Podcast 26: Pick a One-Word Theme for the Year, Take the First Step–and Paper or Digital Calendar?

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

I’m actually on vacation, but am making a brief appearance to post about this episode.

Update: Elizabeth records live from her treadmill desk Which we’ve discussed many times, including in the very first episode. Can you hear it whirring softly in the background?

In episode 24, I asked people to weigh in about a huge, life-changing decision I have to make: Should my family get a dog? We heard from so many people — it has been fascinating, and so helpful. You can listen to what people had to say in a montage of opinions. Also check  happierpodcastdogs.tumblr.com, to read people’s comments and see the photos of people’s adorable dogs. Thanks, listeners — and keep those insights coming.

Try This at Home: Pick a one-word theme for the year — the school year, that is. For Elizabeth and me, September is the other New Year. If you’re interested in this subject, I write more about it in Happier at Home.

Call us to let us know what one-word theme (or short phrase) you choose. It’s so interesting to hear what people pick.

Better Than Before Habits Strategy: The Strategy of First Steps. Practically always, the best time to begin is now. We need to resist “tomorrow logic,” which is the fantasy that everything will be easier–tomorrow.

Important note, in this episode, I misspoke, because I casually said that it would be tough to start a new habit when you were in the middle of moving — actually, that’s a great time to start a new habit, because of the Strategy of the Clean Slate. Stay tuned to hear more about that!

Listener Questioner: “I’m an anxious procrastinator…how do you get started when you’re terrified?”

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth isn’t doing the very simple steps that would clear up her blepharitis.

filofaxgretchensarchivesGretchen’s Gold Star: I give a gold star to my mother, for giving me my beloved Filofax. Here it is — plus my binders of archived calendar page stretching back many, many years.

Very fun to have this record.

filofaxmineHow about you? Paper calendar — or digital? Weigh in!

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We’d love to hear from you. Did you pick a one-word theme for the year? Call us and tell us what you chose. And weigh in on the great paper vs. digital calendar debate.

Comment below. Email: podcast@gretchenrubin.com. Twitter: @gretchenrubin and @elizabethcraft. Call: 744-277-9336. Here’s the Facebook Page.

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  • Hi Gretchen, I love your shows, they’re a great way for me to turn driving my kids to lessons a little more bearable. I have a question for you: on your recommendation I have read Taubes’ work (and several other books with the same advice) on low-carb diets. I lost 8 pounds pretty effortlessly! The problem is, after 3 days, I get SO fatigued. I literally feel too tired to exercise, I need caffeine to get me off the couch. Did you experience this? I went back to eating moderate carbs for awhile. Then I repeated the experience and the exact same thing happened… extreme fatigue. I am nursing a baby so perhaps I shouldn’t attempt it? I was wondering if you would write a blog post about your long-term experience with low carb. Thanks so much!

  • Laura

    I use two paper calendars. I have one on the fridge that indicates the commitments we have as a family or that might impact a family. An example of this is when one parent travels or a student is involved in a school play. I have one for my work commitments that has the days of the week on one side of the double page spread and lined paper on the other side. This allows me to take notes about or at appointments or meetings. My planner of choice has been a Moleskine 18 month softcover large planner. (http://www.moleskine.com/en/collections/model/product/18-months-weekly-notebook-black-soft-cover-large) I also keep them as an archive.

    I use my digital calendar for those appointments I think I might forget. For example, if I book my dog’s grooming appointment several months from now, I add it to my digital calendar as well as my paper calendar. Just to be safe!

    Thanks for the podcasts. Thanks for the tips. Thanks for questions. Thanks for sharing yourselves with us.

    • Linda Kelly Marrone

      Laura, I do the same thing. and I love using the Moleskine planners !

  • Mimi Gregor

    I have a book-style desk calendar that shows a week at a time and has LOTS of space each day to write appointments and various reminders to myself. I also jot down any memorable things I did on any particular day, and I tuck in playbills, theater tickets, photos, comics cut from the paper, fortune cookie fortunes… you get the idea. It’s pretty much a combination daily planner and scrapbook. When the year is over, I file it up in the attic with its kin from previous years. I have a stretch of them going back to 1986. Every so often, I enjoy taking them out and leafing through them, recapturing the past and reliving almost forgotten memories.

  • Dianne Ochiltree

    I was a very reluctant convert to the electronic calendar on my cell phone this year. It lacks the permanence of the handwritten one that used to be on the kitchen counter years ago. But it helps me share items with others more easily now. So, while my new method has pleased others, I’m not so sure. I still don’t trust the icloud way of planning life 100%. My plan next year is to use a print calendar with handwritten notes AND the cell phone calendar. Just in case. ;o)

  • superS01

    I have both a paper and electronic diary. I like electronic diaries but I’m always worried that my phone will die and I won’t know what I’m supposed to be doing! Also my paper diary also backs up for taking notes and keeping bits of paper I need regularly.

