At the beginning of this month, I started an April adventure. What was it? To complete each of my daily dozen tasks every day for an entire month.
Why did I do it? To experiment. To create change. To get more done. To make decisions. To enjoy life more.
Here’s what I learned. Most of it was from blogging every day for a month, the one activity I did faithfully every day.
1. It’s easier doing things on most days, rather than every day. Sometimes the day’s schedule precluded doing everything on my list. And some activities shouldn’t be done daily, like lifting weights.
Days when I traveled called for extra creativity. For exercise, that meant getting in some steps while waiting at the airport. It also meant packing lighter “athletic” shoes that would fit in my bag so I could use the hotel fitness center.
They were a pair of slip-on Keds that took up a sliver of space in my bag compared with my usual workout shoes. A podiatrist might disagree, but they worked for 30 minutes of walking on the treadmill. The longer-term solution? When I replace my current workout shoes, I’ll get a smaller, lighter pair.
The benefit of doing an activity every day is that you don’t have to think about it. That makes it easier to do on a consistent basis. But once it’s become a habit, it’s easier to do it on most days of the week, rather than every day.
2. To make a new habit stick, focus on just one each month. Some days had a breathless quality of racing through activities to check them off the list. Some were already automatic, like taking vitamins. But others required chunks of time, like blogging, reading, exercising and sleeping. Even doubling up on activities didn’t fully do the trick.
What will work better? Focusing on one area each month. That’s inspired by Gretchen Rubin‘s year-long happiness project. She focused on one area of life each month for a year. In the final month, she combined all of her newly established habits and rituals.
So I’ll take my daily dozen, with a few tweaks, and assign each to a month over the coming year. The month of May? It’s a tossup between healthy eating and sleep.
Four years ago, on Mother’s Day, I became a lifetime member of Weight Watchers after losing nearly 50 pounds. And while thankfully I’m not the person who regained all of the weight and more, I would not keep my membership (within 2 pounds of goal) if I went to a weigh-in today.
It’s a struggle, this constant vigilance and self-care. The words of a Weight Watchers leaders still ring in my ears, “It ain’t over ’til you’re over.” How true.
So this May will be the month of healthy eating. Back to the healthful simplicity of the “power foods” – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nonfat dairy and lean protein.
3. Clarify what you most enjoy by analyzing how you spend your time. What do you most love to do? One of mine is writing. It’s usually a guaranteed flow state, every time.
My April adventure clarified this because blogging was the one activity I did daily (other than taking vitamins, which I’m choosing not to count because it was already a well-established habit and takes only a minute to complete).
Whether it’s writing a report a work, or an inspiration for a community charity organization or this blog, I love to write. So I’ll focus on areas where I can do more than that.
4. Celebrate progress. One of my purposes in blogging daily was to clarify the focus of this blog. It began as an exploration of the future of corporate communications. Then it evolved into a learning journey, with a focus on the data analytics aspect of a career pivot.
And while I didn’t fully crystallize the focus of this blog, I did make progress. I know what I can take off the list. While I’ll still devote learning time to reading blogs and books about data analytics, along with some online courses, that specifically won’t be the focus of this blog.
I’ll continue to write about learning in general. It’s something we’ll all need to do throughout our lives, regardless of the the specific subject.
In my work, I’m intrigued by the intersection between data science and communication. As I find a way to link the two in an interesting way, that may be the subject of some future blog posts.
5. The more effortless you make your goals, the easier is it to accomplish them. With WordPress on my MacBook, iPad and iPhone, I could draft and post to my blog wherever I was. My Spanish is app is the same – all I need is 10 minutes and I can do my lesson for the day. My library is with me all the time with my Kindle app. And so on.
This is where I was especially proud of my employer and the vision to connect people with their world, everywhere they live and work. (Opinions on this blog are mine.) This is a great enabler – perhaps the great enabler – of what’s the most important in each of our lives.
