17 small upgrades and new habits that changed our lives in 2018

Treat yourself.
Treat yourself.
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The most meaningful changes we make in a year often bear no resemblance to the grandiose resolutions we made at the year’s start. We don’t break that bad habit or tackle that big challenge we swore we would as last year’s ball dropped; we end the year in the same job or home or personal rut in which we began it.

Life happens. The time and energy we planned to spend on lofty self-appointed goals gets diverted to more immediate challenges—recovering from an injury, for example, or dealing with an unexpected problem at work or at home. Those can be some of the hardest shifts to make. But they can also be the most rewarding.

Rather than focus on problems and shortcomings to fix in 2019, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the small changes that made our lives better in 2018. The team at Quartz has shared ours here. Some of these changes are big, and some are small; some were about trying something new, and some were about letting go of what didn’t work anymore. But all of them made our lives better, and that’s worth raising a toast to this holiday season.

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I started listening to bedtime stories

My 2018 hack is listening to audiobooks when I’m falling asleep. I’ve tried to do fiction but have found dialogue a bit confusing (maybe starting with Lincoln in the Bardo wasn’t the best idea). So I exclusively listen to memoirs or collections of essays written in the first person. I like hearing the author’s voice as they tell their story. I’ve listened to David Sedaris’ Calypso and Marina Abromovic’s Walk Through Walls, and Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? There’s something really soothing about listening to a story before bed, kind of like being read to by your parents when you were a kid. —Lauren Brown, special projects editor

I stopped taking it easy at the gym

An absolutely brutal, exhausting, limit-pushing gym class somehow made me feel better in 2018. Before I started it, I thought I was in decent shape. I had a regular weight routine, a pretty healthy diet. It was fine. And then I got offered a free bootcamp class at an event. It killed me. Halfway through I was completely out of breath and couldn’t even finish. It changed how I looked at my health. My response was to start taking this training class, and at first it was rough. But I kept showing up. No big long-term goals. Just show up and get through it. Over time, it’s made me feel healthier, stronger, and less stressed. When I walk out I’m too tired to hang on to petty annoyances that were bugging me, and sometimes I can feel like I’ve overcome my limits. I recommend it. Just start, and don’t worry about your limits. We all have them. Just keep showing up. —Marc Bain, fashion reporter

I started bullet journaling

I’m a fairly organized person, because I’m naturally a not-very-organized person: I need some way to not have all the carefully choreographed pieces of my life fall down around my ears. When I read the Quartz Obsession on bullet journaling, I realized that my over-organization was actually leading to disorganization, and the whole bullet journaling process was a whole lot simpler than internet washi-tape enthusiasts had led me to believe. I had too many little notebooks and too many systems. One system + one notebook + zero washi tape = the least stressful Thanksgiving I’ve ever had. And I hosted twice. In 48 hours. —Susan Howson, deputy push editor

I stopped enjoying my phone

At the beginning of this year I decided I would try to spend less time looking at my phone. I’m not the worst phone addict I know, but the combination of Slack and texts and Instagram had started taking up just a little too much of my attention outside of work hours. I had read somewhere online about turning your phone to black and white to make it less appealing, so I decided to try it. It worked in that it made my phone decidedly not-fun to look at. I might go so far as to say I found my phone actively repulsive. And so, yes, I looked at it less. I read more, and was more engaged with people around me. —Alex Ossola, deputy special projects editor

I started improving my hydration game

I started making very weak ice tea at home every day. This is my process.

I put two green tea bags in a quart pitcher and fill it up with hot faucet water (my faucet runs quite hot). Thirty minutes to an hour later, it’s a perfectly mild tea. The leaves haven’t been burnt and there’s no bitterness. Since I started doing this, I’ve been more hydrated, healthy and things have just been going better for me in general. So much so that I’ve developed a saying: “Change your water. change your life.” —Max Lockie, platform editor

I stopped using my phone at night

I really focused on increasing the productivity of my mornings this year. One of the things I realized was that poor sleep was really messing up my mornings. I did a lot of things to make my sleep better, and one of them was spending less time on my phone in the evenings. The Offtime app really helped me do that. I have it configured to gradually reduce my access to my phone starting at 7 p.m.

I can’t access social media after 7 p.m. I can’t access email after 8 p.m. I can’t access Chrome after 9 p.m. I can’t access anything but my task-tracking app, maps, and my dialer after 10 p.m. Then everything comes back at 5 a.m. It just makes it easier for me to wind down over the course of the evening. I’m more present with my husband through the evening too, which is another plus. I find that I fall asleep faster, and when I wake up in the middle of the night I get back to sleep faster, because I can’t mess with my phone. —Phoebe Gavin, growth editor

I started lying down more often

I’ve been re-habbing a bum shoulder for the last couple of months, which has eliminated my usual life-improving ritual of getting in the water to swim or surf. Instead, twice a day, I do a series of boring stretches with a resistance band. The final exercise is simply to lie on my back with a towel rolled up beneath the length of my spine for three minutes. This helps open up my shoulders, which are often slumped over a keyboard, but it also serves as a sort of lazy man’s meditation. For just 180 seconds at the day’s beginning and end, I’m not looking at my phone, reading, or talking. I’m just gazing up. In the morning, I’ve taken to laying the towel down in the grass in my front yard. Today, a charm of finches was going wild, fluttering and singing while the rising sunlight crept down the top of a poplar. It gave me some new perspective. —Jenni Avins, Quartzy reporter

I stopped messing up work emails

I type the way I talk: too quickly, and, with a lot of accidental blunders. Almost all of these errors are fixable, save for one that I used to make with maddening frequency: sending emails too early. I’d be typing out a request to a company representative or university professor, doing my best to project competent professionalism, when a mystery keystroke [Ed. note: It is not a mystery, it’s ⌘/Ctrl + Enter] would send a typo-filled half-written draft to the recipient.

