am absolutely in love all the lovely reads provided by this blog.

    Though I didn’t set any resolution for the New Year, the idea of having themed months and days for heavy and light lifting really just make perfect sense to me.

    Thanks so much for the great insight!


  17. says

    #3 is my favorite (heavy lifting & light lifting days).

    I find it’s so helpful to recharge on Fridays by taking care of maintenance work, catching up on tasks I couldn’t finish throughout the week, running errands, etc.

    The key is to really focus on the high impact stuff on the other days…too many light days is not good either. :)

  18. says

    @Inspiring Citizen Rafi – You’re absolutely right. In fact, when using my task manager I have contexts like “high energy” and “low energy” assigned to certain tasks so that no matter what level of energy I’m feeling, I am able to move forward on my to do list (hat tip on this idea to Sven Fechner at SimplicityBliss.com).

    Thanks for reading — and for sharing your thoughts!

  19. says

    @David Rapp – I don’t disagree with you, but I think that a lot of people are still using calendars as touchstones for goals and projects more than a task management system (per se). Same goes for people using email applications as task management applications. My suggestions may actually lead to a behavioural change when it comes to the tools they’re using as opposed to the ideas they’re working towards completing. At least, I hope it gives people pause to look at them.

    Thanks for chiming in!

  20. says

    @IndieFromIndy – Thanks for reading the piece. I’m glad that the idea of themed months and adopting heavy and light lifting days is worth trying for you. Let me know how it goes!

  21. says

    @Kyle Richey – Thanks for providing your thoughts…and I couldn’t agree more with you about balancing heavy and light lifting days. Too many of either can really impact your productivity.

  22. says

    Another great post! The more often we re-evaluate and re-affirm our new years resolutions the more likely we’ll achieve them.

    I like to set monthly meetings with myself. I actually put them on the calendar and evaluate, plan, and strategize.

    Thanks for sharing.

  23. says

    I too love the idea of heavy and light lifting days. It’s so easy to beat yourself up if you don’t keep at your goal 100% of the time but sometimes being kind to yourself and taking time off really re-energizes and motivates you to carry on.

  24. says

    @Jeremy Binns – The monthly appointments with oneself are a great way to disconnect with the outer world so you can reconnect wit the things that really matter to you — and propel you forward. Love that idea…

    Thanks for reading…and for sharing as well!

  25. says

    It’s so easy to beat yourself up if you don’t keep at your goal 100% of the time, but sometimes being kind and patient with yourself is what’s missing. Small steps…

  26. angie says

    Hi guys! I wasn’t seeing your Facebook updates :( it’s been two days… miss reading your posts. Hope you get things worked out.

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