Other enablers? Keeping my yoga mat and workout gear in my car. Having my PFD (personal floatation device) stacked beside that for standup paddle boarding sessions.
6. Complimentary activities help you get the most out of your day. For me it’s walking on the treadmill and reading (or streaming favorite TV shows on my DIRECTV app).
Thinking about 3 things I’m grateful for in the last 24 hours while brushing my teeth (thank you, Shawn Achor).
Maximizing family interactions by sitting in the dining room while I’m reading or writing or whatever so when my teens stroll by and want to engage (yes, they can be like cats), I’m there. This works in an office environment with colleagues, too.
7. Don’t try to do too much. Yet doubling up on activities only works to a point. Sometimes I struggle with enjoying the present moment. Being fully there. Not racing ahead to the next thing that I feel needs to be done.
By consciously limiting the number of things and activities I commit to, I know I’ll do better in that smaller set of activities. Given my goal to blog daily, I feel the quality of my posts wasn’t always what I wanted it to be. I didn’t have time for research, for reflection and for revising.
But I did learn some helpful strategies. When I finished one post, I’d start a new draft post and jot down my ideas in a brief outline. Then when I re-opened it to start writing, the initial thinking was already done.
This goes back to the principle of taking small steps. It also relates to my Spanish studies. While I’m not devoting big chunks of time to it, I can spend a few minutes a day. Studies are showing this goes for exercise too.
8. If something isn’t working for you, let it go. I don’t have to do everything. If something isn’t a fit, I can let it go.
This is one of the reasons I’m excited to read Angela Duckworth‘s book on Grit when the pre-order downloads to my Kindle app on May 3. This guru of tenacity and perseverance says it can be okay to quit. Just not on your hardest day.
One of my daily dozen was 2 minutes of power posing, inspired by Amy Cuddy‘s book on Presence. I’d like to think it made me stand up and sit up straighter during the day, and to take up more space. Why? To feel more confident and live life more fearlessly.
But I don’t need to do it every day. I can save it for times when I have to give a big presentation or otherwise tackle a tough challenge.
9. Relationships with people are more important than checking tasks off a list. When my daughter or son wants to talk with me, I stop what I’m doing (as hard as that can sometimes be) and I listen and chat.
Here I’m inspired by Shonda Rhimes and her Year of Yes. Whenever her daughters asked her to play, she’d stop what she was doing to spend time with them. It doesn’t take long. But it means so much.
My daughter and I have had lots of chats this month – on the road and at home as she’s been choosing her college. It’s been a learning experience. Sometimes you don’t end up where you expected, but there can be a whole new world of possibilities. It all depends on your perspective.
10. Intense activity can’t solve all of your problems – or the world’s problems. There are still sad moments. Anxious moments. Frustrating moments. We live in a world that seemingly gets crazier and more unpredictable every day – with events that are beyond our control.
Keeping busy all the time won’t solve those problems. But it will help you make progress in your own life. And that’s what makes us happy.
11. We can still control an awful lot in our lives. Our minds – with thanks to Carol Dweck and her growth mindset concept. What we do – or don’t do – every day. How we show up and share our gifts. What we choose to do and who we do it with. Being clear about what we can control and what we can’t.
12. Love is all there is. My sister Katie shared this with my last year during a very sad time her family’s life. This was a favorite saying of her mother-in-law Sylvia, who was unexpectedly near the end of her life. It makes me smile through tears to think of Sylvia, Katie and the rest of the family.
But in the end, what could be more true? Love really is all there is.
As someone who’s all about achieving goals – sometimes with a relentless zeal that my immediate family enjoys teasing me about – this one made me stop and think. Especially this month as I figured out how to cram a lot in every day.
Life truly is about the people and the relationships.
And there’s always something to love about others. No matter who they are. It helps to remember that everyone is carrying a heavy load and traveling a difficult path, even if their life appears perfect on their Instagram feed. I’ve learned to be kinder to myself and to others.
Because love is all there is.