17 Problems You Can Fix Right Now
These easy remedies will eliminate all of life’s little annoyances—and improve your wealth, health, and sanity.
Drill sergeants know it. So do mothers and psychologists. Take care of the small things—maintain that rifle, clean your room, say you’re sorry—and life improves in big ways. Little fixes cut stress and build a reassuring sense of control.
“Once I have success with one goal,” says Tim Pychyl, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University, “it increases my happiness, well-being, satisfaction, and self-confidence. And that motivates me to do more.”
It’s like the broken-window theory that big-city cops swear by: If you correct little eyesores, the community pulls together to overhaul everything in sight. Try it in your life, starting now.
Fix Your Posture
(while you work)
Use the 20-20 rule. “Trying to sit up perfectly straight all day is impractical and will only tire you out,” says Alan Hedge, Ph.D., a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University. Every 20 minutes, stand for 20 seconds and stretch or shake things out. “Just 20 seconds away from your computer screen reduces fatigue and increases blood circulation,” says Hedge. Now you’ll have the power to sit up straight.
Recharge Your Workout
(and find your abs)
Do something that seems crazy: a one-sided workout. Unilateral training will trick your body into reaching new levels of strength and muscle, says David Jack, director of fitness for Teamworks Centers in Acton, Massachusetts. One-sided exercises demand stabilization, so you’ll strengthen your core, improve coordination, and (ironically) prevent muscular imbalances.
Add these exercises to your workout: single-arm dumbbell bench press, single-arm shoulder press, and single-legged squat. Start by performing 8 to 10 repetitions with one side of your body, and then switch sides and repeat to complete the set. Rest for a minute and perform 2 more sets. Complete 3 sets for each exercise. For an extra boost, mix up the order of your unilateral exercises every 4 weeks, and adjust your rep ranges a few times a week. You’ll have to decrease the weight you lift initially, but you’ll soon pack on new muscle.
Do not make a to-do list. Do not research power tools. Do not clean your desk. Just dive in. That’s according to Pychyl, who has studied procrastination. Your to-do list is just another delaying tactic with a short-term rush. “We relieve our anxiety by making this false schedule,” Pychyl says. Procrastinators aren’t necessarily bad at time management, he says, “they’re just not willing to deal with the discomfort of getting started.”
But starting will ultimately make you feel better about working. “Our emotional well-being and our satisfaction with life,” he says, “is based a great deal upon the successful pursuit of our goals.”
Fill Your Walls
(and cover that stain)
You don’t have to pay thousands to a starched, sniffing gallery owner for original paintings. But you really should replace your Alice in Chains poster and Rolling Rock mirror.
Starving artists are everywhere, dying to be taken advantage of. Check out local art schools and shows put together by newly minted Masters of Fine Arts, says Alan Bamberger, an art appraiser and author of The Art of Buying Art.
Get a sense of what’s out there at ugallery.com, where art-school grads showcase their work, priced from $20 to $5,000. It even offers a money-back guarantee. Other affordable alternatives: antique prints and maps (oldprintshop.com), and photographs (gettyimages.com).
Fix Your Budget
(and save your credit rating)
New concept: Read your bills. Do you truly understand your cellphone plan? “Most people don’t thoughtfully take the time to analyze what they’re spending their money on,” says J.J. Burns, founder of the wealth management firm J.J. Burns and Co.
1. Cellphone: Analyze how your plan compares to your usage. Not using all your minutes? Opt for a different plan. And remember: If you use fewer than 400 minutes a year, a prepaid plan may be cheaper.
2. Utilities: Do a year-over-year analysis of your bills with Quicken or Microsoft Money. Unexplained jumps? Make sure your meter’s not being misread. Burns did this, and his water company cut him a $380 check.
3. Mortgage: Make one extra payment toward your principal every year to save thousands of dollars of interest and pay off your mortgage earlier.
4. Stuff you buy: Anytime you buy something from a company that offers a refund if they lower the price within 30 days, take them up on it. Set your calendar to remind you to call them 28 days later.
Repair Your Scratched Fender
Examine the scratch to see if there’s still color left in the groove. Yes? Good—you’ve only scraped the clearcoat, a finish that protects the paint from sunlight and gives it that glossy sheen. You’ll be able to fix it yourself, says Dennis Parks, the author of The Complete Guide to Auto Body Repair.
First, buy a clearcoat polishing compound. Try Meguiars (meguiars.com) or Eagle One (eagleone.com). Using a soft cloth dabbed in the compound, buff out the scratch, using circular motions.
If the scratch has chipped the paint, clean the area with a wax and grease remover. This removes crud and will help the new paint stick. Then pick up a bottle of touch-up paint at a local auto-parts store. (Colors are typically broken down by manufacturer, but for the exact shade, find the tag on your car that lists the paint number. The folks at the store can help you.)
Apply the paint in light coats, allowing it to dry in between. When you’ve covered the scratch, let the paint dry for at least 24 hours. Moisten a piece of 2,000-grit wet/dry sandpaper and gently smooth out any bumps, ripples, or runs. Finally, rub on some automotive wax. Smile, and inspect your teeth in the reflection.
