I was only a few weeks into working at my first full-time adult job, when I started to feel my personal goals slipping quietly by. I had things I wanted to do and see, but after work each day I would find myself intellectually and physically drained. Two weeks went by and I realized I hadn’t cracked a book open, talked to any friends from home, or taken a single non-commute walk. I was keeping myself afloat, but not moving forward.
While it’s easy to get caught up in a new job, this should not come at the expense of your personal development. Being an adult is exciting, and theoretically, freeing. The following checklist provides simple steps to utilize that freedom for greater mental and physical health.
How to Adult: A Personal Checklist
Develop a Routine. Forbes, Linked In, and Business Insider each have multiple articles detailing the morning and evening routines of highly successful people. While every routine is different, and the suggestions vary widely, these people all have a routine. Things they do every day, in the same order, for the same amount of time. Many of these articles reason that routines reduce “decision fatigue.” Decision Fatigue being the idea that distracting yourself with small, unimportant decisions will keep your brain from really focusing on the big stuff. The jury is still out on whether this is biologically true- but routines have a number of other benefits including higher rates of organization, better mental and physical health, and goal achievement.
Chances are you already have some form of a routine- you check your Facebook, shower, brush your teeth. Developing your routine will allow you knock out an extra few items. What habits do you want to have that you don’t have now? This list may include exercise, meditation, journaling, reading, or even eating breakfast. From your list, pick one thing to add to your morning or evening routine. Try to wake up or head to bed a few minutes earlier to accommodate your proposed change. After a week or two, add another thing from your list. Then another. Routines are like an automatic ‘I accomplished’ list. On your worst day, you’ll still be able to look back and know that you completed a base level of maintenance goals.
Volunteer Regularly. Volunteering offers a host of benefits- it helps your community, opens doors to meet new people, and allows you to go home feeling the best kind of exhausted. If you’ve moved to a new area, or don’t know where to begin, try brainstorming which issues you feel most passionately about. Once you have a focus, you can complete a quick google search for organizations in your area that center around that mission. You may want to reach out to religious organizations, youth clubs, public libraries, political parties, parks, or medical facilities. Volunteering is easy to push off or pass over. Try to establish a set habit of dedicating one day a month (or week), to service. If you know that every third Saturday you’re manning an information booth at your local art museum, you’ll be able to plan around it and have people looking forward to seeing you on a regular basis.
Organize Your Web Presence. I’m frequently frustrated by my inability to find 4 month old emails and manage my thousand website logins. It may be time consuming, but now is the time to wade through your million emails to delete what you don’t need. On your commute to work, while you stand in lines, or as you binge Netflix- delete emails that are no longer relevant and organize the ones you want to keep. You can use broad folders like “Online Shopping/Rewards,” “Job Search,” “Old Acquaintances,” and “College Projects” to tame your inbox. It may be silly- but having your email account clean and clear can grant peace of mind. Bonus, it’s actually pretty simple to keep it clean if you delete emails as they come in.
As for the password conundrum, you have a few options. The most important things to keep in mind are to store passwords on personal devices, off the web, and out of plain sight. There is inherent risk in recording passwords. That being said, taking a few simple precautions can lower your risk exposure and keep you from having to set up a third Forever 21 account (guilty!). If you like using paper, fill a small notebook with your passwords for different accounts and keep it locked in a small safe or hidden in a private place. If you want to use a device, password protect your glossary of passwords or use software like keepass. Another option is to give yourself hints about what your passwords may be, “Middle School Password” or “Favorite Novel” for example. This way, if anyone were to find it, they would still have to guess at what the hint meant.
Master a Meal. I am a dreadful cook, so dreadful that I just cooked meat alone for the first time last month. And it was ground beef. And I begged my boyfriend to watch me the whole time to make sure I didn’t accidentally kill us both. That being said, I realize the importance of being able to cook and I’m trying to do it more. Having one to three meals in your pocket that you can confidently serve to company not only makes you seem more domestic, but also gives you greater flexibility. Eating out is expensive and eating out with a group is doubly so. If you’re trying to save money and eat without a server anxiously waiting for your table to clear, your home is the next best option.
