Secrets of Adulthood: Nothing Is More Exhausting Than the Task That’s Never Started.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:


Agree, disagree?

For the research for my book about habit change, Better Than Before, I asked people about the habits they most wanted to change. I found that most habits fall into the “Essential Seven“:

1. Eat and drink more healthfully (give up sugar, eat more vegetables, drink less alcohol)
2. Exercise regularly
3. Save, spend, and earn wisely (save regularly, pay down debt, donate to worthy causes, stick to a budget)
4. Rest, relax, and enjoy (stop watching TV in bed, turn off a cell phone, spend time in nature, cultivate silence, get enough sleep, spend less time in the car)
5. Accomplish more, stop procrastinating (practice an instrument, work without interruption, learn a language, maintain a blog)
6. Simplify, clear, clean, and organize (make the bed, file regularly, put keys away in the same place, recycle)
7. Engage more deeply in relationships—with other people, with God, with the world (call friends, volunteer, spend more time with family, attend religious services)

Note #5. Finding habits that help fight procrastination can be very, very helpful. Because as exhausting as it may be to start that key project, it’s even more exhausting to keep putting off starting that key project.

UPDATE: Better Than Before is now a New York Times bestseller. Get your copy now and start changing your habits today.

Do you agree with the Essential Seven? Did I overlook anything important?


  • Penelope Schmitt

    Sigh. Piece by piece, this is certainly true. I continually learn and relearn that none of the tasks I dislike doing takes nearly as long or as much psychic effort to PERFORM as to anticipate and put off and dread.

    I only wish things to be done that I dislike doing were not like a Hydra-headed monster in my life, seeming to multiply exponentially these days. I guess it is what anyone and everyone with a sick, injured or aged family member learns.

    I long ago decided that I would not have a pet, because I and my own life were enough to manage. But we can’t always decide not to have others need and depend on us. The best I can do now is to manage to face up to a few tasks today that are not fun or easy to do, always knowing that I am not going to be able to completely clear the ‘IN’ box of unpleasantness. There isn’t world enough and time for me to do it.

    • Penelope Schmitt

      P.S. — And YES, I was the person who thought that dividing tasks into ‘Odd and Even’ days might help. It sort of does, and I am still doing it. But its still a tough one. Of course NONE of this is made any easier by procrastination!!!! So much for happy talk!

      • Bonnie

        is there anyone else here who just relishes Penelope’s comments and wishes they could sit down and have a cup of tea with her & Gretchen? I’d like to think we’d all become fast friends.

        • Abby

          Me! I’m an avid fan of Gretchen’s blog and always look forward to Penelope’s thoughtful comments!

          • Cathryn

            Me too!
            I am just procrastinating now, looking at Gretchen instead of getting on with the saxophone practice I came up to do!!

        • Penelope Schmitt

          This is nice to hear, especially when I thought that was a fairly negative rant on my part!!!!

          • Bonnie

            Whether it’s negative or positive, it’s always honest, authentic, well thought out and articulate. That’s what resonates.

  • Carla

    Oh, how I can relate to this Secret of Adulthood.

  • Stop procrastinating hit a nerve today – time to get on with it!

  • Penelope Schmitt

    So! Keep on doing what you have to do, and look for the ‘rewards’ from the sky. This morning before 7:30, a huge double rainbow arcing over the neighborhood reminds me that even when life seems like a slog, the small beautiful things just keep happening. Look up and notice, no matter what!

    • HEHink

      I love rainbows, too! This also reminds me of a time several years ago, when I was struggling to stay afloat – working full time, raising two small children, having to frequently use the washer and dryer in the empty apartment downstairs because ours were too small for the amount of laundry we generated, and oh yes – living above the arctic circle. One night, as often happened then, I woke up around 1:00 a.m. to find I had fallen asleep while putting my children to bed. The kitchen was still a mess, the next day’s lunches had not been made, and the laundry I needed was still in the dryer downstairs. As tempting as it was to go back to sleep, I got up and made it so we could function the next day. As I opened the door to go out to the other apartment for the laundry, I was greeted by twisting silvery-green northern lights, over the frozen ocean. I felt rewarded, blessed, and affirmed – as if no matter how unorthodox my schedule was, I was taking care of things, and it was okay.

      • Penelope Schmitt

        BEAUTIFUL memory. Thanks so much for sharing! Mysterious and wonderful, how openness to beautiful things that have ‘nothing to do with us’ can lift us out of the muck and make us KNOW that life is good.

  • Theresa W

    I’m learning that procrastination isn’t a problem in itself, rather it’s a sign that there’s something bigger going on. I don’t procrastinate just because I don’t want to do something. I look for the underlying reason for why I don’t want to jump into the project. Usually that underlying cause is either a fear of failure or a lack of understanding about that project. That gives me clues as to what I need to do to move on, rather than continue putting the project off.

  • Gretchen, I *LOVE* your Essential 7 and I can’t wait to get your new book. I’ve made noticeable improvements in several of these areas in the past few months, including procrastination, but that’s still one of the toughest. I really like the pomodoro technique for productivity and pushing through procrastination: set a timer (there are lots of pomodoro apps) for 25 minutes, work without giving into distractions or taking a break, and then you get 5 minutes of pure lazy bliss. Repeat.