  • my digital calendar is my life! I use google calendar so i can view it on my phone or desktop. It’s also good for storing addresses of where I need to be so i can easily google them on-the-go. I used to be dedicated to my paper planner, but once I went digital I liked it much better.

  • Rachel C

    Hi Gretchen, I am really enjoying your podcasts. Re the paper vs digital diaries, I found that with 3 children I am swamped with paper notices from school and so kept a paper diary. However my husband is doing a few months of househusbanding and so to co-ordinate with him I think we need to switch to a digital diary.
    Also loved the ‘pairing concept’, I too have a mole that I am meant to be treating for a total of 2 weeks and I have been irregularly applying the cream for over a year! I am a tea drinker, so if I apply the cream every time I have a cup of tea then it wil lbe gone in no time.
    Thanks again for your great ideas. Rachel

  • Sara

    The word I’ve selected for the new school year is Abundance.

  • kim polzin

    Yes! I keep a hard copy calendar and save all of them. I do find myself looking things up, too! I started with one style, but now choose a different planner every year. I look for something that has new photos or quotes every week. Often they are from my travels (I ordered the Williamsburg planner the year I had a girls’ trip planned; have picked up Smithsonian planners when in DC, etc.) Other times, they’re just fun. I am already on the hunt for next year’s planner, and am considering the adult coloring book theme for 2016.
    My word for 2015 is family; last year’s word was fun; year prior was friendship. I find myself reading books about the theme throughout the year too.

  • I’ve always kept a paper planner; however, I haven’t found a pre-made one that suits me. They don’t have enough space for to-do lists and notes, while too much space is for appointments.

    For years, I’ve used small blank notebooks. I create a monthly calendar for appts at specific times and dates and birthdays, then use the other pages for lists, notes, reminders, and meal planning. I also paste in envelopes for receipts, printed schedules, newspaper clippings, and business cards, as well as things like ticket stubs and fortune cookie fortunes. When I’m waiting in the carpool line, I decorate it with doodles and designs.

    When it’s full, it’s like a scrapbook of my life!

  • Rebecca

    I really love it every time Elizabeth brings up her novel. I’ve been trying to write a novel for the past year and your discussions of strategies are always a huge help and boost to help me be more disciplined about my writing time!

  • Sarah Katherine Williams

    I’m aiming myself at “focus”

  • Carla Forero

    I’m a Franklin Planner junkie; was completely hooked within 2 days of setting it up back in 1989. Like you, I find the paper planner very much more efficient and effective than digital, as in no battery recharging required, temporary storage for receipts etc., plus the self-pleasing act of checking off tasks/entries when completed. It’s so satisfying to do that AND have a permanent record of what was done and when (it has saved my job and enhanced my credibility several times) and now after nearly 25 years of uninterrupted use, couldn’t do without it. Re the dog, why quadruple your stress and household mess when your kids can get a job walking dogs and maybe you could join them for some prescheduled special personal time together, one on one. Besides, you only become attached unless they’re untrainable and some very definitely are that, then they die – unnecessary sorrow and trauma – forget it! Last, my word for for the year is ‘contraction’ as in pulling in to conserve and manage resources, health and energy – I’m thinking we’re all going to be doing that eventually so I want to get the jump on the habit now (example: thought I’d weigh in on all your podcast questions in one place – hey this is a breeze so far)!

  • Jenny J

    Great podcast and blog! I use both a digital calendar and an analog journal. The digital calendar app on my phone provides very useful alerts when I need to do something (for example, 12:00 p.m. – pharmacy pickup) and is great for frequent repeat appointments or infrequent repeats, such as something that happens every two or five years. The journal provides detail about the day, including anything relevant about the appointments, as well as color. Using the calendar I can search back through appointments, then check that date in the journal for more detail records.

    • Linda Kelly Marrone

      Jenny I do the very same thing ! Plus the more I write things down, the better I remember them !

  • Laura Miller

    My one-word-theme of this year is “lighter”. I’m de-cluttering our entire house following Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up method AND I am following a Weight Watchers/South Beach diet hybrid.) I HAVE to tailor/modify all plans. I’m incapable of following a program without some kind of personal modification that feels like cheating. It’s the rebel in me.)

