If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that once a month, I publish a list of the habits I’m currently trying to incorporate into my life. I document my successes and failures, and then I punish myself for the latter – $100 for every time I break a habit!
I’ve been sticking to this basic setup since November 2014. (My older habit reports were published on my previous blog, but the format remained almost unchanged throughout that time.)
This month is going to be different, though. Why? you might ask. Has he finally given up? Is he tired of paying hundreds of dollars to charity each month because he didn’t stick to his self-prescribed paleo diet, or didn’t do his daily walking?
No, not quite. The reason is actually pretty mundane: I need to spend more time working on my PhD thesis.
I took up working on my thesis again at the beginning of this year, after having sold my business in last November. Initially, all I felt was pure dread: After years of running my business, I had completely lost my ability to focus on pure intellectual work. As I can tell you now, from personal experience, the mind really does work like a muscle: Either you use it or lose it. It also didn’t help that the topic of my thesis is as outlandish as it gets: It’s about a very niche, turn-of-the-century school of aesthetics (the German “Einfühlungsästhetik”) and its possible influence on philosopher Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West. In other words, yes, it’s as dry as it sounds.
Given my aforementioned dread, I made it a habit to — at the very least — take a look at my my PhD thesis every day, which meant, worst case scenario, that I would stare at the document for a minute or two and call it a the day! In essence, I set the bar as low as possible, just to get going, and hoped that eventually I’d spend more time on my work.
This actually worked out quite well. Most days, I would get quite a bit of work done, beyond the minimum requirement of at least opening the file. So I had successfully tricked myself into working on my distressing thesis on a regular basis, and in the process, was building up my mental muscles again.
But the more I worked on my thesis, the more I realized how complex of a topic it was, and that, in order to get the damn thing finished in the next six to twelve months, I needed to put more hours into my work. As of late, this is what I’ve been doing. But if you pump more and more time and energy into a single project, it inevitably means that you have less time and energy available for other things. Something has to give, especially if you’re efficient with your time to begin with — I never watch TV, I only check Facebook and other non-work-related websites once a day and I hardly ever go out and party.
So on September 10th, I decided to try coming up with a modified habit plan, one that allows me to put more hours of work into my thesis, while preserving the most important of my other hard-earned habits.
It took me the last three weeks to find the right combination, and it’s still far from a perfect solution. Right now, for example, I’m not giving my blog much attention, since it simply draws too much from the same kind of mental energy I need to work on my PhD thesis, if that makes sense.
Anyway, the model I’ve come up with differentiates between “core habits”, which are still punishable by $100, and “optional habits”, which I will fit in as time allows (or the need arises). To put it differently, I’m to practice my core habits on a daily basis, and my optional habits as I see fit.
So without further ado, here is my new, modified habit plan:
Core Habits (punishable by $100)
- Wake up without an alarm
- Go back to sleep, in case I wake up too early
- Do my *** [undisclosed habit]
- Take my supplements
- Update my habits diary
- Update my food diary
- Update my time diary
- Work on my thesis first thing in the morning
- Count words written that day
- Stop and record time spent working on thesis
- Update my GTD system
- Only go online to get work done or to take care of necessary communication; only check emails / Facebook / other websites for fun once a day
- Cook and eat a primal lunch
- Clean the kitchen right after I’ve finished eating
- Apply *** [undisclosed habit]
- Floss my teeth
- Take a walk
- Do *** [undisclosed habit]
- Record *** [undisclosed habit]
- Buy primal groceries
- The rest of my day, work on thesis
- Analyze *** [undisclosed habit]
- Workout; do two sets of each: Deep squat test, bicycle crunches, box pistols, pull ups, handstand push ups
- About two hours before I go to bed, turn off my computer and cell phone
- About two hours before I go to bed, turn off the lights in my apartment and light a candle
- About an hour before I go to bed, listen to an audiobook or read something calming in nature
Optional Habits (as I can fit them in)
- Work on a new blog post
- Count words written that day
- Study some Russian
- Continue reading a self-help book
- Watch a mobility / fitness instructional on YouTube and take notes
- Watch ***
- At least touch on my most important task for today
- At least touch on my most urgent task for today
- At least touch on one of my other tasks
Weekly Habits (punishable by $100)
- Eat a primal diet (3 cheat meals allowed)
- At least once a week, eat fish
- 3 times a week, *** [undisclosed habit]
Final note: Through September 10th, I followed my habits as required. After that, I took some liberties to figure out a new combination of habits, as I already mentioned. I ended up NOT sticking with some of my habits during that time, in order to determine how to best allocate more time for my PhD thesis. In that case, I spent my time on my thesis, and not on time-wasting activities. With the publication of this post, though, my new plan is in effect now.
Until next month!