15 tiny tweaks to your daily routine that can make you smarter, healthier, and more sane

Published December 3, 2016 by lagmen
alarm clock on windowsillI was standing in the shower recently when I realized that baked oatmeal has changed my life. Historically, my weekday morning breakfast routine has vacillated between eating and spending too much ($5 egg-and-cheese bagels) and eating too little (leftover bits of cornflake dust). Then, this year, I started making a big pan of oatmeal every Sunday.

The no-recipe recipe I use, via Epicurious, is endlessly adaptable. The one constant is that it features fruit on the bottom and a thick oatmeal topping with a crispy crust. In the summer, I did a variation with blueberries and coconut flakes; this fall, I’ve been leaning heavily on chopped apples and cinnamon. It’s cheap, healthy, filling, and—most importantly—delicious. You can eat it fresh out of the oven, cold, or reheated in a skillet with a pat of butter. And best of all, an 11×7-inch baking dish full of the stuff gets me through the whole week.

Most people have a baked oatmeal equivalent—a small, seemingly mundane change they’ve made to their daily routines that winds up delivering big returns. In the interest of pooling our collective knowledge, I asked my coworkers at Quartz to share the newly adopted habits that helped them live their best lives in 2016.

1. I read fiction every day after work

After years of growing increasingly distressed at the growing pile of unread books by my bed, I vowed to do something about it. I decided to spend a year reading only fiction on my commute home. I continued to read the newspaper on the commute in, but after work, I’d lose myself, briefly, in novels and novellas.

I read 17 works in all. Reading fiction was a great way to balance the immediacy of the news business with the distance and perspective provided by literature. I finally polished off Moby-Dick after years of trying, knocked off The Corrections, and checked Dune off my list. The year’s highlight, though, was George Elliot’s Middlemarch, the daunting giant of Victorian literature, which felt like climbing a mountain: a hard slog, but oh-so-rewarding. And a much more productive way to spend the ride home. — Oliver Staley, workplace and management reporter

2. I discovered the secret to keeping sneakers spiffy

My life hack is having “rain sneakers” and “dry sneakers.” Maybe everyone else has already thought of this, but if I have sneakers I want to keep like new, especially in this dirty town, I only wear them when the weather is bone-dry. If it’s raining or just rained or might rain, I have a set of shoes for that purpose. Thomas McBee, editorial director for growth

3. I started planning my outfits for the week on Sundays

As I’ve gotten older, one of my increasing sources of frustration has been staring into my closet before work, pressed for time, and being frozen at the thought of having to pick something to wear. “When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!’, what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I’m supposed to be today,” Caitlin Moran wrote in How to Be a Woman.

That’s why I started checking the weather and my calendar on Sundays and deciding my work outfits in advance for the week ahead. This gives me the chance to browse my closet slowly and with intention. It’s also a sort of mental preparation, as if I’m going into battle and I’m picking my armor. I can always change my mind on the day of. But having that foundation ready for me when I wake up is a small pleasure. Jackie Bischof, deputy talent lab editor

4. I stopped mindlessly scrolling through my iPhone

I’ve started turning my iPhone to black and white so it’s less interesting to look at. Otherwise I just spend all this mindless time scrolling down feeds when I should be putting my phone away and getting to sleep. You can do this in settings, under General–>Accessibility–>Display Accomodations–>Color filters, and then select “Black and White.” — Katherine Ellen Foley, health and science reporter

5. I kicked my expensive lunch habit

For many years, I’ve been spending as much as $75 a week on chopped salads for lunch. This year, I decided to stop.

At first, I tried to pack my own salad, but the process was prohibitively time-consuming. I realized that if I couldn’t give up my chopped salad habit entirely, I should look for a way to make it cheaper. I came up with the BYOP (Bring Your Own Protein) hack. Most salad places upcharge you a few dollars for add-ons like meat, eggs and tofu. Bring your own, and you can save a few dollars each day.

To complete this salad hack, pick your favorite protein—my favorites include sautéed shrimp, roasted salmon, grilled tofu and hard-boiled eggs—and prepare a few portions at a time at home. Bring a single serving to work and add it atop whatever the cheapest “make your own” base is at your local salad shop. — Beth Ponsot, deputy growth editor

6. I decided to lie down during meetings

I love my job, but I have one really big problem: ergonomics. Sitting or standing with my hands on a keyboard and my eyes on a screen has really bad effects on my body. Recently I’ve started trying one thing that helps: During meetings, I lie on the floor in a position called semi-supine.