Fix Your Game
(because she’s heard it all before)
Relax and set your approach on Deeply Subtle. Make talking to you her decision, which will make her feel better about herself—and you. Never butt in while she’s with her friends.
Wait until she’s alone, then issue a drive-by compliment (keep it above the neck or below the ankles). “We’re used to men approaching us,” says Lisa Altalida, the author of The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Getting Girls, “but if a man says something and then walks away like he doesn’t want anything, it piques our curiosity.” Now she’ll feel in control. Is she glancing your way? That means you’ve been cleared for approach.
Fix Your Hearing
(without a Q-tip)
Doctors who peer into ears with otoscopes all day long know a dirty little secret: Lots of men have too much wax in there. And many of those men have jammed the stuff (cerumen, technically) deep into the ear canal by using cotton swabs improperly.
At-home kits can’t always reach the wax deeply impacted against the eardrum, says Mark Pyle, M.D., a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Wisconsin. So have a doctor remove the buildup with saline or suction. Sometimes docs need to use small scoops called curettes.
Whatever the method, it’ll be a 10-minute procedure that yields glorious results. (Is your cellphone ringing? No, it’s that one across the room!) And while you’re at the doctor’s office, make an appointment for that full physical you’ve been putting off for 6 years.
Fix Your Eyesight
(without a prescription)
Eyestrain (tired eye muscles) isn’t the only cause of poor vision. It could be dry eye. Norwegian researchers recently found that people blink 10 fewer times per minute while they’re staring at a computer screen than while they’re having a conversation. This causes your “tear film”—the outer layer of moisture on your eyeball—to evaporate more quickly. “When your tear film isn’t healthy, your visual acuity won’t be as sharp and clear,” says Patricia Sabb, M.D., an associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Wisconsin.
So take a break and close your eyes. (Not napping, boss—just restoring the tear film.) If you still need more moisture, try Visine Pure Tears.
Fix Your Storytelling
(before people doze)
Get to the point. Get to the point. Get to the point. Details—about the weather, color of the bike, height of the rosebush—make people’s attention spans collapse. A brief story lets them play along and fill in their own details. Start your tale when the conversation provides a segue, and not after someone just scored a big laugh. (If you tank, you’re the guy who killed the mood.)
Tell the story quickly, make yourself the fool, and exaggerate. “Take it to the edge of believability. Stuff happens every day to people. You need to make it stand out,” says Jack Gallagher, comedian and writer/performer of the one-man show What He Left.
Restore Your Endurance
(and set a PR)
The secret to improving endurance is to go faster, not lengthen a plodding run. Bill Hartman, P.T., C.S.C.S., suggests breaking your run into intervals at your goal speed. If your 5-K goal is 24 minutes, you must run a mile in 7:40, a half-mile in 3:50, and a quarter in 1:55. Pick the distance you can hit in that time and run those intervals, resting for as long as you ran. Once you can run, say, four quarters in 1:55, move up to a longer interval. Work your way up to your goal distance.
Fix Your Kicks
(and save money)
Instead of spending $150 on new shoes, spend less than half of that on new soles or heels for your favorite pair. Not a bad price for saving something you really like. Plus, there’s no break-in period.
Go to the Shoe Service Institute of America (ssia.info) to find a cobbler. Or mail off the old shoes via americanheeler.com or shoerepairresolecenter.com.
Clean the Coffee Stain
(before your 9:30 meeting)
Stain removers like Shout Wipes and Tide to Go are excellent. Don’t keep those in your desk? Find a sink fast, says Brian Boye, Men’s Health fashion director. Use soap and hot water and blot out the stain, pouring the water through the fabric if you can (take the damn shirt off if you’re in the john). “Whatever you do, don’t rub it,” says Boye. Blot dry with paper towels, or if there’s a forced-air hand dryer, crank it up.
Untangle that Mess
(because it looks like hell)
Unplug everything. Label each cord. Screw your power strip to the underside of your desk, or to the wall. Tie off excess cordage with bongo ties or cable ties (cableorganizer.com). Reattach your (wisely labeled) connector cords, gathering them as you go and bundling them with more ties or even carabiners to minimize tangle. Now, don’t you feel better?
Conquer Your Cravings
(and lose your gut)
Toss out all your chips. Then take this tip from Cornell University: You’re 2.7 times more likely to eat healthy snacks if you place them on the middle shelf of your refrigerator than if you’ve hidden them in the crispers. So stock that shelf with some mozzarella sticks and sliced red peppers to cover your cravings for sweet, savory, and crunchy snacks.
Fix a Leaky Faucet
(and impress her)
Many single-lever faucets leak when crud collects and causes a gap in the seal so it can’t shut off, says Danny Lipford, host of Today’s Homeowner. First, shut off the water supply under the sink. Then use an Allen wrench to loosen the screw at the base of the faucet handle and lift it off. Remove the washers and movable parts, soak them in white vinegar, and wipe them down. Reassemble and turn the water back on.
Lose that 5 O’Clock Shadow
(before your date)
Keep an electric shaver in your desk. They’re much better than they were in the Mad Men days. No cords, for starters. The Braun PocketGo is compact, quiet, and can be rinsed clean when you’re done buzzing off stubble. She’ll love it.
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