DAY 1: Floss your teeth. Do it every day for the rest of your life.
This core dental hygiene technique will clean your teeth and gums of plaque, protecting your teeth as you age and saving you on dental bills. Some studies have even found that flossing is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and dementia.
DAY 2: Break a sweat. Do it every day for the rest of your life.
Think you’re too busy to work out? Tell that to GE CEO Jeff Immelt, who gets up at 5:30 every morning for a cardio workout; or Xerox CEO Ursula Burns who has an hour of personal training at 6 a.m. twice a week; or Square CEO Jack Dorsey, who gets up similarly early to take six-mile jogs; or Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who likes to ride his bike every morning.
DAY 3: Write in a journal. Do it every day for the rest of this program.
“When people have the opportunity to reflect, they experience a boost in self-efficacy,” says HBS professor Francesca Gino. “They feel more confident that they can achieve things. As a result, they put more effort into what they’re doing and what they learn.”
So as a part of this life-improvement adventure, we’re asking you to reflect on your day, plus on whatever journeys we send you on. You should also take the opportunity to look at the tasks that lie ahead and start making plans for the ones that require preparation.
If you find journaling to be useful, then we encourage you to keep it up for the rest of your life.
DAY 4: Start reading a novel.
Let’s start in on something scarce in modern life: reading an actual novel.
Why fiction? Because research shows that literature trains you in empathy (because it’s a simulation of social experience) and generally makes you a better person.
Lots of research suggests that reading trains you for living your life.
“The seemingly solitary act of holing up with a book . . . is actually an exercise in human interaction,” Scientific American reports. “It can hone your social brain, so that when you put your book down you may be better prepared for camaraderie, collaboration, even love.”
DAY 5: Go on a lunch date with a colleague you don’t know well.
When you think of networking, you probably imagine grabbing a coffee or drink with a potential client, employer, or mentor for the benefit of your own career. But you might be missing out on valuable relationships in your own office.
Rather than eating lunch at your desk or with a buddy, strike up a conversation with an acquaintance and see if they’d like to grab something to eat.
DAY 6: Go to a museum.
Even more, going to a museum is a novelty-seeking venture, which triggers your brain to be open to learning. Not only does this provide long lasting cognitive benefits, it’s also connected to one of the Big 5 personality traits — openness to experience. This is the trait most associated with creative achievement.
DAY 7: Volunteer.
Engaging in generous behavior makes people feel good — as good as if their household income doubled, according to a study by Harvard Business School researchers.
And that strong feeling you get from connecting with those you’re helping out is actually having a physical effect on your body. The oxytocin hormone our brain releases during moments of empathy lowers levels of the stress-causing cortisol hormone.
The good thing about all of these selfish reasons is that when you start volunteering, you’ll probably like it and do it regularly and make the world a better place.
DAY 8: Connect your life to a spending app.
Money is dangerously easy to spend, and if you’re not tracking it, you’ll spend it even faster.
DAY 9: Get rid of *almost* everything you haven’t worn in a year.
It’s also good for your home to get rid of clutter and, conversely, good to make room for new clothes that you’ll like a lot more.
DAY 10: Get your email under control.
Going forward, try using filters to group important emails or automatically archive ones you don’t want to delete, like receipts, but don’t want in your inbox either.
DAY 11: Reach out to three people who you haven’t talked to in years.
So take some time to reconnect with three former friends or associates that you haven’t talked to in years. Not only will it feel good to get back in touch, but there’s a chance one or both of you will be helpful to the other.
DAY 12: Go see a live show.
Steve Jobs used to say that the people with the most insight were those that had the biggest “bag of experiences.”
Shows affect people. A 2002 survey found that attending such events increases cultural understanding, increases sense of connection to the community, and inspires personal creativity.
DAY 13: Go on a trip to somewhere you’ve never been before.
