A survey says that over 99% of the new year resolutions are not kept up. This is the time of year when you see ads for gyms, wellness and fitness apps slashing subscription fees and offering icy deals. It’s the same thing in the tech world. Many resolve to take the leap and commit to finishing the certifications, whatever it may be, Azure AWS or Salesforce. I personally have failed to keep the consistency to write blogs, manage my sites UI, focus on my side project or reading books. My record of accomplishment of reading books was better in 2019 than the last 2 years combined. I could keep blaming my kids for all this, but that doesn’t help me grow.
So, this past year I invested time in trying to become consistent and built a strategy to get there. I thought I’d share it here so that there is a social pressure on me to keep up with those strategies. I chose the strategy based on three core principles that were found to be the most successful for many others.
1) One Thing – The idea is to focus on only one thing at time. Going a little deeper, break your work into smaller tasks and finishing one at a time. This rule not only applies for tasks. It applies to places and materials. For instance, using your phone for both personal and office work is counterproductive. Trying to read and work from your workstation is more distracting and you may end up losing the essence of the book.
Multi-tasking is for outliers like Elon Musk or Steve Jobs and not for everyone. Human brains are work best sequentially
2) Flow – Video Games are examples of flow. It is the state where you are so immersed in the activity you’re doing, that you’re completely forgetting about all your worries and anxieties, and you look up after hours, wondering where time went. Breaking it down, video games are rewarding and help the creation of feel-good hormone,” serotonin. Also, video games challenge your skills and always one level up from where you are today.
The key here is to apply those into our daily habits. As you see, Flow can only be achieved by focusing on One Thing.
3) Habit Chaining – It’s hard to be consistent, be it regularly going to the gym or reading a book. Many brands use cues to force a habit into your subconscious mind. Take Starbucks for instance, the coffee smell at every Starbucks restaurant is so similar that once you see their store signboard you feel the urge to drink a coffee, even though you are not hungry or tired. Starbucks signboard + coffee aroma => buy a coffee. It rewards you with sugar or caffeine or both.
Using the same principle, we could form a good habit. Reading chair + Kindle => reading and you are rewarded with a good night’s sleep.
The Mind Map
I started by creating a mind map of everything it wants to consistently do and put them into the respective categories. Take for example, Body-grooming, dental checkup, physical checkup, exercise, all these come into that category.
My Mind map is a living artifact, and it will continually evolve and change.
This is where I transform my ideas into action. After putting my mind map together, I started tagging them. When and where should I do it with the time included? As I tag them, I start scheduling those activities in my google calendar. In some cases, like investing, I set up auto recurring investing.
Most things in my mind map are repetitive either daily (e.g. exercise), weekly (call a friend) or monthly (pay bills). Automating is the best way to get things done. Try to automate wherever possible.
Finally, I have an automation set up using IFTTT to create a task in Trello for each event in the google calendar every morning. I also have a task to review and update my mind map once every month.
This whole exercise automates what I should focus on and what I shouldn’t care about. I have one place to go to find out the next thing to do, i.e Trello and I always have something to do.
It’s easy to look at the calendar event and ignore it. The problem is there is no incentive to do mundane tasks. If you had a task to eat candy in your to-do you would do it, because sugar increases dopamine, the happiness hormone. This is a challenging hurdle to get past.
One of the many ideas in the book “atomic habit” is to attach something rewarding to a task. Basically, attaching the candy to the task, something like “after doing this task, I’ll have a candy”. In practice, there is nothing that stops you from eating the candy without finishing the task.
There are a few ways I try achieving consistency:
1) Making it obvious/easy – Keeping the book I want to read accessible, in my sight where i spend most of my time.
2) Making it attractive – Choosing the book I really like to read and not because someone recommended it or rated it highly. If a book is not a page turner, i don’t hesitate to toss it for another one. We are wired to complete a book from childhood. Nope, not necessary.
3) Making it rewarding – I have wired my mind to believe that reading is a gym for my brain and keeps Alzheimer’s away. This is such a powerful way to trick the brain, because our brains gets stimulated and alerted to threat, Alzheimer disease is a threat and secretion of adrenaline is rewarding.
How often do you get distracted while doing something? A notification on your phone or a Team’s ping or just staring at infinity. I do it all the time. My goal is to enable Flow – spend a deep undistracted amount of time doing the task I intended to do. While I have not mastered avoiding distractions, I use the One Thing technique to enable Flow. Reading, for example, I have an IPAD that only has Kindle, Libby (library app), Audible, Udemy and a few other apps. I use my IPAD only for reading or learning, no games, no you tube and none of those streaming apps. I do have office teams and outlook installed and to avoid notifications, I have the focus mode enabled in my IPad. That way the only notification I get is any of those reading/learning apps.
I also put my mobile phone on charger while i read. It’s far away from me while I read. I am a heavy user of Focus more on my apple devices, and the only notifications I get immediately are calls. texts, emails are summarized, and other app notifications are summarized once a day.
I try a similar variation of the approach with exercise, work, and personal things. I don’t use my personal laptop for work and vice versa. This approach works and I can vouch for it.
By writing this blog post, I am not only trying to be accountable for myself, but also sharing the things that worked for me. Consistency is better than volume, quantity, or quality. If you want to get into the habit of reading, Goodreads Reading challenge to compete X number of books won’t help. Instead, reading just 1 page a day, every day helps. One minute of push up every day will help you achieve better results than joining a GYM. Kids, sickness, tiredness, or time can’t be an excuse for that one minute of reading or exercise.
Select one thing you want to work on, laser focus on that one thing for that given time and consistently improve and build on that every day.
This is what I am committing to for the year. Happy 2023