    • penelope schmitt

      I’m a huge believer in the timer, but I set it for a half hour, then in the next half hour do something I WANT to do, then set it again and get back to work. I accomplish MUCH more this way, because I am not self-distracting, and because I am truly rewarded as much as I am required to work . . . and I get the rewards of accomplishments on two fronts. LOVE my timer.

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific! I’m so happy to hear that. Yes I like that technique too.

  • Kat

    I love these, especially number 3. But I would say that number 7 should include animals, who are so important to most of us. It’s always wonderful to spend time with your pet, especially when you are having a stressful day.

  • HEHink

    My second graders just left the building, and I am exhausted. Years ago, I probably would have sat down at my desk and not really accomplished anything with the remaining 40 minutes of my workday. Today, I am happy to say, that I know how to attack that immense feeling of relief/letdown at the end of a trying day. This is largely due to the help Gretchen’s work has given me in learning to be self-aware and mindful. Several items on the essential seven list are helping me right now.
    #1 – Eat and drink more healthfully. I know I need good nutrition to give me energy at this time of day, so I just ate some greek yogurt (instead of M&M’s or cookies).
    #4 – Rest, relax, enjoy. I told myself that, as I had my snack, I’d take 10 minutes to relax (by visiting Gretchen’s blog). Setting a limit helps me avoid making this a loophole that would allow me to procrastinate.
    #5 – Now I’m ready to accomplish more, and not procrastinate, and my next activity will relate in some way to…

    #6 – Simplify, clear, clean, and organize, to get ready for tomorrow. Wow, if I’m doing 4 out of 7 of these things within an hour’s time, they must be essential!

  • Erica Viegas

    There is always room for improvement in life, and I’m excited to read the book to see how I can better get a grasp of these 7 areas (and more). I sometimes wonder whether perfect balance IS being a little bit unbalanced — is it truly possible to be clean, not waste time, never procrastinate, always accomplish, and have time for meditation and God? Is that itself balanced? I feel like lately I’m walking a line between appreciating new knowledge when it comes to overcoming bad habits, and also just giving myself a break. Anyone else feeling this way?

    • Guest

      I understand that feeling. I’m not in danger of being perfect anytime soon though and I think anyone who was would be unbearable. So I am pretty easy on myself. I just try to improve around the edges.

  • Freddo

    This list might even be the key to the meaning of life… Totally agree. On a downer note – totally wanted to support you by pre-ordering the new book. Unfortunately those of us the don’t live in the centre of the Universe (also know as North America) can’t 🙁 Can you let us know when it might be available internationally? In my case, Australia…

    • Kate

      And the UK too pleas Gretchen! International love 🙂

      • gretchenrubin

        Thanks so much for the kind words!

    • gretchenrubin

      It will be published on March 17, 2015 in Australia, as well as US and UK.
      Not sure about pre-ordering…

      • Freddo

        That’s super news, we are so used to getting things later, more expensive etc. so good to have it at the same time. Looks like we don’t have the pre-order set up but I’m sure you’ll remind us as the date draws close. Hope you are getting great numbers 🙂

  • Anya

    To me all 7 are right. I find it so hard to wake up earlier and just start my day with a good breakfast and excersise. Although I know it would help me to become lot happier, I still promise myself I’ll be better next time:) Check out my blog

  • Molly

    This is scary true!

  • penelope schmitt

    Just completed my pre-order of Better than Before! (-: Now to get down to the Essential Seven again . . . .

    • gretchenrubin

      Thank you! Good luck with the Essential Seven!

  • Liz Z

    Since I bought your Happiness Project book, I’ve started getting more organized and actually working on my goals more. I also took the class “Change Anything” at work a few weeks ago and that has helped too. I think the one thing in my top 7 that is the hardest (other than working out) is leaving work at work. The corporate environment can be very competitive and the games are maddening and exhausting. However, you’ve helped with that too. Now I come home from work and put in a movie and hop on the eliptical. That’s working on two goals at once!

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific! that’s so great to hear.

  • Teresa

    You inspire me to stop and appreciate everything in my life. Very important! Your writings are extremely inspirational. The new book cover is perfect! I look forward to reading it. I rarely comment, but wanted to tell you how much I enjoy all of your writings. Congratulations on completing another book, and there is no doubt it will be as successful as all of your others.

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks so much! I’m thrilled to hear that my work strikes a chord with you.

  • Agreed! I can exhaust myslf thoroughly without accomplishing a single thing.
    It’s my Beauty Pageant Talent.

  • Mahawa Komala

    I agree with the essential seven, they are very important,
    procrastination is really part of me, I always delay in doing an
    important work or task, I wish and pray to get way of that. I look
    further in reading your book.
    I am from Liberia West Africa, how can I get some of your books??

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  • Linda Jackson

    Hi Gretchen I have come very late to your books. I only discovered them this year. This post is perfect timing for me as I have been pondering what habits I want to form in my life. Your essential 7 covers them beautifully. I love your writing style and I see myself in many of your personality traits. I can relate to your stories so much. They say the teacher appears when the student is ready to learn and this is the case with your books and me. Thanks for helping me get my life into better shape. Looking forward to your new book. Hopefully you will come on a speaking tour of Australia soon. Wishing you all the best.