I need to start doing cardio. I did what I usually do when I want to start something new. I bought a book. Yes, I need to start applying it. I bought Cardio Sucks by Michael Matthews. I went with someone whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past. I read Matthews’s Bigger Leaner Stronger and I listen to his podcast regularly. He’s practical and motivating. Here’s what he has to say about building habits in Cardio Sucks.
Mini-habits can also fit into even the nuttiest of schedules and days. Andre Dubus III wrote the inimitable House of Sand and Fog in 20-minute daily installments in his parked car, longhand on a notepad, before driving home from work to join his family for the evening. Twenty minutes per day. House of freaking Sand and Fog. I love that and remember it whenever I feel like slacking off.
This reminded me of the Joshua Schachter interview in Founders at Work. The book is filled with very successful tech startup founders who succeeded in the first internet bubble. A lot of the stories are as expected: blood, sweat, and tears. Schachter, though, talks about building del.icio.us in his free time in very small increments.
Livingston: When you were doing this in your spare time, did you ever say, “Ugh. This is too much work”?
Schachter: Not really. I was always very careful (not anymore, because the guys that I work with are better programmers) to structure the code—each chunk of code wasn’t larger than the screen—such that I could come in and look at it, figure out what I’m doing, do it, and be done for the day in 15 minutes. So if I could get one thing done a day, I was happy. A lot of stuff, if I could spend more time, I did, but as long as I could get one or two things done a week total, if I didn’t have time, I didn’t have time. So it moved pretty slowly. I worked on it for years.
Learning to estimate 15 minutes of work accurately becomes a skill itself. Good enough is good enough. “If I didn’t have time, I didn’t have time.”
It’s easy to forget this. I’m trying to remember it in pursuing success in all the different pillars in life. More than once, I’ve put too much weight on the bar thinking I could power through it with enough willpower. I’m sure I’ll do it again in the future. At least once a week, I get frustrated that I don’t have enough time to finish some post or a video. In the long run, it doesn’t matter if I post it next week or even the week after.
You can argue that it might set a trend of laziness or not keeping to a deadline. That’s valid. On the other hand, in a year, if I write 80 posts or 120 posts it’s sort of the same. At least to a new reader. In the sense that they’ll at best read 2 or 3 articles and most likely will only read the one they land on, if that.
Anyway, I’m a fan of consistency. I know that I can accomplish something in small increments as long as I keep the momentum going. At the same time, missing a day isn’t anything to beat myself up over. Three days in a row, though? Now we’ve got a problem.