  • Rebecca

    Paper <3 I have used both electronic and paper, but paper seems to be how I think best especially when it comes to organising myself out side of a 'normal work environment'. This coming year I'm moving to a travelers Journal I made it myself but it's a A5 rework of a Midori. I'm embarking on a more creative life and I'm hoping that this will support the process more than the conventional planner setups. Thanks for the fabulous pod cast 🙂

  • Kirstin

    My word for the year is me. Weeding out those things that are important to others, but not to us. My husband and I just sold a house that was too big for us and involved a number of things we no longer want, a pool, big yard. Building a smaller new house that matches more with our lives and what we want. It also involved a lot of clutter clearing and getting rid of stuff that other people gave us that we no longer want or need.

  • Ruth Carter

    My one word theme is going to be decide. I’ve been prevaricating over whether or not to move house and job for a couple of years. My problem, such as it is, is that the pros and cons balance. I get the feeling that I’m drifting and really I must decide and then do it. Any advice anyone?

  • Nancy Sopp

    A dog in theory is very different from an actual dog. Your “dilemma” is like trying to decide whether to get married or not without having an actual potential partner available. Start visiting the animal shelter or wherever it is that New Yorkers find dogs. I, too, dislike dogs–but not my family’s own specimen, which we found at the shelter.

  • cmclaire

    My word for the year is grow. It’s time.


  • MidwesternGirl4ever

    I converted over to a digital calendar in 2010 and have not gone back since. It takes up less space, but most importantly, I use the alerts on my iPhone to remind me of actions I have to take.

    • Marco Martini

      Hi there, I have been searching for the perfect digital calendar/to do app on my iPhone for a while.. Which one do you use, if you care to share? Thx

      • MidwesternGirl4ever

        My friend recommended planner plus. I use planner plus for the to do list. However, I use the iCal on my iPhone for everything else. Have you tried setting alerts in it? If it weren’t for those alerts, I would forget to do a lot of things.

        • Marco Martini

          Thanks a lot! 🙂

  • Natalie Hamil

    My word for the year is: “SIMPLIFY”. I’ve notice that all the words I was coming up with really just meant simple. I have this need to really get back to the basics on everything: food, life, family, friends, clothing, cleaning, stuff, products… I think simple helps me identify how to do all of that. Also, the calendar goes right along with it. I am a teacher, so I really have to have 2 calendars. I’ve tried to consolidate and it doesn’t work for me: so… simplify. I have an online teaching calendar that includes all my standards and templates, and my paper calendar keeps my days planned. That way I can sketch in it, journal, erase… whatever I need.

    ALSO- to go along with this, I got rid of my iPhone and bought a DUMB phone! People think I’m nuts, but I am so excited to not be glued to my phone at every waking moment. Simplifying my life is awesome. I feel like I’m cleaning up everything with that one word.

  • My word is year is “neutral”. I’m practicing the skill to be able to come back quickly to my ground of zero neutral when I choose to, esp. when facing stressful situations, dealing with difficulties, or even in face of excitements. It’s not to say that I don’t indulge in the joy, but just to practice always staying true to myself.

  • Ana Lovett

    I think my word or phrase this year would be Beginnings. I want to spend my year starting new projects, working on myself and my new apartment. I’m 18 so this feels like the best time for me to work on that.

  • Sally_Jones

    I am a
    hybrid since I love seeing a calendar in the kitchen it makes me smile.
    It is now serving multiple purposes, since I am using it for my oldest
    to indicate days he goes to school and which days are “home days” (aka
    Saturday and Sunday) and which days are holidays and birthdays. I print
    my own via Shutterfly so I can put picture prompts on the holidays
    since the kids are 3&5 and the great thing is that Shutterfly
    remembers all the stuff I put in already so I don’t have to constantly
    put in anyone’s birthday for the next year it is just there. And
    finally it is a star chart for good behaviors etc.

    my DH and each have our own online calendar that we share with each
    other so we can add something to the other person’s calendar, or invite
    them to something, and most importantly we put our company paid holidays
    on the calendar since it is rare that our holidays overlap. I will put
    the school schedule on our shared calendar by hand, it is annoying that
    they don’t have the calendar in the icalendar format (which despite its
    name is not Apple specific it is an industry standard that you can use
    with Apple products, Android products and Outlook.) to so that parents
    can import it into their own online calendar. Grrr ranty rant rant here.

  • Jen Stewart

    I can’t believe the first podcast I tune in to is SO me! I’m an anxious procrastinator!!!! I’m going to start putting those “projects” on a calendar and working on small steps at a time!! Thanks and can’t wait to hear more!!

