I am, at my core, a scattered person. Without self-imposed structure, I would get nothing done at all. It’s why I have so many planners and notebooks, why I write everything down, keep track of how I spend my time, and download dozens of productivity apps when I feel like I’m getting nowhere. I tape habit-trackers into my hobonichi cousin. (Then I forget to fill them out for weeks at a time.) I gravitate towards programs and systems that record your progress, so you can see your improvement over time. It’s not enough to go running, I need to record that shit in Strava and then write down my time and distance in my filofax. It’s not enough to meditate, I want an app that records the bloody journey for me.
Gamify all my shit. I’m into that. I want Duolingo streaks and XP gains. I want checklists where I can tick things off AND put a line through them when they’re done.
My penchant for notebooks and planners led me in due course to Planner Youtube, in which people show off their weekly planners and bullet journals and filofaxes. Often, someone has an idea or a system that I think looks pretty useful, and I research it and potentially add it to my own. A few months ago, it was the Getting Things Done system. Aside from the personalisation aspect of systems like GTD, I like that things can be broken down to their very simplest steps, and any incremental progress towards it is still progress. You have a moment and you’re bored? Look down your Action Items list and pick something easy. Boom, done, tick it off, write down the next step in that project. Feels good, right? (My trouble is that I don’t look at that list often enough. I’ve been migrating “take passport photo” from week to week on my to-do lists for months now.)
This week I found another one. From Reddit, in fact, which despite its reputation can be one of the most supportive and encouraging places on the internet. One particular example of this capacity for community and support is this particular post. A guy has been watching his life slip away because he can never seem to do anything; he’s not enjoying doing fuck all on the internet, yet he can’t seem to drag himself away and actually do something. It’s procrastination at its worst. A redditor replies with his personal method for making progress in life: the four pillars. These hinge on doing something – anything, no matter how small – towards making progress towards a goal. It’s nearly midnight and you haven’t done anything today? One push-up. That’s all.
This is genius, because often we put things off because of the perceived size of the task. But if you’re just doing one push-up, well, that’s easy, right? There’s no barrier to that. But once you’re down there, well, you may as well do a couple more. You’ve now done ten push-ups, and that’s pretty good, and you did a thing today, and now you can feel good about yourself. Push-ups is just an example. Maybe you want to clean your house. Today, you wipe down one bench. There, took you two seconds. Fucking tick off “did a thing today” in your productivity app. But since you’re at the bench with the cloth in your hand, you may as well wipe down the sink as well, and maybe the stove top, perhaps the inside of the microwave while you’re at it. You don’t need to do that, though. You could just wipe down the bench. Still something. Still progress. It was a Non-Zero Day.
That’s one pillar. The others are forgiving yourself for past fuck-ups; being grateful to the past-you for the shit you did yesterday, and doing favours for your future self; and exercise and books.
One thing always seems a bit small to me. I want to push myself just a little, because I have more than one goal and I’d like to make progress in different areas. Of course, on a bad day, maybe I only do one thing. I’ll still tick that off because it’s a non-zero day, but in the future, once I see how I’m doing, maybe I’ll change that. I’m new to this system, and I haven’t worked out the best way to employ it yet.
For now, I’m going to aim to do something in three areas every day, and because it seems an easy way to split things up, I’m using the great classic of Mind, Body, Spirit.
Mind: Duolingo, reading, writing, study/homework.
Body: Exercise, running, strength, water, diet.
Spirit: Mental health, peace, time spent in nature, relationships, mindfulness.
I want to write something every day. It can be one line. Still better than no lines. My stretch goal here is to do one thing that helps towards writing as a career, be it brainstorming blog topics, connecting with other writers, looking up one magazine to submit to. This I don’t expect to happen every day. Hell, if I can get two blog posts written a week with some sort of regularity, I’ll be happy. But if all I can do is one thing in each category, I can celebrate that.
“But that’s fuck all,” you say, “why would you celebrate that? Doesn’t that feel like bullshit?” Kinda. But part of the point is to acknowledge that something was done, to reinforce the good behaviour within your brainmeats. You read five pages and that’s all you have time for before something comes up or you get distracted, and you say to yourself “wow five pages? You suck” then you’re only going to want to start something if you have the time and capacity to get a lot done at once. Then the job looks huge and you’ll want to put it off. It never gets done.
“Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” So says Ovid, if the internet can be trusted. Now go forth and do something nice for your Future Self. You deserve it.