Heading to previously unknown locales — even if that means the next town over — is fantastic for you neurological and psychological well-being. A 2013 study found that travel reduces the risk of heart attack, lessens depression, and increases brain health.
DAY 14: Make art.
The research suggests that creating visual art has these effects:
• Improved well–being by decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive ones
• Improvements in flow and spontaneity, expression of grief, positive identity, and social networks
• Reductions in distress and negative emotions
DAY 15: Figure out the lifestyle you want in the future.
The problem with planning your life is that there are an impossibly high number of variables — as LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and Apple CEO Tim Cook have noted.
In this classic exercise, you write out your idealized, perfect day in great detail, beginning from what time you get up and what you have for breakfast all the way through what you do for each hour of the day and who you talk to. The more detail you can add to the plan, the better.
Then you begin to make plans to adjust your life to get closer to the perfect day you’ve designed for yourself. If you take this exercise seriously, you may begin making more conscious decisions about how you spend your time and what you focus on. Even if you don’t make a lot of changes, you’ll learn a lot about yourself based on the information you acquire.
DAY 16: Take control of your online passwords.
At the very least, you should take this occasion to change all your passwords and make sure you have two-step verification enabled for everything, with backup codes printed and stored in a secure location.
DAY 17: Make a financial plan for the future.
It’s time to think big. Get an idea of when your goals will become reality by listing:
– Your financial goals. These are major purchases or achievements like getting out of debt, buying a home, paying for a wedding, and taking that trip to the French Riviera.
– Your income. If you already have a budget, you should know this number cold, but if not, include your take-home pay as well as any other income streams you may have.
– Your debts. Do you have credit card debt, student loans, a car loan, or a mortgage? These payments are obligations you must meet, so take them into account when planning how much money goes toward your goals.
DAY 18: Rigorously update your LinkedIn page.
Updating and improving your LinkedIn profile not only prepares you for your next job but also forces you to examine your career objectively.
Take a look at your page right now and view it the way a recruiter would. First of all, make sure your photo is a quality portrait that presents you the way you want to look in your industry. If you’re going for a job on Wall Street, for example, you should be in formal wear; if you’re a Bay Area techie, it’s probably best to appear in a nice T-shirt.
DAY 19: Reach out to two people you admire but have never met.
You’d be surprised at the connections you can make with highly influential people just by sending the right email.
To be clear, don’t expect to set up a coffee date with President Obama anytime soon, but consider some of your favorite writers, entrepreneurs, artists, athletes — anyone influential that you would enjoy hearing from. You’re going to have the best luck with someone who is currently out of the limelight, since they’ll have an inbox that isn’t flooded with media requests.
Personal finance author Ramit Sethi recommends sending an email that follows this format: Introduce yourself, reach a commonality (i.e. explain how has this person influenced you), and then ask a question.
Keep things concise, and be humble. And make sure that whatever you ask this person can’t be answered with a simple Google search.
Once you get in touch with this person — whether you get a single-line emailed response or a meeting over coffee — be sure to follow up with them.
Sethi says that refined networking skills separate the mediocre from the truly successful and that the best $100 you can spend in a year will be on grabbing coffee with those who can help you advance your career.
DAY 20: Spend at least three hours in nature.
Spending time in nature lowers stress levels, restores mental energy, improves vision, and provides a creativity boost — along with much more.
Not only is going outside good for you, it should also be enjoyable. You can combine breaking a sweat and spending time with friends and do something that should leave you better off afterward.
DAY 21: Cook an ambitious dinner using unprepared foods.
Take this final day to celebrate with friends and also practice a crucial skill.
Cooking at home “solves everything,” according to bestselling author and James Beard Foundation Leadership Award winner Mark Bittman. He writes that people who eat at real food cooked at home eat significantly healthier meals and save money. Plus, research shows that food tastes better if you’ve worked to prepare it.
Eating dinner with friends is about as good a bonding experience as there is, too. Regale them with stories from the past three weeks about how your life has changed for the better.