I’m back! Last year, I quit my job, moved, and bought a place for my books to live. I spent June through December in experiments. I traveled. I wrote. I accomplished a goal I’ve had since I was eight.
And I carried out several dozen studies in efficiency and accountability. Most of these inquiries led nowhere, but some made it past margins of error and novelty. Since it’s the season of resolutions, I thought I’d share what worked for me–in the hopes that fellow resolution makers and breakers remember that every day can make you feel as new year’s day did. Whatever those feelings were.
Have a novel, thesis, edit, renovation, fitness project, application, translation, [insert leviathan here] to tackle? Every day, take ten fully focused minutes to do it–no phone, no Facebook, no distractions. Tell yourself if you can do it for ten minutes, that’s enough. One of two things will happen: you’ll stop after the allotted time or you’ll keep going. But if all you ever manage is ten minutes a day for thirty days, that’s still five hours toward the project that you might not have put in otherwise. After your month of ten daily minutes, try fifteen.
You can tailor the limit as needed. If you’re a writer for example, set the minimum to a paragraph a day or a page a day for thirty days. If you’re an illustrator, do a drawing a day. If you’re trying to take up running, do a minute, then two, then three, and build to five continuous minutes by the end of thirty days. The objective is to help you get started. How much more time you put in as you go is up to you.
Another useful thing to do is to subtract. You have twenty-four hours most days. If you want to sleep for ten of those twenty-four hours, accept that whatever you want to get done must fit in fourteen. If commuting time, food prep time, eating time, gym time, and getting ready in the morning time usually take a total of five to six hours, subtract that amount. Et voilà, you have the range of hours within which your tasks must fit. If you habitually set yourself up to do things that exceed, in this case, those eight to nine hours, you’re setting yourself up for daily disappointment. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t push yourself a little–you should. But do the math. Do seven days of math. Schedule down time. Build in leeway. Set reasonable expectations.
And when you get discouraged because it’s February 1st or June 1st or December 21st, and you think you’ve gotten nowhere, just remember one thing: incremental progress is progress.
Incremental progress is progress.
I have to tell myself this every day multiple times a day. It is impossible to look good and get better at the same time. This detail is especially true in the arts. You’re not going to be the best cartoonist, the best guitarist, the best filmmaker right away. I’ve found it’s also true in investments, real estate, test prep, athletics, and coding. But even the smallest step in the direction of your dreams gets you closer to them. So do the small things if small is all you manage today. A year of small things will get you there. And as a result of your putting in the time, you will, by default, tackle the bigger and harder tasks as you go.
Maybe you feel you’ve already gone off track with your grand plans for the year. Whatever else you take away from this post, just remember that you don’t fail unless you stop trying. Really. I’ve taken to giving myself a certain number of days a month on which I’m allowed to fall short in the pursuit of a specific project. I never know when those days will occur. But this way, when they do, it’s an expected setback that doesn’t throw me off. It’s part of the process, part of the progress. I’m still advancing. After all, it’s worth pursuing those goals that make up our dreams, no matter how many times we stop, start, and start again.