NOT A PRETTY PICTURE
It was the 9th day in a row I had wolfed down an entire pint of Hägen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream – in one sitting. I hadn’t run in days. I wasn’t writing. Three beers into the night. No movement on any goals. Locked in a downward spiral and I didn’t even want a way out. I was sitting on the floor leaning against the bottom of the couch because I didn’t want drip chocolate all over the cushions. After watching me dive into the land of chocolate with such passion, not even the dog came to sit with me. He took one whiff of the remnants of the pint and went to take a nap in his crate. Not a pretty picture.
Every year I have what I call a “down quarter”. Most of the year, I’m pretty focused. I set some goals. I take some action. I take reasonable care of myself, my job and all the other things I want in this life. But I’m like a light switch – either fully on or fully off. Sometimes I get stuck in a rut and can't get going again. I have no dimmer. I’m not able to do things in moderation. And the down quarter kills me. I once spent a few months dropping some pounds training for a marathon only to gain a quick 15 back in the 6 weeks after the marathon. Yes - 15 in 6 weeks. Every year the down quarter takes over. And then I get back on track. As a cavalryman, I hate retaking ground I've already captured. I wanted to find a way let myself relax a bit, but not go completely off the rails during the down quarter.
ENTER THE DO 3 STRATEGY
I was looking for a way to keep my goals and commitments in front of me every day so I could reduce the impact when my focus wanes. I needed to keep it simple so I would actually follow it. And it needed to be a way to connect my goals to daily action. I read how Jerry Seinfeld used to make a big red X on his calendar every day that he wrote. Then he tried to create an unbreakable chain on his calendar - every day another X. I didn’t have one all-important thing I wanted to do every day like he did. Some days I wanted to run, some days I wanted to read and other times I wanted to work on my coaching practice. So I came up with the idea of just doing 3 things every day.
The first thing I did was brainstorm everything I wished I would do every day. I wrote down everything that could make a day into a productive day.
Some of my favorites:
A full day of vacation with the kids while remaining relaxed without freaking out about stupid stuff that doesn’t matter – code Vaca.
At least 30 minutes spent on growing my coaching practice, marketing or applying to freelancer opportunities – code Saber.
One guided meditation using the Headspace App – code M.
Learning one new recipe that I can cook for my kids – code Meal.
I came up with a list of about 20 things and I decided that if I did 3 of them, the day should “count” as a productive day. I liked that I had the freedom of choice. Some days I don’t want to work on the business. Other days I don’t want to run. I only have to do 3.
CREATING UNBREAKABLE CHAINS
The first few times I tried the strategy, it didn’t work. I’d do 2 things and forget the third. I would go on vacation and completely forget to do anything. So I needed a place where I could keep track every day. I didn’t have a fancy App or automated reminders. I started simple. I printed a calendar and just wrote down the 3 things. If I did 3, I put a green X on the day. If I didn’t, I put a pink circle (no reason – just the only other highlighter I had). And then I tried to keep the chain alive.
I’ve been using this strategy for a couple years now and I’ve learned a few lessons that have made it easier to stay on track.
Pushups are easy to knock out right before bed if you are running short on time. It hurts, but it’s over quickly.
If I can multi-task, it’s easier to finish 3 every day. When I ride the train, I’m writing, meditating or reading to make use of the time.
Add new things that “count” as they come up. I added in pull-ups and doing quarterly 1:1 times with my daughters because I thought they were important.
If I do something twice in a day, it counts twice. If I write for longer or I run twice – both count.
Put the calendar in a place where you can see it – especially before I get in bed. I got in a habit of knocking things out when it was top of mind.
Tell other people about it. I told my daughters about my strategy and they ask me all the time, “Have you done your 3?” Other people can serve as built in accountability partners.
It makes a difference. I’m so much further along on my goals this year – partly because I’ve continued to do 3 during my down quarter. Sure, I still eat the Hägen-Dazs every now and then. But I’m balancing it out with 3 things.
If you feel stuck, make a list of the important daily habits. Maybe start small – get up, brush teeth, smile at your significant other. Then ramp it up. Make different things count. Get on a streak. Maybe think about trying to do 4…
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- Mike Sweeney, www.sabercoaching.com