Five Lessons I Learned in January

It’s been 2024 for 30 days – how are you feeling?

Personally, I’m feeling pretty productive. And that feels miraculous to me because my year started out a bit lopsided. I got sick shortly after the New Year festivities and spent the next 2 weeks trying to figure out how to function post holiday bustle. I’d set all my goals in December and had all these plans ready to go but getting sick threw me way off. Like I had to figure out how to be a human in a new year.

It was a rocky start but it’s ending pretty well and I thought I’d share some lessons I learned in this first month of 2024.

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January 1 isn’t a magic number

I actually already knew this. I think I first learned this from Lara Casey, founder of one of my favorite companies Cultivate What Matters. In the planner world, it’s really easy to get swept up in the frenzy of getting our goals figured out in time for January 1. We want to try new habits, develop better routines, get our workout game going, eat better, sleep better and scroll less. But while all of those things are great, the first of January is just one of many opportunities to start a new thing. And if I don’t start that new thing on January 1st or 17th, or 30th, it’s okay – I can try another day.

That takes me to the next lesson learned.

Don’t try to do everything at once

As a goal setter, I’m slowly learning the art of pacing myself. My brain loves to think that I can do everything…all at once…tomorrow. Buuuuuut rarely is that actually reality. So this month, I just picked a few things to focus on and let the rest go. Was that other stuff important? Yes. Did it need to be done soon? Yeah, preferably. Will everyone still be okay if I table it for now? Yes.

In February, I’ll continue to steward those few things as I add one or two more things. Little by little progress, baby!

I’ve learned that while my brain loves to bite more that it can chew, what it loves even more are small wins that snowball into progress I can see and feel. When I tackle too much, I crash and burn. But when I go slowly – something I don’t do naturally in any area of life! – I actually get more done and my brain is like “Yeah!!! This is awesome! Let’s do it again!” It’s a great feeling.

Check my actual capacity

This is related to the last one but with an emphasis on emotions. My emotional capacity for certain things is limited and I can always tell when I’m reaching that point because I get less gracious and more opinionated. Sometimes, we just need to give ourselves space to feel and heal and process before we pile something else on the plate. Sometimes we have to fight for that space and time but I’m learning to be aware of my emotional capacity for stimulus and situations that I have the ability to avoid or say “no” to. I don’t have it all figured out yet but the awareness has been good.

Focus on the ritual, not the routine

For years, I’ve struggled with mornings. When I had a regular 9-5, I was always rushing out the door. Every time I’ve worked from home (like I do now) I struggle to keep a consistent schedule. Last week, I gave myself the grace to not harp on time blocks but rather focus on the rituals. For example, I might set my morning routine up like this –

  1. 5:30 – Wake Up/Drink Water/Use Bathroom/Make Bed/Stretch
  2. 5:45-6:45 – Quiet Time
  3. 6:45-7:15 – Work Out
  4. 7:15-8:00 – Get Ready/Tidy Up
  5. 8:00 – Breakfast/Chores
  6. 9:00-12:00 Work Block 1

If I didn’t wake up at 5:30 (because I was not the same person in that moment as I was at 4:42PM the day before when I made the schedule) and ended up snoozing until 8:38, I’d count the morning a fail because I was 3 hours behind schedule. Three mornings in a row like that is enough to send my brain into the I’m-Stupid-and-Can’t-Do-Anything-Right spiral. And that whole thing is draining.

Instead, what I’ve started to do is focus on the rituals I want to develop. For instance, in the morning, I want to:

  • Wake up
  • Drink water
  • Turn covers down to let bed air out
  • Open windows (if weather permits)
  • Turn on classical music
  • Read the Bible
  • Make the bed
  • Get ready

I know I want to accomplish these tasks in roughly this order. I know that this will set me up for my day. But while I’d love to start at 5:30-6AM, if I don’t get up until 7:49 because I didn’t sleep all that well the night before, it’s okay. All is not lost. I just start the ritual when I start the ritual.

And ever since then, I’ve been the most productive I’ve been in awhile.

For now, I’m just focusing on the morning. Once I’ve got my rhythm going, I’ll get to my afternoons and evenings!

Embrace the extension

I’m taking the queue from Emily P. Freeman and her podcast The Next Right Thing on this one. In her January 9 episode, How to Walk into January Like a Soul Minimalist, she talked about extending the week between Christmas & New Year all the way through January.

I listened to the episode on January 26th while out running an errand and thought something like – “Thank you, Emily P. Freeman for validating the sentiment I’ve been nursing all month!”

That little week in between the holidays when we barely know what day it is and stuff our faces with leftovers, is often used to reflect and plan and dream about the new year. And it’s a beautiful thing! But one week to reflect and plan and brain dump and dream isn’t enough. There’s this unspoken expectation to have it figured out by day one of January and that’s not necessarily possible.

Sometimes there are too many emotions to figure out.

Sometimes there are too many tasks to sort through.

Sometimes you need to have hard conversations with your people.

Sometimes your responsibilities to others prevent you from working it all out “in time”.

Sometimes you gotta figure out what lessons you’ve learned and how you feel about them.

Needless to say, I’ve needed all of January to figure out how to be the human I want to be in 2024. Reset is my word for the year and it’s proven to be THE perfect word to represent the things I need to focus on this year.

Emily also suggests that the extension can last until February if need be. Thank you, Emily. Thank you!

What are your lessons learned in January? What are you looking forward to in February? If this next month needs to be your 2024 beginning cause you’ve been trying to figure out what kind of human you wanna be this year, then, my friend, go for it! Do what you gotta do 🙂

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