In theory, this section should be the biggest part of the book. But it isn’t, because after you’ve made a plan for your New Year’s resolutions, the only way you’re going to achieve your resolutions is to simply act on your plan. No matter how great your plan is, you absolutely have to put in the time and the effort if you want to achieve your resolutions.

But I have good news for you. Since you have already calculated how much time, willpower, and motivation your resolutions will cost you, as well as figured out which resolutions are aligned with your values, when you hunker down to get your resolutions done, you will absolutely be able to muster the motivation you need to achieve them. And since you have already developed a plan to keep your resolutions, you have a detailed path set out before you with exactly what you need to do to keep them.

When you act on your resolutions, I think it’s very helpful to have a few strategies for not only picking what you should focus on, but also for actually structuring your time on a day-to-day basis. That’s what this section is about. I’m not much of a motivational writer, but if you bring the motivation, I promise I’ll give you with the tools you need to get the job done. Here are five of those tools and techniques.

The Rule of 3

One of the simplest, most powerful time management techniques I’ve come across is the “Rule of 3″ (from the book Getting Results the Agile Way).

The rule is very simple:

  • First, write down three things you want to accomplish today.
  • Second, write three things you want to accomplish this week.
  • Third, write three things you want to achieve this year.

That’s it.

The book has four recommendations for when you implement the rule:

  1. Start every day by figuring out what to focus on for the day.
  2. Test yourself throughout the day – do you remember what your three priorities are?
  3. Improve your estimates – pay attention to how long you think things will take, and improve your estimates as time goes on.
  4. Feel good about your results! Pat yourself on the back after you achieve what you set off to, for the day, week, and year.

The Rule of Three is a great system to implement if you’re not looking to overhaul how you manage your life. Every morning you think about the main three things you have to do, and then you do them. It’s a great technique to figure out what you need to focus on.

The best part of the rule is it lets you connect your daily goals to your weekly goals, and your weekly goals to your yearly goals. New Year’s is a terrific time to step back from your life and set goals, and the Rule of 3 is a method to filter those goals down to your daily life.

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a simple time management technique that breaks your time down into chunks. For 25 minutes you turn off all possible distractions, and then work on only one thing for that time. After your first “pomodoro”, you take a five-minute break, then wash, rinse, and repeat two more times. After that, you work for another 25 minutes and take a 15-minute (or longer) break. Here’s what one pomodoro cycle looks like:

The main benefit of the Pomodoro Technique (named after the pomodoro tomato kitchen timer) is that it reduces the ugly, ambiguous tasks on your to-do list down into something you do in a series of easy-to-manage, 25-minute chunks of time. This means you don’t have to go at something blind, which will stop you from pushing back the things you don’t know how to start.

Here’s why the Pomodoro Technique is so great:

  • It gets you unstuck because it completely changes how you think about your work and your time
  • It forces you to sit your ass down and focus for a solid 25 minutes at a time–something that’s pretty hard with so many distractions buzzing around
  • It plays with your subconscious mind. If you have an actual timer, winding it up confirms your determination to start a task, the ringing lets you know there’s a break, and you will begin to associate focus and flow with your timer (or iPhone app, in my case)
  • It creates a structure for otherwise ambiguous tasks

Not only is the pomodoro technique a great time management technique, it’s also really easy to integrate it into your workflow. First, make a simple list of the stuff you need to get done. Second, fire (or wind) up your pomodoro timer (my favorites for iPhone: Focus Time ($4.99), Simple Pomodoro Timer (free); for Android: Pomodoro Timer Lite (free), Pomodoro Timer Pro ($1.99)), and work in 25-minute chunks. Make sure you turn off your outside distractions during each work cycle. Finally, after you finish each pomodoro, put an “X” next to each task you dedicate them to! It’s that simple.

The Two Minute Rule

However you manage your schedule, it’s easy to get caught in a trap of adding absolutely everything to your to-do list because, man, that feeling of crossing something off of that list just feels so good.

But there is a quick and dirty rule in GTD that will spoil all of that fun – the Two Minute Rule. I love this rule because even though it will ruin the fun of crossing a bunch of little things off of your list, it’s like a shield that defends your to-do list from unimportant things, and it gives you less things to do in the first place!

The Two-Minute Rule: The moment you realize you have to do something (like when you receive an email you have to action), if it will take less than two minutes, do it. If it will take more than two minutes, schedule completing it later.

In practice the rule works incredibly well, because it takes the thinking out of prioritizing tasks and picking which one to do. It’s very easy to lose a ton of time scheduling tasks, organizing your emails, and so on. When you just do something, you eliminate all of that cruft. As Allen put it in my interview with him, “it will take you longer to stack and track [some tasks] and remind yourself than if you finish it the first time it’s in your face”.