The solution was small, painless, and reduced these mortifying incidents by 100%: I started pasting the recipient’s email address in the subject line instead of the “To” field, and simply move it to the correct place once the email is finished and proofread. Why this did not occur to me before, I don’t know. But once the worry about making a stupid mistake lifted, I found that I tackled my work with more confidence and energy. —Corinne Purtill, Quartz At Work reporter

I started meditating in the shower, and stopped bringing my laptop home

There is a mindfulness practice I have been doing in the shower. Basically, if my mind begins to wander and I catch myself worrying or thinking about all of the things I have to do, I focus on the shower. It has worked for me because there are so many sounds and sensations in the shower that can help pull you back into the present moment. It also has kept me grateful for the shower.

In addition, I haven’t been bringing my computer home. All I have in my room is my record player and a typewriter. Typing on a machine as simple as a typewriter strips the stress and pressure out of the writing process. It also makes you pay more attention to writing truly beautiful sentences, because there isn’t an option to delete. —Quincey Tickner, associate growth editor

I started showering before the gym

One of my least favorite parts of working out is sweating. I’m a morning shower-taker, and a morning gym-goer, so the double whammy of waking up and sweating on top of whatever oil and grossness builds up on the body overnight just made me want to skip the whole affair. After a few weeks of morning misery, I decided to embrace my compulsive cleanliness and do my proper shower—hair-washing, leg-shaving, etc.—before putting on my gym clothes. Then I’d work out and hop into the shower again for a 30-second rinse-off afterwards. Minimal water wasted (I’m a speedier shower-er when I’m trying to hit the gym before work), and better workout achieved.

This isn’t just a neurotic thing: Hot showers can wake you up, boost your body temperature and blood flow, relax your muscles, and (very important!) reduce the likelihood that the person on the next treadmill smells you before he sees you. —Kira Bindrim, managing editor

I stopped using social media apps on my phone

Over the summer I was home a lot, and seeing tons of photos of people traveling and living their #bestlife on Instagram wasn’t helpful. Earlier in the year I had been spending far too much time aimlessly scrolling through all the different apps, so I removed them from my phone. I decided to just slow down the feed of content to my brain. It’s been very liberating. Though I still have accounts, they are slightly harder to access, and the less time I spend on social media, the more I realize I’m really not missing anything at all. —Eshe Nelson, markets and economics reporter

I started using a real alarm clock

After spending a week in February with the worst insomnia I’d ever had, I was determined to get my sleep hygiene in order. I bought a very cheap alarm clock so that I no longer needed to keep my phone by my bed. It has managed to make my bedroom more of a mental safe space—to be very millennial about it—as I know news, or work, or social media is not sleeping next to me. Also, it’s eliminated my terrible habit of scrolling through Instagram to delay getting up out of bed. Once I’m up; I’m up—and Instagram can wait. —Rosie Spinks, Quartzy reporter

I stopped spending time on things that don’t matter

I finally tried out the quadrant system credited to US president Dwight D. Eisenhower. Every item on your to-do list goes into one of four boxes on a scale, between urgent/not urgent and important/not important. Avoid the not urgent/not important stuff. Prioritize the rest accordingly. It works really, really well to get to the “important but not urgent” stuff that really matters over the arc of your career, but is hard to do amid the daily crush. —Michael Coren, Silicon Valley reporter

I started celebrating the small stuff

Every year I set small, achievable goals. This year they were: not looking at my phone when I cross the street, framing all of my art, getting real light fixtures, and getting at least one facial.

I’ve found that accomplishing small things that feel like milestones of adulthood has a positive effect on the way I feel. The reasons I picked each goal were small and random, but they were all things I associated with moving from my mid-twenties to closer to 30. They’re kind of arbitrary and appearance-based, but behind each is the idea that if I perform these things that seem like steps towards adulthood, I’ll feel more adult. Having done them, I think it actually works.

The only exception was the first one—not looking at my phone when I cross the street. That’s just a personal safety thing. —Colette Keane, brand marketing manager

I stopped sleepwalking through breakfast

My favorite weekend breakfast at home has always been two eggs with spinach, cheese, and hot sauce. This year, I started making it for myself during the week. It takes only a few more minutes than putting a bagel in the toaster or yogurt in a bowl, and it has become a little routine of self-love. I absolutely deserve my favorite, nutritious meal before I go take on a hectic day. It’s a simple act that reminds myself that I am worth taking care of, and capable of doing so even with all the pressures of the day ahead of me. —Katherine Ellen Foley, health and science reporter

I started going to an expensive gym

I got an expensive gym membership, as suggested by Alison Schrager in Quartz. I wish I went more, but I’m happy with my attendance. Next year will be better. Akshat Rathi, science reporter