  • Ellen

    Love the podcast Gretchen and Elizabeth! And I love thinking about choosing a word for the year. My word is (Re) Create. I feel like I have lost touch with my creativity and want to spend time finding ways to work on creating.. I think this could touch many areas of my life that feel stagnant right now. I turn 50 this year. My kids are growing up fast and I am finding hints of time here and there. Things are changing and I see some real opportunities to do some cool things with my new found mental space. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • rahskir

    This comment is for Elizabeth. I recently discovered “capsule wardrobes” on Pinterest and it sounds like it might solve your issue with always wanting to dress better. You basically make a mini wardrobe where everything coordinates so you don’t have to think about your outfits. Also, digital closet organization apps, like stylebook, helps if you have time to photograph your clothes! -Rebecca

  • Autumn Vandiver

    My word is Adventure! Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Kerri Johnson Cox

    http://aliedwards.com/blog?tag=One+Little+Word%C2%AE Ali Edwards has been teaching a class called One Little Word for several years. I have taken the class the last couple years and like Ali have chosen a word for several years.

  • Kari Mertz

    I loved hearing you mention your love of your Filofax. I am not sure if you are aware of this, but there is a whole new “planner craze”. Search the hashtag planneraddict or plannerlove on IG to see the thousands of people that are using paper planners to record their lives, memories, etc. So much fun!

  • Jessica

    I am so down with paper! I have a paper calendar, a paper journal/datebook (I use the Bullet Journal method and it’s PERFECT) and a paper knitting journal. My mom always bought me a new calendar each Christmas when I was a kid, and it’s just a special tradition – sitting down and filling out all the birthdays and important dates.

    I’ve had a “Word of the Year” a few times, but I would love to hear what things you do to you remind yourself of your theme throughout the year.

  • Mathilde

    My word for the year is “onward”. I’ve recently been feeling very stuck in my life: my job, where I live, relationships, etc. Yesterday, one of my best work friends announced she would be leaving for a position that is exactly what she wants–changing industries, not just jobs. It was kind of a jolt to realize that I was not where I wanted to be, not even close. I had just been afraid to start. So my word is “onward”. Just pick up the pack and start moving; it appeals to my covered-wagon, pioneer self. Onward!

  • Cecilie

    I’m a postgrad desperately trying to get a job, so when I listened to your podcast yesterday morning I knew that my one-word-theme had to be “work”. Later that same day sent in an application and I got my first interview in months! Thank you for a great and inspiring “try this at home”, I can’t help but think that you sent some positive vibes my way. I might not get the job, but now I’m really committed to getting my career stared and focusing on work for the next year.

  • Camille

    Filofax! A thousand times YES! There is evidence that reading things on paper actually means greater understanding and retention of content. I also firmly believe the motor skill required to write something down etches it deeper into memory. Also wanted to mention a fabulous tool for home organizing by Moleskine called the Home Life Journal. Great checklists and perfect spot for keeping useful information regarding materials and services sourcing.

    Word for the year : refusal
    as in “the power of refusal” or “the elegance of refusal”
    The opposite of curating! I am no longer gathering things, I am refusing the things foist my way. . .

  • Absolutely loved this episode. While I’m fully digital eventually (all my pages get scanned and indexed in Evernote for easier search and retrieval), I’m pretty much a 100% paper person when I’m actually doing the work.

    I’ve been doing the Ali Edwards One Little Word for many years now and my word for the calendar year is Authentic but you’ve made me reconsider whether (since I work in education) I also want to have a word for the school year – it would be a great mid-calendar year pick me up and be a nice way to focus on my professional life goals through word choice.

  • Aislinn

    The podcast is a highlight of my week! Really love the content as well as the sister dynamic. I’ve used the one-word theme in the past, and wanted to share a trick…I make it part of my computer password. I have to log on to my computer several times a day, so it helps keep the word top of mind. I need to take a big next step in my career and so I think my next theme will be “bold.”

    • Tara

      I love this idea!

  • Heather M.

    Gretchen, you mentioned in this episode that you’re looking for your next new project. I’d like to see your Secrets of Adulthood in book form!

  • Ciara Barsotti

    Just caught up on all of the podcasts! Love it, keep em coming! 🙂

    Even though I’m a couple weeks “behind,” I wanted to share my one word for the school year: CULTIVATE. I think it’s a season for me to lay some groundwork for future dreams, to prune out and dig up what is hindering my growth, and practice more self-care. And “cultivate” sums that up for me. Plus I love plants and gardening.

    I also wanted to share my paper planner! I’m a huge fan of the bullet journal method… I love the flexibility. I use my journal for planning, dreaming, goal-setting, habit-tracking, and drawing. 🙂

    • Lucide

      Yes! I also use the bullet journal method and I love it. I make a monthly calendar, a weekly to do list (plus a list of my expenses that week) and a daily to do list that I write down every morning. For someone who is super chaotic like I am (having ADD), this is great!