The rule is quick and simple, but it’s also really freaking effective.

Vignette: Save More Money

by J. Money

There are a few resolutions that require more tailored advice (in particular: quitting smoking, saving more money, getting organized, and eating healthier), and in those cases I’ve invited an expert on those topics to provide a few quick tips to help you achieve your goals.

There are a ton of experts giving advice when it comes to money, specifically saving it, but if you’re anything like me you need this stuff to be fairly fun, or at least actionable, to get you going. And even better – a challenge. So I’ve whipped up a few of my favorite ways to save money in this new year, and I hope one of them gets you to do exactly that: act. Good luck!

Saving challenge #1: Track every single expense for the next 30 days. That may sound funny as you’re focusing on money going out rather than coming in, but I guarantee you after the first few days you’ll start double-thinking all those purchases you’re about to make. And by the end of the 30 days you’ll have saved a lot more than you would have without tracking! (Plus, a bonus is you’ll get a much better understanding of your money the longer you keep it up.)

Saving challenge #2: The "No Spend" challenge. Similar to idea #1, the deal here is to consciously get you to pay attention to each and every transaction you’re making. With the "no spend" challenge, you’re only allowed to pay for things that are necessities (rent, mortgage, utilities, etc), and your goal is to stay away from anything out side of that such as eating out or shopping, or even going to the movies. Depriving yourself of these luxuries will not only give you a better appreciation for your money/life, but it’ll save you a ton in the process!

Saving challenge #3: The 52 Weeks Savings Challenge. This one is pretty popular with people because it only requires you to put some cash in a jar once a week – no other work required! All you do is put $1.00 in a jar on Monday of week #1, and then up it by another dollar each consecutive week. So, for week #1 it’s $1.00, then week #2 it’s $2.00, then week number 3 it’s $3.00 and on and on until you reach the 52nd one (which you’d have placed $52 aside). Doing this for 52 straight weeks will net you a whopping $1,378 at the end of the year! Pretty cool, right? And, super easy.

Saving challenge #4: The Spare Change/Dollars Challenge. This one’s also a fun and easy one. All you do is throw your spare change at the end of every night into a jar and watch it pile up! Some days you’ll have a ton of it to add to the pot, while others nothing at all (especially if you’re doing challenge #2! :)). And if you don’t find that quite challenging enough, up it a level and put all *single dollar bills* into the jar instead every night. By the end of the year you will have one plump bucket!

*BONUS* Challenge: Set up a new savings account and automate a monthly transfer. This is the easiest challenge of them all as it only requires you to do a couple of steps once, and then step back and let the system work for you! Step #1 is to create a new savings account at any bank of your choice – preferably one outside of your current bank so there’s less temptation to pull from it. Then step #2 is to set up an automatic transfer to it once a month! It could be $25, $50, or even $100. Whatever you can comfortably squirrel away without worrying about anything. And it can be done by logging onto your bank account to set up the transfer, or by contacting your human resources at work and asking them to divert it through your paycheck. Whatever the method, it all goes to siphoning away money without any extra thoughts on your behalf. And the longer you leave it be, the bigger your stash will get!

Any of these challenges can help you in the long run, but it only works if you pick one and *take action*. So start today! Which challenge will it be?

J. Money is the creator of the popular finance blog, Budgets Are Sexy, where he has been writing about budgeting and saving money for more than five years.

The Four-Criterion Model

The “four-criterion” model isn’t the wildest name for a time management technique, but it’s a damn effective way to to determine the very next thing you need to do. Taken straight from David Allen’s Getting Things Done, the method is quite simple, and it involves four steps:

1

What context are you in? If you’re at work, it’s going to be pretty hard for you to clean the kitchen. The context you are in narrows down your list of possible actions considerably.

2

How much time do you have available? How long until your next meeting or commitment? Having a meeting in an hour or in ten minutes will drastically change what you can do.

3

How much energy do you have? After you determine your context and time available, look at how much physical and mental energy you have to get something done.

4

Finally, what are the highest priority tasks that you’ll be able to accomplish with how much time and energy you have?

The great thing about this model is it reduces decision-making from a tedious chore to a systematic process. The model works best with the GTD system, but it can truly be applied by anyone, at any time.

Make Bad Habits More “Expensive”

According to the book Nudge, “[r]oughly speaking, losing something makes you twice as miserable than gaining the same thing makes you happy”, people hate losing what they have, but that’s not entirely a bad thing, because you can use the power of “loss aversion” to keep your New Year’s resolutions.

My girlfriend and I live together, and one of the things we try to do is train each other help each other change for the better. We both read way too many books about productivity, and have experimented with a lot of stuff that works and doesn’t work. Nothing has been better for changing our eating habits than having penalties for eating junk food. Below is a picture of our fridge with our penalties for eating foods we want to cut out.

