Monday, August 11, 2014

60 Minutes a Day: Is an Hour for Your Goals Unrealistic? (Part II)

I've just started an experiment to see if I can find time each day work toward on goals. My list is short, with just three things I want to do more:

  • study Spanish
  • read
  • stretch.

The idea is that each of these thing should take less than 20 minutes per day, so I'm committing no more than one hour a day.

I'm technically three days in, and I've managed to do only two goals on all three days. Even getting to two feels ambitious. An hour is starting to feel unrealistic.

The Current Hindrances
My schedule is a bit of a mess, however. I'm traveling for 10 days straight, staying at my sister's house right now. She and her husband have two little kids (2 and 4 years old). Chaos is everywhere. I originally thought that I could get to three tasks per day if only I worked them into my everyday routine. But right now, and for the next 7 more days, there is no routine.

I'd love to make that disruption in routine an excuse, but the fact is, busy people always have something irregular happening in their schedule. My partner, for example, sometimes vows to eat healthier and drink less beer, and every time he doesn't do it, he has a string of excuses. Friends are in town, so we have to have beers with them. It's a co-worker's last day at work, so he has to be social and have a beer with colleagues. We plan a Thursday night date night, and, c'mon, we're not going to pass up a drink with dinner. Every week -- if not every night -- there's something.

I don't want traveling to be an excuse. I make time, after all, to answer emails and futz around on Twitter. Why is it so hard to make time for the things I think I want to do toward future goals?

Future You
Part of the problem could be the age old issue of not seeing any urgency right now. There is no present consequence to not studying Spanish today. There is no harm if I don't read. I can always do it tomorrow. But in the long term, to be the person I want to be, I must be consistent in following through on these goals.

But Future Me doesn't have any agency. Future Us doesn't know how to show Present Us in real and tangible ways the consequences of not doing the small things now.

Social economist Dan Ariely writes about this issue in Predictably Irrational (and mentions it in his other books, too). He points to the idea of a Ulysses contract: Present You needs to do something in service of Future You. Maybe you've heard of people who literally freeze their credit cards into a block of ice. When they want to buy something, they have to thaw out the ice, which gives them pause and forces them to make a more thoughtful decision about whether to complete the purchase.

Strategies
In my next post, I'll talk concretely about the strategies I've been trying out -- the apps I'm using to schedule my goals and log my progress, and whether they are working. Should I do all three tasks back-to-back in a solid 60-minute block? Should I break them up? Is morning, afternoon, or evening the best time to try to work in a new habit?

I'll also explain my rationale behind the scheduling choices, and you can judge for yourself whether I'm sufficiently tricking Present Me into doing what Future Me wants.

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