There are lots of websites that cater to beginner cooks, but I generally start on Pinterest or Google with searches like “15 minute recipes” or “5 ingredient dinners”. As you begin to branch into cooking, try to pick dishes that fall into one of three categories:
- Customizable. If you are hosting a dinner party for three or more people, you may want to share the costs. The easiest way to do this is to ask your guests to bring items to contribute to the meal. Tacos, Hawaiian Haystacks and Salad are all great dishes in these situations. You can prepare the base and others can bring their toppings. This is also a good option if you need to accommodate a wide variety of allergies, diets, and food preferences.
- Single pot dishes. You want to have people over, but you don’t have time for the prep or mess. Single pot pasta, upscale casserole, enchiladas, or crock pot dishes allow you to prepare ahead of time and have an entire meal in a single dish.
- Impressive. The previous two categories are wonderful for a tight knit group of friends or a long time SO (for the Olds, that means significant other). That being said, sometimes you need something a little bit more. Having a single impressive dish in your arsenal can help give others the impression that you are a competent adult. These dishes generally revolve around a primary protein and secondary vegetables. Think salmon and asparagus, steak and mashed potatoes, or chicken and broccoli. These dishes are all about getting just the right cook and blending great spices.
Journal Your Goals, Gratitude, and Gaffs. The benefits of journaling do not stop after we pass our angsty teenager phases. Studies indicate that journaling can lessen depression, strengthen social bonds, lower blood pressure, and even speed up healing from injuries. It allows you to take a break and really think. Review your interactions and write down how you felt and what you wanted to say. Record your goals and how they are progressing. Reflect on the little things that make your day and life great. Revel in your own awkwardness and mistakes. How you journal is completely up to you- draw pictures, write poems, record stream of consciousness. The frequency of your entries can vary, but once or twice a week seems to be the sweet spot for most people. If you feel weird about writing in a journal or diary, just tell people you are “expressive writing”(Thanks therapeutic rebranding!).
Ween Yourself Off University Accounts. This one doesn’t apply to everyone, but it is time sensitive. Many universities cut off student email accounts and drive access 6 months after graduation. If you spent the last year tirelessly completing a thesis masterpiece or were just too lazy to use a flash drive in college (me!), you probably want to download and keep your best work. Dedicate an hour or two to sorting through papers, projects, and emails and send anything you may want to keep to a personal account.
You should also take this moment to send an email to any professors you want to keep in touch with. Thank them for their influence, share your current plans, and give them your personal email address.
Pick Your Splurge Goals. You’re an adult. With money. Sorta. Seeing that first full-time paycheck is magical. But within a few weeks or months, your day to day expenses will quickly eat away at that paycheck until it feels just as restrictive as your part-time college income (it’s called lifestyle inflation- the more money you have, the more you spend). The trick is to pick your splurge goals, while tightening the belt in other areas. No one knows what is important to you, but you. For me, travel and food are my vices and so that’s where my disposable income goes. For others, clothing, exercise, or drinking may eat into the income. A splurge is only bad if it isn’t budgeted or risks your long-term stability. If done wisely, splurges give you something to look forward to and save you from feeling as stressed about money.
Change Your Permanent Address. If you’re like me, you kept your parents’ address as a permanent address while you were in school. Now is the time to change it. Go to USA.gov for an easy checklist with agencies that will need to know about your change of address. These include the US Postal Service, the local DMV, and the State Election Office.
Set Up Your Own Dentist and Doctor’s Appointments. If you’ve moved cities (or even if you haven’t), now is the time to step up and make your own dentist and doctor appointments. Different plans work with different networks and so if you are switching providers, make sure to pick health professionals covered under your dental and health plans. To clarify any questions and avoid paying more than you planned, call the office to check if they work with your plan.
Find Your Exercise. The freshman fifteen are real, but so are the life-twenty. Or thirty. Or forty. Metabolisms tend to slow down in your twenties and when you add this to a stationery desk job, it’s a recipe for weight gain and health problems. It’s important to find an exercise that you enjoy while the starting hurdle is lower. The trick is to set a goal and establish a routine. To start, try to exercise a certain number of times per week at the same time. In the beginning, the habit is more important that measured weight loss or defined muscles.
For exercise beginners, the cheapest options can be found online. So long as you are disciplined, yoga, dance, and cardio workout videos can be extremely effective. Podcasts that follow set exercise programs, like Couch to 5K, are also great places to start. If you have trouble becoming internally motivated, consider asking for a trial or guest membership to a gym or purchasing a set number of classes with Groupon. This limits your financial exposure if you find out you don’t like the class or don’t use the gym often enough.