One Foot in Front of the Other

I’ve been a video game and internet junkie since my childhood. Lately I’ve come to terms with the observation that these things aren’t really improving my quality of life. Rather, they’re providing instant gratification and an easy distraction. It is so easy to point my browser to reddit and veg out for 30 minutes at a time.

I’ve noticed something after sticking with running for a while: it is much easier for me to continue making progress toward a goal if I work at it a little bit at a time and as frequently as possible. One of the greatest tools I’ve found to push myself to do that little bit is the streak.

The streak is an interesting little mental trick. Essentially, if I record my daily progress towards a goal it makes quitting or taking a break much harder to do. There’s an excellent article on lifehacker that discusses Jerry Seinfeld’s use of the same trick.

Here are some things I’ve been doing lately to keep from getting distracted by video games & reddit and stay focused on my goals:

  • For running: I keep track of my exercise with RunKeeper and RunningAHEAD. RunningAHEAD is especially nice because I can set up a graph of my weekly running distance and encourage myself to bump up my mileage if I start slacking. Here’s what the graph looks like:
    [RunningAHEAD Weekly Mileage Graph]
  • For programming and other projects: I started using toggl to keep track of my time per project. It’s basically a stop watch where you can assign the watch’s time to a project or client. As a result, you get nice graphs and pie charts showing how you’ve used your time on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis. The neat thing about toggl is that simply knowing that the stopwatch for a given project is running discourages goofing off elsewhere on the internet. Otherwise my project data would be inaccurate and I can’t have that, can I?
  • For meditation: I ran cal -h 2013 > 2013.txt and printed a copy of 2013.txt at 45% scale to get a wallet-sized calendar. I’ll mark off each day if I spent at least 5 minutes in meditation that day. It gets much harder to skip a day the longer my streak is. Here’s what 2013.txt looks like:

          January               February               March
    Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa  Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa  Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
           1  2  3  4  5                  1  2                  1  2
     6  7  8  9 10 11 12   3  4  5  6  7  8  9   3  4  5  6  7  8  9
    13 14 15 16 17 18 19  10 11 12 13 14 15 16  10 11 12 13 14 15 16
    20 21 22 23 24 25 26  17 18 19 20 21 22 23  17 18 19 20 21 22 23
    27 28 29 30 31        24 25 26 27 28        24 25 26 27 28 29 30
                                                31
    
    
           April                  May                   June
    Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa  Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa  Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
        1  2  3  4  5  6            1  2  3  4                     1
     7  8  9 10 11 12 13   5  6  7  8  9 10 11   2  3  4  5  6  7  8
    14 15 16 17 18 19 20  12 13 14 15 16 17 18   9 10 11 12 13 14 15
    21 22 23 24 25 26 27  19 20 21 22 23 24 25  16 17 18 19 20 21 22
    28 29 30              26 27 28 29 30 31     23 24 25 26 27 28 29
                                                30
    
    
            July                 August              September
    Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa  Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa  Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
        1  2  3  4  5  6               1  2  3   1  2  3  4  5  6  7
     7  8  9 10 11 12 13   4  5  6  7  8  9 10   8  9 10 11 12 13 14
    14 15 16 17 18 19 20  11 12 13 14 15 16 17  15 16 17 18 19 20 21
    21 22 23 24 25 26 27  18 19 20 21 22 23 24  22 23 24 25 26 27 28
    28 29 30 31           25 26 27 28 29 30 31  29 30
    
    
          October               November              December
    Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa  Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa  Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
           1  2  3  4  5                  1  2   1  2  3  4  5  6  7
     6  7  8  9 10 11 12   3  4  5  6  7  8  9   8  9 10 11 12 13 14
    13 14 15 16 17 18 19  10 11 12 13 14 15 16  15 16 17 18 19 20 21
    20 21 22 23 24 25 26  17 18 19 20 21 22 23  22 23 24 25 26 27 28
    27 28 29 30 31        24 25 26 27 28 29 30  29 30 31
    

All in all, I find that I’m much happier making progress on each of my goals even if it is only a little bit at a time. The important thing is that I’m not spending most of my free time idly. I’ll still play a video game every once in a while but I think I’ve finally broken my goofing-off addiction.