60 Minutes a Day: Strategies and Rationale, Failures and Successes Toward Meeting Goals (Part III)

Timeful app for iPhone; smart scheduler
Let me be straight. I'm highly organized, and I spend a lot of time reading about and consider principles and practices related to productivity and efficiency. I'm good at this stuff. It's enjoyable.

Over the past three weeks or so, I've been on a quest to change my life by completing three big, long-term goals. I'm trying to increase my flexibility and improve my circulation, be more well read, and learn Spanish. How do you reach long-term goals? Generally, you achieve goals by breaking them down into short-term tasks and objectives. The tasks, in this case, must be routine and done daily: stretch, read, and study.

But how do you make time for that? Here's what I've been trying.

Strategies for Adding 3 New Daily Tasks
Strategy 1: Bundling. 
First I tried blocking out an hour at a time. My thought was, if I do three things back-to-back that takes about 20 minutes each, I carve out just one hour and that's manageable. The three separate tasks become one. My thinking should switch from completely three tasks to only one. In other words, I only have one new thing to do now, and it takes an hour.

It didn't work.

Strategy 2: Work small changes into my existing routine. 
Next, I tried spreading out these tasks over the course of the day: one in the morning, one mid-day during my lunch hour, and one in the evening. Wouldn't it be easy, I thought, to read in the morning, when I usually sit and drink coffee for 25 minutes and listen to talk radio? I'll just swap talk radio for reading. And isn't it easy to schedule my audio-based Spanish language lesson during my lunch break, when I usually walk and sometimes listen to a podcast? Finally, in the evening when I usually bum around the living room for an hour to unwind, I'll just sit on the floor and stretch instead.

Still no luck.

The problem as I see it is not so much the timing of the events but that I'm still trying to do too much at once. Whether it's an hour of time in one block or three small tasks worked into my existing routine, I'm finding it's just too hard to make changes of that size all at once.

Excuses, Excuses
The last three weeks have been extremely busy. I traveled one weekend to Washington D.C. The next weekend, I was on a flight to Buffalo. Then I spent 10 days in the Niagara and Toronto area on a business trip. This weekend, I'm out on Fire Island. So my typical routine has indeed been off kilter a bit.

However, I don't think any of those excuses are valid. Life always gets in the way. There is never a good time to make a change. I completely don't buy these excuses and didn't let myself pretend for an instance that a busy schedule was really the problem.

Plus, I did have a few more typical days in the last three weeks, and even then, I never once did all three of my new tasks.

Moderate Success
Let's focus on the positive. I have had a small amount of success, and by examining it, I think I can figure out a better way forward.

I have consistently been able to do one task a day. It wasn't always the same task, which in hindsight seemed odd. You'd think I'd prioritize the three tasks and, if I'm only going to do one, I'll do the most important one.

Not so.

Sometimes I made time for 20 minutes of reading. Sometimes I listened to my Spanish lessons. A few times, I stretched. I'm curious to collect a little more data to figure out why I pick one activity or another because in the moment, it simply feels like the thing I can tolerate.

Which brings me to my revelation: Add one new task at a time, until it truly becomes a habit.

I'm speculating that if I, for example, switch my morning talk radio time for reading, at some point it will be a true habit, and I will stop thinking of it as a new task. Only when that happens should I try to add the next one.

I'm going to keep tracking my progress and collecting data, and next time, I'll share some more detail about the apps I'm using. One of them is shown at the top of this post. It's called Timeful (free; for iOS only). More on that next time and another app I'm using called Wonderful Day next time.