  • Tara

    This year my phrase is “All In.” Three years ago after being a stay at home mom for 11 years I went back to work part time. The first year was great! Everything was new and fun and I didn’t mind missing the things I used to have time for. The second year I realized I still wanted to do all those things and tried to do everything. It about killed me. This year I’m trying to do only those things I am passionate about and those to which I can be “All In.” I’m an “All In” kind of person, so making smart choices about how I spend my time is so important.

  • Penny Gilliam

    I so enjoy the podcast! My one word theme for the next year is “Mindfulness”. Making certain I am always mindful of the choices I am making, the food I am eating, the way I am spending my time, etc. I want this to help me spend the next year getting the most out of every moment.

  • Nicola Griffin

    I’m totally with you Gretchin on the use of a paper organiser. BUT I don’t use one because I don’t like to carry around more than I need to, so I just use the calendar on my phone. The struggle within between simplicity in my handbag and the organisation of my life!

    Also, my one word theme for the rest of this year (I’m in New Zealand, our school year is the same as the calendar year) is going to be ‘outside’. Spring is here, the weather is warming up and the days are getting longer. Outside for me means more emphasis not only on exercise, but fresh air, playing outside more with the kids, and exploring the many outdoor activities we have in our area as a family. Yay!

  • Sidni Mordhorst

    I also love my paper calendars and keep them. They are a journal of sorts and I love looking back at them. The calendar I kept the year my daughter was born is one of my favorites.

    This episode has inspired me to name a theme for the year and it is, “Meet Me.” As an obliger, I tend to bend to my family’s preferences and meet their needs first. Now that my daughter is older, I have more time for me. But I hardly know what I would like to spend time doing anymore! “Meet Me” also will encompass my desire to begin writing again with some self exploration. Thanks girls, keep up the good work!

  • Pamela Baumeister

    My one word theme this year (and I picked in January) is “focus.” I’m an Upholder, for sure, but I have a few Obliger tendencies, which often pull me off track from my goals and that’s why I chose the word. I made a visual brainstorm on what I need to focus on. This helped me discern what needs more focus in my life. Some of those things include: physical health, relationships with my husband and children, happiness (thus why I’m listening to your podcast, reading “Better Than Before,” and reading your blog!), creative freedom, personal development, movement, and adventure (just love Eleanor’s try-this-at-home tip of “give yourself a mission” for this reason).

    I use a paper planner, but still use my phone for reminders for scheduled meetings. Both are really helpful.

    Thanks for your all your great research and content — and I love your personality!

    • OceanPark2

      ‘Focus’ was my word for last year and I found that it really did help me remember my mission and reduce distractions. Hope it works well for you too!

  • Pingback: Podcast 30: Special Guest! My Daughter Eliza, Who Asks: Any Advice for a 16-Year-Old? | iDiya.org()

  • library person-

    I love using an online calendar that can be accessed via iphone as well. I no longer miss appointments because I have reminders. I also get automated emails to remind of street sweeping no parking days which I need to keep track of. Since I switched to this digital calendar system I no longer get those nasty parking tickets. I used to have a paper calendar that I’d forget to look at all weekend then I’d get all kinds of surprises on Monday morning. Now I can get email reminders of important things. Also, I can load my digital calendar with all kinds of tentative things and then delete them later. But if I penciled them in to my paper calendar it felt more like an obligation.

  • Regina Woolbright

    I’m just getting caught up on the podcasts and had to chime in (even if it’s late!) on the planner question as I use both electronic and paper. The electronic calendar is handy as it allows my husband to see what’s happening (appts, activities, dinner menu), but I love my paper planner. It takes me months to determine my next planner (spiral or discbound, premade or printable), but I love the research and seeing how others use their planners. I have 3 paper calendars right now; one on the door at home for everyone to note their activities for the month, an appointment calendar at work to track client meetings, and my personal calendar to cover it all.

  • OceanPark2

    Meant to post this earlier – after really enjoying the theme of “focus” last year, I changed mine to “resonance” in September. So far, it has helped me find the meaningful common threads in my daily life and tune in to what really engages, inspires and encourages me. To help me remember my word, I’ve changed several frequently-used passwords to (securely altered) variations of “resonance”. Doing this brings me back to my theme multiple times each day.

  • Jessica Berlin

    Gretchen, if you haven’t already, you should read Lauren Graham’s book Someday, Someday, Maybe. The Filofax is a central character in the book! I just read it and my moms group book club is discussing it next week.

  • Amanda Tryon

    I am listening to this episode now. Why am I crying listening to these people talking about their dogs?!