The Pandemic Productivity Plan
When the pandemic started one of my positive early reactions was “I want to make sure I come out of this having made the most of it. I don’t want to just fall into languishing depression and Netflix binging. Since I’m trapped at home, I’m going to make this time productive!”
I embarked upon setting my house up to reduce friction points between me and my dreams. I got the guitar out and set it up in the living room where I would trip over it constantly as a reminder to practice. I fixed up the Eureka Room so it was more inviting to go down and work in. I cleaned up the porch and set up a table for early morning working and blogging. I subscribed to TrueFire, an online library of guitar lessons and I made a playlist of meditation videos. I even bought video game controller because for years I wanted to try some of these new weird games that I had been seeing being released (and hey! I needed something to do if I couldn’t go hang out with friends).
A few hundred dollars later I was set up for uber-productivity.
And then nothing really changed. I did meditation for a few days, would stop a few, maybe one day here or there. It didn’t take. The guitar I would just play the same things over and over. My books went mostly unread. The blog made it about a week and it was torture.
I wasn’t depressed. I was doing pretty good, all things considered. I was getting my work done, chatting with friends, getting regular exercise.
But I had all this extra time now and wasn’t making use of it.
Enter Meditation (Again)
Here’s where I want to say “and then I made a plan” or “then I read this book” and started down the path to success.
But it wasn’t like that, really. I’m not sure what the initial motivation was but I during my on again off again relationship with meditation I tried the Headspace app. 10 minutes of meditation. Hardly a commitment at all, right?
I did it for maybe 3 days and stopped. Then maybe a week or two later I made it a few days again and stopped. Then I started it up a few days after that. Logging in I could see my “days in a row” was zero. My “total days”? Nowhere to be seen. W. T. F. ???
Did those 6 half-hearted days done over a month not count for anything? Shit. I felt cheated. I decided ok, I’ll see if I can do 10 days. (The “free” version gave you 10 programs over 10 days.)
To make sure I did it, I resolved that it would be the absolute first thing I did went I woke up. And I would do it in the same spot every morning. No thinking, just doing. Wake up go meditate. Wake up go meditate. Wake up go meditate. Period. No “do I shower first?” Just wake up go meditate.
I made it to 10 days.
I honestly don’t remember how I decided to handle the 11th day. It could have been a conscious decision to repeat the program or maybe I forgot I had done all the days. But I restarted the program.
I think I made it to the middle of that next set and a couple days I slipped. Probably a weekend.
I logged in again. 0 days in a row.
FUCK THIS. Cheated again!
Well I went ahead and ate some humble pie and started back at day zero.
I don’t remember if I failed a couple more times or not, but eventually I made it through the program three times.
Thinking “let’s change it up” I switched from the mans’ voice to the woman’s voice. I made it a few days with her then went back to the man’s voice.
I just kept repeating that same 10 free levels (perhaps afraid that if I bought the advanced levels that it would shake me out of my routine through overwhelm or just lack of routine).
Then I made it to 30. Holy shit. Then I made it to 50.
Shit was getting real now. Could I make it to 100?
That was a crazy goal but as I had the momentum and an extra 10 minutes and a routine that was working, clearly I was going to go for 100. I literally spent more time typing this sentence then I did deciding I was going to 100.
Feeling confident in my habit, I tried out another popular meditation app, “Calm” for a few days. I didn’t like that one so much so I tried no app, just a stopwatch. That was harder and I could feel myself getting a bit tired of it so I went back to Tony on Headspace. He greeted me with “0 days” in a row, but by this time I was proudly marking big X’s in sharpie on my calendar.
With the help of Tony and my X’s I went week after week of wake up meditate.
Then: 100 days!
This felt like a miracle. It also sort of felt like it was something too big to lose.
You don’t want to break a streak like that.
But part of me wanted to experiment with it, grow a little perhaps. Tony was helpful but he was a bit chatty. Sometimes I would just be getting into it and he would interrupt my thoughts of nothing with his thoughts of something. I decided to go back to the stopwatch method again.
In fact, over the next 50 days I did babysteps in changing my routine. If I felt like the routine was getting too hard or oppressive, I would back out the changes and go back to what I knew worked. Here’s some of the changes I made (one at a time, mind you):
- I allowed myself a shower and to put on some coffee before meditating.
- I moved to the back porch since the weather had become nicer.
- I had been using the 10 minute timer on my phone but sometimes I would be getting into it and it would interrupt me and then I’d have to open my eyes and fumble with the phone and it would just take me out of it. Instead I started using the stopwatch function so I could go longer if I wanted. On the rare occasion I opened my eyes before 10 minutes was up, I would just go back into it.
- Because the temptation to get on the phone before or after was always there, after a few weeks I bought a separate stopwatch just for meditating.
- I never upped the time required to anything more than 10 minutes. However I did notice I would go longer and longer some days. I was tempted to up the requirement but I worried that would ruin it for me (my subconscious might start thinking: shit if now we have to do 15 minutes and we do this, then it’ll be 20 then 30 and dammit this has no end of work!) 10 minutes is *always* doable, even if I am loathing it. And keeping it 10 minutes I would not build up a loathing for it.
Today is day 147 of meditating.
Around day 50 I started reading more about habits which added to my experiential knowledge of forming habits. Around day 100 I decided to try to add a second habit to my morning routine.
Somewhere along the line of trying to get this new habit down I was reading some habit books. Between the books and my own experiences, I gained some insight into how and why it finally stuck for me:
Here’s what worked for me when forming the habit.
- Just commit to a very small amount of time, because getting started is the hard part. 5 minutes. 10 minutes.
- Streaks are motivators. Keep track.
- Scoreboards are motivators. Keep a visible scoreboard.
- A little bit every day adds up surprisingly fast.
- Don’t go bigger or experiment until you are on solid footing and always feel free to step back into what was comfortable.
- Tie it to an existing habit (waking up, in my this case) that triggers the behavior.
- Absolutely no thinking allowed once the trigger happens. No decisions or debating. The habit is what you do, period.