The penalties work because of the power of loss aversion. You won’t want to lose money so much that you won’t do (or in my case, eat) what’s on the penalty list.

To use ‘loss aversion’ to help you keep your resolutions, you’ll need two things:

  1. A friend who is willing to make a list of their own bad habits that they want to change
  2. An awareness of the bad habits you already have that you want to change. (You can try to go at it yourself, but doing it with a friend is much easier–trust me on this one.)

Then, come up with a list of penalties. Each time you do something on the penalty list, pitch in a predetermined amount into a pool that goes toward a charity, or give the money to your friend. Or for a bit of extra motivation donate the money to a cause you hate! It’s a good idea to plan out how often you’re able to “cheat” so you can let some air out of your tires later on.

If you live with someone or have a friend who’s willing to help you kick the bad foods out of your diet, use the power of loss aversion to your advantage. It works.

Vignette: Eat Better

by Rachel Caven

There are a few resolutions that require more tailored advice (in particular: quitting smoking, saving more money, getting organized, and eating healthier), and in those cases I’ve invited an expert on those topics to provide a few quick tips to help you achieve your goals.

So you’ve decided that you want to eat healthier in the new year.. what should you do next? Here are three of my favourite tips to help you eat better in the new year!

1. Drink more water

Most people don’t realize how little water they drink. A lot of people use the excuse that they don’t want to be running to the bathroom on a regular basis, however, that’s a good thing! Your kidneys and liver need water to help filter your blood. Not drinking enough water can cause numerous symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, hunger (your body can mistake thirst signals for hunger), and bloating! Yes, that’s right; not drinking enough water can cause your body to retain water. Dehydration is also stressful on your body, which can cause your body to store fat. How do you know if you are getting enough? Your urine should be clear and odourless throughout the day (with the exception of first thing in the morning and after taking a vitamin supplement). Tips to drink more water:

  • Always drink water first thing in the morning before coffee or food. Keep a glass by your nightstand to help you get in the habit.
  • Purchase a stainless steal or glass water bottle and take it with you everywhere!
  • Limit other beverages (coffee, sodas, juice) and drink water instead. Flavour your water with lemon, lime, orange slices, or herbal tea bags.
  • Eat lots of fruits and veggies–they’re full of water!

2. Eat your greens

Leafy greens are the most nutritionally dense food you can get! They are full of nutrients, fibre, and chlorophyll (which helps your body filter your blood). Greens are also a great source of iron which keeps your energy up.Tips to eat more greens:

  • Purchase a tub of organic spinach every week and make it a goal to go through it by the end of the week.
  • Put a handful of greens in every meal, like in smoothies, omelettes, soups, stir fries, stews, chilis, and salads (obviously). When greens are cooked they become very small and you won’t even notice them.
  • If fresh greens aren’t an option, keep a powdered greens supplement or liquid chlorophyll on hand to use in a pinch.

3. Eat every colour every day

Study after study has shown that the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the healthier you are. Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. Every colour is responsible for a different antioxidant, so try to eat the entire rainbow everyday! For example:

  • Red: cranberries, pomegranates, red apples, raspberries, strawberries, beets, red peppers
  • Blue/purple: blueberries, blackberries, purple cabbage
  • Orange: oranges, grapefruit, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, yams
  • Green: leafy greens, spinach, kale, arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts
  • White: cauliflower, onions, garlic

Tips to eat more colour:

  • Start your day with a mixed berry smoothie (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries) and add a handful of greens to get most of the colours in before your day starts.
  • Try to make your meals as colourful as possible by using a variety of vegetables. This is the healthiest and most visually pleasing way to eat.
  • It’s ok to use frozen veggies in the winter (especially if you live in a northern climate where fresh produce isn’t seasonal). Purchase pre-cut mixed veggies and stir fry mixes for a quick, colourful meal.

If you’ve made a resolution to eat better in the new year, start by drinking more water, eating your greens, and eating every color every day!

Rachel Caven owns a private nutritional consulting business in Ottawa, Canada, and is also a contributor to Chatelaine Magazine, Alive Magazine, CTV Morning Live, and the Ottawa Sun.

One final kick in the butt

If you plan to run a marathon, and then buy expensive running shoes, a subscription to Runner’s World, a fancy new water bottle, and a bunch of books about running, you’ll definitely be more prepared for your marathon. But the only way to actually complete a marathon is to physically put one foot in front of the other, and then continually invest a substantial amount of time and energy into running, day after day, until you’re able to run a marathon.

You can’t escape the effort it will take you to run a marathon, or stick to your New Year’s resolutions. At the end of the day, the only way to keep your New Year’s resolutions is to act toward them.

Next Chapter

Go Easy On Yourself

Six ways to go easy on yourself when you keep your resolutions