Whenever I want to add something to my daily routine I try to find something else that I am already in the habit of doing, like brushing my teeth or walking the dog, and tying the new activity to the one that I’m already doing every day. This has worked fairly well until just recently. I’ve found that I’ve run out of time in which to add new activities.

This puts me in the awkward position of choosing. Which of the old habits is no longer achieving its purpose? Which has become complicated beyond its utility and can be trimmed some? It is surprising what a creature of habit and ritual I am. It is hard to question your routine and throw out those habits that you have outgrown.

I think it is a process of growing, shedding your cocoon so that the lighter, more essential you can emerge and glisten in the sunlight. That’s what I keep telling myself as I fumble through my routine looking for the inessential. I’ll regain my balance. It just takes thought and honesty and a touch of courage.

Learning to Think …

I read an interview with Charles Duhigg that helped me understand why I do some of the things that I do. To summarize what I gleaned from it, in order to be successful, we must challenge ourselves to think more about the things that we want to accomplish. We need to put ourselves in a position where we are outside of our comfort zone so that we will think about our goals in deeper and different ways.

When I started writing my seven hundred and fifty words every morning I wanted to learn how to transfer what I was thinking to the page effortlessly. I had discovered Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Her first suggestion is to sit down every morning and write three pages. I thought about this and decided that I wanted to write on a computer.

I poked around the internet and discovered Buster Benson‘s Buster had done the math and figured out that three hand written pages were approximately seven hundred and fifty words. I signed up and started writing. Buster had made things interesting by collecting statistics on your writing, like how many days in a row you had written your words, and how many times you were distracted for more than three minutes while writing your seven hundred and fifty words. Your words are kept private and you can choose to share as many or as few of your statistics as you like. He also came up with badges for achievements like 30 consecutive days writing, not being distracted for a certain number of days in a row, etc.

As weeks and months went by, I discovered that I was learning to write more fluently and with much less attention to the mechanical aspects of getting the words on the page. At first I had spent much of the posts talking about how many words I had written so far and how many words I had left to write. I soon graduated to describing what was going on in the room around me. The sounds that I heard out the window. The demands of the cat and dog. My wife’s phone conversations.

I kept at it and discovered that if I could listen to music that was instrumental or so familiar that I could ignore the lyrics, I could block out distractions. Of course when I was struggling with myself about what to write, I would often start talking about the music.

Then at the beginning of June I read a blog post by C.J Shivers that advocated blogging every day. I have had a much neglected blog for years. I had even made several attempts to blog daily. This lasted for several days or several weeks. I always got distracted and quit blogging. This time when I decided to commit to blogging daily I new I need to have a plan.

I had managed to make writing daily a habit with so, I decided to use my morning words as a way to generate drafts for blog posts. That would allow me to use one good habit to help bootstrap another. I wrote a blog post committing to blog daily and I was off.

I haven’t been able to think of something blog worthy while writing my words every day so far. Some days, I have other things on my mind. Things that are either too private or too boring to make into a blog post. When that happens, I have to make more time to write my blog later in the day. But when I do manage to write a good blog post while I’m writing my morning words, it is particularly satisfying.

The thing that originally caught my attention to read the Duhigg interview was the pull quote that said that you were using your todo list all wrong. I have been a long time believer in the power of making lists. I’m not as much in the habit of making them as I’d like but when I do, I seem to accomplish the things on them.

Duhigg advocates that you use your todo list to prioritize and motivate. In particular, he says to write your stretch goal at the top of the list and periodically ask yourself if what you are doing right now is contributing to that stretch goal. This is yet another way to force yourself to think more and differently about your goals. I’m going to give it a try.

Time to Think About Some Goals

I forget who it was that taught me this little gem but in my experience, it has turned out to be true. If you want to insure that you accomplish things, write them down on a list. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you write them on paper with a pen or pencil or you type them into a computer. The relevant thing is that you’ve spent the time thinking about them and formulating them into words and as you write or type them, you are, in effect, programming your brain to accomplish them. I often don’t even bother to check the items off the list as I accomplish them. Just making the list is enough to focus my intent. I occasionally run across lists that I’ve made, either in old notebooks or in files in some obscure sub-directory of my Documents folder, and I’ll look at them and discover that I’ve accomplished most, if not all, of the items on the list.

So, I want to make some goals for myself. There are three categories of goals that I intend to attempt to capture today:

  • Health goals
  • Project goals
  • Financial goals

Let’s take Health goals first.

  • I want to lose at least 10 pouinds between the initial weigh in and the final weigh in of the “Scale Back Alabama” competition.
  • I want to get my daily fasting blood sugar down below 130 mg/dL.
  • I want to get my cholesterol panels all within ADA recommendations (that means boosting my HDL and getting my triglycerides down).
  • I want to stop spilling protein (that means mostly exercise, I think).
  • I want to get back on a schedule of daily exercise.
  • I want to quit reflexively eating everything on my plate.
  • Long term, I want to weigh less than 200 pounds.

Now some Project goals:

  • I want to maintain my habit of writing for at least 30 minutes a day (nominally between 10:00pm and 10:30pm).
  • I want to start posting to my blog, Occasional Comment (here) at least five times a week.
  • I want to finish the Radiosonde data analysis project for Bob.
  • I want to present at least once a quarter to the lunch and learn at work for a total of five times this year.
  • I want to write at least a science fiction short story and perhaps even a novel.
  • I want to finish the pilot of The Gentry.

And finally, some Financial goals:

  • I want to get completely out of debt.
  • I want to start a successful small consulting business to retire to.
  • I want to be able to save at least 20% of my income while paying all of my bills and having a comfortable lifestyle.
  • I want to have the money to get the house fixed up.
  • I want to be independently wealthy so long as it harms no one.

So there are my lists for now. I’m putting them out there. I’ll come back and check periodically to see how many items I’ve accomplished. I’ll probably write some more posts about them as events unfold.

Get Er Done!

I recently read a book called Getting Real by the folks from 37signals, creators of Ruby on Rails, Ta-da List, Writeboard, Backpack, and Basecamp among other Ajaxian web application goodness. While superficially a book about how to start a successful business selling services based on web applications, a topic they have plenty of credibility with, the advice in this book is applicable to a much broader realm of endeavors.

I was so inspired by it that I have dusted off several projects that were laying dormant and started actively doing them again. Of course this is also aided by the insights that I have been gleaning from the Getting Things Done book. I have also bought a Backpack Basic account so that I can use their wonderful calendar. Enough raving for now. Got to get some things done :-).


No, not the board game. I’m talking about taking risks in life. In order to accomplish anything out of the ordinary, you have to take risks. The key thing to remember is to do everything you can to bound your risks. I’ve been thinking about how to do this a lot lately.

I want to pursue other career options but I am over 50 and I have to think about the risk of age discrimination. Not in the careers that I have in mind, which are all variations on the theme of self-employment, but rather as relates to my fall-back position. What if I don’t make a go of being self employed and have to go back to work as a (gasp) employee? How do I mitigate the risk that I might not find anyone that wants to hire me because I’m over 50?

So I’ve been thinking about how to ease into this change. How to dip my toes in and test the water before I quit the day job. The problem is, I don’t know if I have the stamina to hold both a day job and work on a start-up at night anymore. And the other consideration that looms large in my mind is the cost of insurance. I have good insurance where I work. How do I ensure that I have uninterrupted insurance when I take the leap to self-employment.

It certainly is a lot to think about. Right now I’m not real worried about these issues because I’m a long way from taking the plunge. But if I plan on ever doing anything of this sort, I need to start making progress in that direction.