For several years I was a work-aholic. Stress, anxiety and burnout are just part of life for many freelancers, business owners and startuppers.
It's easy when you are self-driven to put in extra hours. You tell yourself "If I just work this weekend…", "I'll work on this tonight…", "I can't leave until I've finished…".
I'd pre-emptively flake on friends making plans - "I don't know how work will be that weekend", "I think I'll have a lot on that week". The truth is, I didn't know how busy I'd be. I was just prioritizing work due to false beliefs about what would happen if I didn't work all the time.
When I did find some down-time, I'd end up lazing around, alone and stewing about what I needed to get done.
Too much work leads to diminishing returns, and avoiding opportunities to refresh and recharge makes it harder to find those opportunities when you need them.
It meant that month-to-month I'd end up unbalanced, and not doing the things I love doing: being creative, running, and spending time with friends and family.
I'm someone who likes tracking, data and routine. I've spent a lot of time with fitness trackers, habit trackers and quantifying many aspects of my life.
But why didn't time-tracking lead to lasting change? I could see I was over-working; I could see that my calendar didn't have enough fun or personal-time on it, but why didn't I change? Why didn't I say yes more social things?
It's easy to hand-wave away events and commit to more work, and months and then years go by. You schedule in work events and leave space that gets filled with more work, or nothing at all.
I think my motivation to assess what I was doing and where I was spending my time didn't have that emotional connection.
To fix this I started a new happiness habit - I've started getting my photos printed.
Having a tangible, physical record of what you have done is very motivating. The act of selecting the photos forces you to confront what you have done, who you have seen and how you have felt over the previous month.
The photos I print aren't always of big events, sometimes it's a snap from a nice run, or a friend I have had coffee with. The prints provide an emotional connection to the small events in your life, which each build up to who you are over the year.
The prints arriving in the post and looking through them provides a good prompt to plan events for the following month - what will I regret missing out on this month? What am I looking forward to doing? Who am I looking forward to seeing?
To build this habit, on the 1st of every month I quickly go through my phone and select the best photos from the previous month. The 1st is an arbitrary date, so I do it even if I'm in the middle of something fun. The trigger of "it's a new month" is always there, and it's an easy hook to build the habit on.
Label the envelopes and stick them in a shoebox - look back at what you've done every quarterI label the envelope, and stick them in a shoebox for review every few months.
I use LaLaLab for printing - it usually costs lest than a fiver for my photos. If you want to try the service sign up with my referral code PG59DL6T and get £5 in credit for your account (I get a credit too).
Please do let me know if you try this happiness habit - I'd love to hear from you!
With thanks to Ian Robertson for reviewing a draft of this post.