Juggling Three Habits Like a Pro
Episode #3 of the course Multihabit: A radical new approach to habit-tracking by John Robin
Welcome back to the course!
In the last two lessons, we explored how to track 2 habits, so the natural next step is to ask: what about a 3rd?
Discovering Your Third Habit
Once you realize you can track and pace yourself on two important habits, you might be thinking of adding another.
However, before you do this, we want to carefully reconsider the definition of a habit as given in lesson 1: type-based with a focus mode.
We are not just adding arbitrary habits, but a specific kind. These are habits that require single-pointed concentration.
This might sound like it hits a wall somewhere. After all, how much time in a day can you do this? We’ll be coming back to this question again and again throughout the course as we ask, “Just how far can this system go?”
For now, though, after learning to track 2 habits, it’s not hard to find a 3rd.
For our group, we had an advantage, since we were all able to get ideas from each other through our shared spreadsheet.
This advantage helped me find my 3rd habit.
Seeing Joe log his piano practice time reminded me that I had an abandoned piano habit. I used to enjoy practicing, but could never make it stick. When I started my career as a writer and editor, I couldn’t justify spending time practicing when there was work to be done.
But now that I was tracking reading and writing time, I realized I could treat piano the same.
I picked “piano” as my 3rd habit and found an unexpected discovery! Spending some time immersed in musical language refreshed my brain and super-charged my creativity during my writing time. To this day I keep up my piano practice and find it is a great complement to improving my creativity with words. It adds more of an artistic flare to my work, rather than the dull mechanical drudgery I used to feel when my day was all words, words, words.
Just as Joe inspired me to track piano practice, Mary inspired Joe to track his workout time using a count-up timer. Joe’s tendency used to be to practice all day long, watch YouTube videos, play games—whatever made him feel inspired—but working out was one thing he always put off.
He noticed that Mary’s workout was often short—usually about 15-20 minutes each day. What he liked about this is that it seemed very attainable. Whereas he was putting in 2-3 hours on “practice” almost every day, a short 15-20 minutes for a workout seemed easy.
Rod, in turn, inspired by Joe, also decided to add “workout” as his 3rd habit. He had a different goal: get in 3 workouts a week in the evening after work. He wasn’t interested in putting in a short workout every day.
Mary took a radically different approach. She actually couldn’t think of a 3rd habit she wanted to track, but she did become aware of one thing she spent a lot of time on:
She always struggled to get started on “writing” because of another habit: playing Spider Solitaire on her computer.
Because Mary was seeing the power of time-tracking on a habit, she realized, why not make a timer for “spider solitaire” and treat that as her 3rd habit?
Notice here that Mary did not pick a “productive” habit.
This is very important: the habits you track aren’t all meant to be “productive”.
Tying into yesterday’s lesson on the leaky pipe phenomenon, each time we add a habit, we add another tap that we can now turn on fully when we’re engaged in it and turn off fully when we’re not engaged in it, to conserve the “water” that is our time and energy.
At first, Mary was certain she’d be horrified by how big the spider solitaire timer got. However, she was surprised when she assessed her results over a few weeks.
She found that, when the timer would get up to around 40-50 minutes, she’d be aware she’d spent a lot of time playing games. This was her little mental prompt to close the game and get to one of her other habits. Some days she would still keep playing, but having that timer made her more mindful of this habit.
Mary also found that once she started tracking this 3rd habit, she no longer felt like she was “always playing games” and “wasting time on Spider Solitaire”. She now had an exact measure of how much time she was spending on it, in addition to her other habits.
In other words, she now could see that this was a leaky tap, and felt a bit more control over whether she wanted to turn it on or off.
Top-Down vs Bottom-Up Measurement
The lessons from Mary, Joe, and Rod, show that the goal of this system isn’t to set an artificial goal on how much time you should spend on all your habits. Notice that I always mention a count-up timer, rather than a count-down.
This allows you to make what is called a bottom-up measurement. Bottom-up just means you are analyzing based on how you actually do, rather than top-down, which is measuring how you “should” have done.
Top-down measurement requires setting an artificial goal, which may be unattainable. For example, “Write for 50 minutes every day.”
Bottom-up measurement, on the other hand, focuses first on measuring results, then setting goals based on this. For example, your measuring goal might be, “Write every day, and track the time.” You might find some days you can do 20 minutes, others 35 minutes, some only 10, but regardless, you can always meet the goal, “Write every day, and track the time.”
Over weeks of doing this, you might find you tend to average 30-40 minutes every day. Based on this, you might update your goal to, “Write 30 minutes most days.” You might then see how you do over several more weeks, then update your goal according to what you measure.
The important point here is, you aren’t concerned with setting artificial goals when you are using bottom-up measurement. You are concerned instead with measuring realistic results and setting goals based on what you learn about yourself.
This is bottom-up measurement, and it will be the cornerstone of the system we continue to build in the coming lessons.
Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we’ll ask what it means to add a 4th habit to our mix.
Your next spreadsheet
Tracking 3 Habits • 2 Weeks • Group of 4 (See first tab for instructions)
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