31 Productive Things to Do in January to Start the New Year Off Right


You've got two ways you can play January. One is to sit around on your butt and lament the winter weather; the other is to suck it up, stay active, and get yourself in gear for the rest of the year. You don't need much to accomplish the former, but here are 31 ideas to help you get started on the latter. Your fresh start won't know what hit it. (See also: 20 Cheap Ways to Make January Special)

1. Enjoy the Day Off

It's the first day of the year, and you probably need some downtime after last night's celebration. Feel free to take it. Relax, watch TV, order a pizza. Savor this lazy (but productive in the sense that it's helping you recuperate) day, because you've got 30 days of productivity ahead of you.

2. Hit the Tail-End of the After-Holiday Sales

One of my favorite post-holiday activities is to hit up the after-celebration sales to stock up on decorations and other useful items (think scissors, tape, wrapping papers, bags, and more) that by this date will probably be anywhere from 75% to 90% off the regular price. Pickings will be slim, but you're saving 25% to 40% more than you would have if you went the first few days after Christmas. When you're shopping, remember to think outside the holidays, too. Some of the discounted items are useful year round. Keep that in mind when you're in retail renegade mode.

3. Write Thank-You Notes for Holiday Gifts

Personally, I think a verbal thank-you suffices when you exchange gifts in person, but if you've received a gift in the mail this season, take a few minutes to write a quick note of thanks via postcard or e-mail. The former is a more thoughtful gesture, of course, but I'm never offended by an e-mail thanks. Something is better than nothing, and I'd rather the sender save paper and his or her stamp.

4. Edit Your Social Media Profiles

I recently did a purge of all the photos on my Facebook page that I didn't like, untagged myself from photos I didn't like on other people's pages, and I whittled down my friends list a bit by removing a few folks that I've never heard of before in my life.

5. Take Down Your Holiday Decorations

Did you know that January 5th is widely considered to be the day when holiday decorations should come down? It's all based on the 12 days of Christmas (it's not just a song, y'all), which is steeped in a long history of religious tradition.

6. Organize the Basement/Attic/Garage

While you're moving your holiday boxes back into their respective storage places, take the time to organize the rest of the space. Pace yourself though. If you have all three of these areas — basement, attic, garage — there's no harm in spreading the work out over a few days to a week.

7. Clean Out Your Closet

You probably received more than a few new pieces of clothing over the holidays (either as gifts from someone you love, or as presents to yourself; I'm very guilty of the latter), so to ensure that your closet doesn't start spilling out from the seams, take stock of what you like and wear, and then collect all the unwanted items to sell. I unload a lot of my old clothing at my twice-yearly yard sales, but donating the clothes to the needy is another option.

8. Raid Your Pantry for Expired Food

Non-perishables perish, believe it or not, and I'm willing to bet that there are items in your pantry that are no longer safe (or delicious enough) to eat. Take an hour or so to empty it, examine the labels, and toss out whatever has expired. Also take a good look at what's close to its expiration date so you can make a conscious effort to use it to avoid wasting any more money.

9. Defrost and Clean Freezer and Fridge

This is one of my least favorite chores, but there's something about a clean fridge and freezer that satisfies me inside. This also is a great opportunity to toss out any expired foods and/or anything you know you're probably not going to eat.

10. Tidy up Your Medicine Cabinet

Just like food, medications have expiration dates. Go through your medicine cabinet and remove all expired items, toss out anything that only exists to take up space, and re-organize what's left so it's easily accessed.

11. Give the House a Deep Clean

Now that you've tackled some of the more time-consuming small areas of your home that require specialized attention, it's time to do the dreaded deep clean. This often means getting down on your hands and knees to scrubs toilets, and floors and baseboards, and on ladders to clean ceiling fans and blinds — but you can do it. Besides, it's freezing outside; would you rather be cleaning the gutters?

12. Rearrange Your Furniture

Besides giving your living space a fresh feel, there are bonafide psychological benefits to rearranging your furniture. Move a chair here; put a lamp there. You might be surprised at how much this simple fix can improve your mood — which might be a much-needed pick-me-up this time of year.

13. Check in With Your Boss/Work Team

With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, you may not have had an ideal opportunity to get down to actual business with your boss and co-workers. The beginning of the year is perfect for reconvening after a period of relaxation to talk about where everybody's at work-wise and plan ahead.

14. Update Your Pet's Health Info

Check in on your pet's health status by revisiting your files to make sure all vaccines and tags are up-to-date. If your pet hasn't been to the vet in a while, schedule a routine check-up.

15. Schedule a Physical

After your furbabies receive a clean bill of health, it's time to get yours. Make an appointment with your doctor to make sure everything is in working order. Use this time to discuss with him or her any issues you've been having and any prescriptions you need refilled.

16. Tune-up Your Vehicle

Hopefully your car is already winterized — you don't want to cause damage to your vehicle by facilitating avoidable issues that can arise from neglecting it — but you still need to get an oil change from time to time (check your owner's manual!). It's probably that time again.

