60 Minutes a Day: Know What to Give Up (Part IV)

In trying to squeeze a little bit more out of each day, you might ask yourself whether 60 minutes is enough. Say you're trying to make headway on some long-term goals, and they all require you to spend "20 minutes a day or less" doing something. We've seen that promise in "10-minute meals" (eat healthier). It's apparent in "the 7-minute workout" (get fit). And pretty much any language-learning program you can think of will say you need to study "only 20 minutes a day."

The past few weeks, I've been trying to figure out, empirically and quantitatively, whether 60 minutes a day is really sufficient -- or whether time is the issue at all. Often we have time, but not motivation or bandwidth or some other necessary resource. For example, we all need rest. We need unstructured time in our days when we aren't doing anything at all. It's hard to give up too much of that rest time to fit in "just one more thing."

I'm tracking my three daily duties toward long-term goals with a few different apps. One of the simplest ones that I quite like is called Wonderful Day.

Wonderful Day is a free iPhone app that takes its inspirations from Jerry Seinfeld. Early in his career, Seinfeld wrote jokes every single day. His motivation for doing so was to keep a wall calendar where he would draw a big red X on every day that he wrote jokes. Once he had a couple of Xs in a row, he didn't want to break the chain. So he kept writing them.

Instead of Xs, Wonderful Day uses green and red dots. When you do the thing you said you were going to do, you give yourself a green dot. If not, mark it red. Gray means you didn't log anything for that day. Easy enough. The app makes crystal clear which tasks and chores you have and have not done consistently.

One thing I've learned from using Wonderful Day is that I have figured out well enough how to work two new tasks into my day: reading and studying Spanish. I don't have a perfect track record, but after a couple of weeks, I'm able to do those two things with some consistency.

But the third one... I've completely punted on it. I mean, I must not be even trying. My "stretch" task in Wonderful Day is a row of gray dots, which means I'm not even marking that I haven't done it yet. Why? Because in my mind, it's as if I haven't started yet. I'm on a zero streak, so I haven't even started taking this task seriously.

It's useful to know, though. Maybe if I get just one green circle, I'm try harder in earnest.

Part of me likes that I haven't even given stretching a real go yet, however. Working in two new tasks per day has been hard enough. In some sense, I think I actively chose not to start stretching yet.

When we think about prioritizing, we usually ask, "What is the highest priority?" In other words, what things do you most need to do? What can you not cut from your day?

But I think it's just as important to ask, "What is the lowest priority?" What is the first things you should cut when you have limited time or resources? Sometimes we face that thought, but not always. In setting goals, that is probably the case. Are you more likely to ask yourself "What goals are most important to me?" or "Which of the following goals is least important to me?"

It's a slightly different take on the same matter, but that shift is perspective can be rather effective.