This works best when I’m working from home, and the meeting is a teleconference. But I’ve also done it at the office during remote meetings. I turn off the camera and use earphones, laptop or a phone on the floor beside me.The best position to lie in is one used in Alexander Technique called semi-supine, or constructive rest. Lie flat on your back with your arms by your sides and your feet flat on the floor, knees pointing to the ceiling. Put a book under your head. As you lie, allow your body to relax and think—just think, don’t stretch—about your frame becoming taller, your knees and toes extending in one directions, head and shoulders in another. When you’re ready to rise, roll to one side and get up slowly. Cassie Werber, reporter

7. I learned how to revive old vegetables

I joined a CSA (community supported agriculture group) this year and had more fresh food than I knew how to handle. To make my vegetables last longer, I learned a few tips. You can refresh lettuce by putting it in a bowl of ice water. And you can save cooking greens by flash sautéing them and then freezing them for use in stews and such later. Store greens in a container with a dry paper towel, which will absorb the excess water that causes wilting. Also, soft carrots and beets are just dehydrated and you can revive them by putting them in a bowl of water. — Kristin Oakley, growth editor for new initiatives

8. I guilt myself into productivity

I feel lots of shame over unfinished tasks. Occasionally, when the shame gets super intense and I start to really hate myself, then I will force myself to complete one task. This is not a very efficient way to get anything done. But that’s good because it means the unfinished work keeps piling up, and the shame just builds and builds, and eventually motivates me to do one small thing. And so on. I’m not sure if I recommend it. I think I’m just on this list so you don’t feel like everyone except you has their life all figured out. — Adam Freelander, video journalist

9. I made coming into work a joy by redesigning my desk

For the longest time, I had a crippling fear of offices—associating the idea with harsh lighting, gray cubicles, a certain general dreariness. I preferred to do most of my writing in more tranquil environments like libraries and coffee shops. But my opinion changed completely this year when I reorganized my personal work space. Following Marie Kondo-style minimalism, the advice of feng shui consultants, and a few all-important interior design principles, I made my desk at work into a creative, comforting sanctuary. It’s now a place of inspiration, not despair; the office inspires more excitement and productivity in me than anywhere else. There are two morals to this story: First, surroundings are what you make of them. And second, never underestimate the power of a couple of well-placed plants. — Amy X. Wang, media, music, and education reporter

10. I raced against the clock

I am a longtime proponent of setting timers to stay focused and finish tasks. The idea is that for a specific interval, you’re only allowed to work on one thing—no checking email, no opening a web browser, or answering a text, and so on. I find it especially helpful for taking little bites out of giant projects. I used to use my iPhone timer for this purpose, but more recently, I discovered this page, which times the 25-minute intervals and five-minute breaks commonly known as “Pomodoros.” If you need a little longer—or shorter—the creators of e.ggtimer.com made it customizable. — Jenni Avins, lifestyle reporter

11. I made it harder to check my iPhone

It’s no secret that our beloved iPhones (and the apps that live there) are engineered for addiction. After all, who can resist the dopamine hit that comes from that little red circle indicating that there is *something* to check. So this year I disabled TouchID and created a long password that takes forever to type in. It’s so darn annoying that I no longer bother unlocking my phone just to check three tweets while you wait for an elevator. It forces proactive behavior in a world where we are constantly reacting. — Khe Hy, entrepreneur in residence

12. I started biking to work

Cycling to work every day has been the single biggest improvement to my life this year. It’s saved me a ton of money, helped build my strength and fitness, and cut down my commuting time. I don’t need to rely on public transport anymore, and in London everything is quicker on a bike. Admittedly cycling in the city can be a daunting prospect, but with some preparation and planning you can enjoy it too: here’s Quartz’s complete guide to how to do it. — Marta Cooper, reporter

13. I began writing in a journal every morning

Quartz’s flexible work schedule allows us to work from home, all day or part of the day, which is a great perk. I used to wake up, hop into the shower, get dressed and quickly log on to deal with Slack, email and the sometimes overwhelming world of news. When I was feeling particularly stressed—probably a result of covering the 2016 election—my boyfriend suggested that because I didn’t have that buffer of a commute that most people do, I should give myself some time in the morning before diving into work. He suggested I start writing, longhand, even for a couple of minutes.

So for the first time ever, I’ve started keeping a regular journal (and not buying a million cute notebooks only to abandon them after two months). This has proved to be a great exercise, grounding me for the day—and apparently is a habit promoted by writing guru Julia Cameron. Although I rarely reach 750 words, as she prescribes. Something to work on next year. — Hanna Kozlowska, politics and criminal justice reporter

14. I pinpointed the ideal time for cocktail hour

I drink a cocktail or a glass of wine at the unreasonably early time of 5:30pm most weekdays. As a working mother of two, I used to arrive home each day and rush to get dinner on the table and put the kids to bed. Only then would I pour myself a glass of wine to decompress. But that was often at 9 pm, and I’d be exhausted.

Having a drink earlier makes so much more sense: It signals the transition from the workday to family time, and puts me in the mood to let out my breath and relax with my kids and husband as we chat and eat. It prevents the slight hangover that drinking late at night can give me, and even allows me to do a bit of work later in the evening if need be. I like to think that by letting my children see me drinking moderately, with food, I’m modeling a healthy attitude to alcohol. And I can’t lie: Pouring myself a cocktail as soon as I walk in the door makes me feel like Don Draper. — Indrani Sen, editor

15. I pre-chop all my vegetables after I buy them

There is nothing sadder than a limp carrot or rotting squash at the back of the pantry. To make myself more likely to quickly cook up fresh veggies during the week, I’ve taken to washing and pre-chopping everything before I unload them into the fridge—it takes an extra 20 minutes at the front end, but works wonders for your psyche for the rest of the week. It makes the idea of cooking a healthy meal so much less onerous when you’ve already got everything prepped. I got this tip from this blog post by a Bon Appetit staffer—I owe her a big casserole of pre-chopped vegetables. — Georgia Frances King, deputy editor, Ideas

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