17. Update Your DVR

At the beginning of the fall TV season, I create season passes for all the new shows I want to watch. By now, however, I've either lost interest in a few of them or they've been canceled. I know I'm not alone. Take 10 minutes to delete unwanted shows from your queue and cancel the season passes in which you're no longer interested.

18. Plan a Date With Your Partner

You don't want to get so wrapped up in being productive this month that you forget about your significant other. Plan a date for you two to spend several quality hours together enjoying each other's company and catching up with one another's lives.

19. Create a List of Goals for the Year

Having the intentions to work toward positive goals and actually planning for them are two completely different things. Exchange more talk for more doing this year by creating a list of goals that you'd like to achieve along with an outline of your plan to achieve them.

20. Learn Something New

You can learn the darndest things with the flick of a finger these days. Skip the cute cat videos on YouTube and search for something useful that'll leave you with a new skill after watching it.

21. Make a Two-Week Meal Calendar With Recipes

I've talked about this tip in several posts, and I keep bringing it up because it's truly changed the way I eat. Instead of blindly going grocery shopping, buying food, and then deciding what I'll make with it after I get home, I've reversed the process. Now I plan ahead of time what I'll make for dinner by adding two weeks' worth of recipes to a calendar and create a shopping list of ingredients based on those recipes (and nothing more!), so I can eat healthy meals on a regular basis. Having this structure in place has cut down on the amount of food waste in my house as well as the number of pizzas ordered because I can't decide what to make for dinner. I've also dropped 15 pounds (exercise helped, too), which I hope will give you more incentive to give this a try.

22. Clip Coupons for Your Next Shopping Trip

Before you head to the supermarket with your very healthy shopping list, clip those coupons. I round up coupons from circulars, past shopping trips, online resources, and apps to ensure that I'm maximizing my food savings as much as I can.

23. List for Sale Your Unwanted Items of Value

If you're feeling the pinch in January (because who isn't?), a great way to make some extra cash is to go through your home (while you're cleaning if you want to kill two birds with one stone) and round up all those odds and ends that you no longer need or want. If any of these items have value (electronics, accessories, appliances, etc.), decide how you'll sell them. Craigslist is a great place for larger items, while Amazon and eBay are ideal for smaller, lightweight pieces.

24. Deliver Remaining Unwanted Items to Donation Centers

After you've determined what you can sell, send all the other unwanted clutter to the donation center so that it can live a second life as someone else's.

25. Scan Old Photos Into the Computer

Unless you were born after 2007, you likely have albums and boxes and drawers full of actual paper pictures — and you're probably wondering what the heck you're going to do with them. One option is to scan the photos onto the computer so you can keep them in a file or in the cloud for forever safekeeping. You can do this daunting task manually (it's the cheapest way), or you can send your photos away to a company (of which there are plenty) that will do this for you.

26. Consolidate and Clean up Computer Files

Adding so many large photo files to your computer is going to eat up a lot of space, so you've got to make up for that somehow. Take this opportunity to delete unwanted files, consolidate stragglers, and otherwise organize your computer in a more concise, easy-to-access manner.

27. De-Clutter Your Office/Desk

Clean your desk the same way you cleaned your computer — decide, discard, dust. Seriously, you don't need all that nonsense that you keep year in and year out.

28. Set up a Dentist Appointment

You only get one set of teeth. Take care of them.

29. Establish a Fitness Plan

Six months ago I decided to get my health in check after years of a leading a sedentary lifestyle that severely damaged my self-confidence. I established a goal weight, created an exercise plan to help achieve it, and completely revamped my diet. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't very delicious — at first. Now that it's part of my normal routine, I've learned how to live healthy and love it. I feel and look better than I have in many years (since high school actually), and if I can do it, then so can you.

30. Reevaluate Your Debt and Establish a Plan of Action

Unless you're going into the New Year completely debt free, now is the time to take a good, long look at your finances and make a solid plan to improve your situation. One of my friends recently told me that she always makes this a part of her New Year's to-dos.

"We look at what we saved last year, areas we need to improve on, any debts we need to knock out this year, and big expenses we might need to plan for also," she says. "By no means is this the only time we talk about finances, but it prepares us mentally for what we want to accomplish."

31. Prepare Your Tax Materials

Nobody wants to do this. Ever. But I've found that by getting this out of the way sooner rather than later, I stress a whole lot less in a shorter amount of time. In fact, if you wrap it all up by mid-February, you could have your refund (if you get one; my fingers are crossed for you) before the federal tax-filing deadline even arrives. Spring vacation, anyone?

Do you have other ways to stay productive in the first month of the year so that the rest of it can run smoothly? Let us know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture

Thank you! That has to be one of the most beneficial and practical lists I've seen!

Guest's picture

Yup. It has been excellent to clean up and de-clutter already this year. It has been great to relax and reflect back on the prior year. Last year, I paid off my mortgage. It was a whirlwind of a ride getting rid of that $54,500 debt, but I did it, it's done, and I can't wait for what the future will bring with absolutely no payments! Thanks for the great read.