2018 – Start as you mean to go on

To all those that are reading this is January 2018; Happy New Year to you. If you’re reading it sometime later then fear not, you can read on anyway and I hope you will find something useful that you can implement.

I see that most of the people I follow on WordPress are implementing a variety of New Year Resolutions, and I’m a big fan of these in general. I also like To Do lists and often implement these on a daily basis. In fact I last wrote about my To Do lists over two years ago when I noticed a tendency to hoard them! I probably thought I had it all figured out then, but things have changed as you will see. It has so far been a pursuit since my teenage years to improve my self motivation, perhaps with little success, but we all journey through life learning various things, whether they be external or internal. I’m now in my mid-30s and I’ve come to recognise, learn about and now work not only with that pursuit for motivation but also with fatigue, anxiety, and stress; perhaps in some people all precursors for addiction or fueled by it – but maybe I’ll write more on this in a future topic.

In a way a list of New Year Resolutions is often a broad look at the year ahead and a list of the things one wants to achieve, much akin to a daily (or monthly) To Do list. Not only might we have bad habits we want to kick, but also good ones we want to implement (more on these later). At the end of the day (or year) I think it’s all about…

Being the best version of yourself.

Being the best you can be. I’ve tried a variety of different To Do lists over the years, some I create with pen and paper, others I produce on my computer, but I have gradually honed in on a particular monthly method that I have been modifying and tweaking each month to suit where I find myself heading, or to assist me in improving; being a better version of myself as I was yesterday/last week/last month/last year… whatever; in fact I now call it a monthly Challenge, since that sounds more stimulating than a To Do list which has an air of drudgery about it. And…

Motivation is the key to achieving.

That above chart might look daunting but it has developed from a simple To Do list, and each month it starts of refreshingly blank. I use my List/Chart/Challenge to monitor and keep me on target with the various things I want to achieve, and also consciously rein in any areas that I feel are slipping. One month I looked at how many cups of coffee I was drinking, and another I focused on drinking more water, for example.

It’s basically a monthly chart with the To Do list down the left, so I can mark off each day, with a big green tick, when I’ve completed a task.

Be careful with “Time” (1).

I might also use the To Do list to keep a record of my progress with something, and I might stipulate a length of time to spend on a given task, although many moons ago when I started to keep myself focused on things, stipulating “I must spend x-amount-of time on such-and-such” was probably not a helpful approach; forcing oneself to complete an hour of something when one really cant be bothered will only keep something as a chore. More on this later.

Yes / Positive.

I have also used my list to state things to avoid; bad habits if you will, such as too much time on Youtube or in Second Life, but I have found that any negative approach or terminology does not cause a positive outcome. If I felt the need to mark a failure with an X then I didn’t go as far as making it in red as I had thought about doing; I wanted the green ticks of achievement to stand out, and I glossed up an ongoing achievement by highlighting the week, for example, with a yellow background.

I might list something as “Stay off Youtube” and then I could mark it with a green tick of achievement if I did in fact achieve it, but I’m sure my subconscious recognised the ruse, and those successes were few and very far between. When I could see a string of failures forming I would beat myself up; It was pointless to go a whole month like this. I wouldn’t feel good about myself and this would hinder my efforts everywhere, even as far as maintaining the To Do list. This would then take some effort to bring it all back on track.

Keep on track.

I have always been prone to over-doing things, like starting the beginning of a school term with the neatest handwriting, only for it to become a sloppy mess a few weeks later. In other extreme examples I might fatigue myself, and not even realise it until I’m tired and grumpy. Aiming too high can lead to ditching an attempt, like all those monthly gym memberships that are taken out in January. Trying too hard can lead to fatigue, both mentally and physically, and when we’re worn out we might not be happy people. I’m now very conscious of this routine and I try and pace myself from the start and recently I’ve implemented one of two new features into my To Do list.

Mixing activities.

In my life I have a number of things that are physically active, and a number of activities that involve sitting down calmly. I discovered that I would maybe focus too much on a physical activity and then find I had no motivation (or less time) for something that involved sitting down and getting on with it. Or, the reverse could be true; I would swing the other way and make myself have a day where I sit down and get on with other things, perhaps on a rainy day, but find myself restless or lacking focus.

The tactic here is to mix the activities, so follow a sitting down activity with something physical, and then follow that with something sitting down, and so on.

The obvious physical activities for me would be cycling/running/yoga/DIY, but can also include things like mopping the kitchen floor, basically anything that takes me away from sitting at my desk where my other activities generally take place, such as blog writing or learning German.

So far I’m really enjoying this technique and I’m finding it quite easy, with a little thought and forward planning, to implement. The planned sitting down is giving me some recovery time from those physical activities, which I often combine with eating, and the physical activity is giving me a chance to clear my mind following something that may have kept me focused mentally (I don’t think I’m all that focused when I’m out cycling or running!)

Dividing the day.

Some people might be great at focusing on any given task for hours on end and feel wonderful for it. Personally I find anxiety sets in and I feel like I’m neglecting something else, especially if I’m “wasting time” on Youtube or in Second Life.

While mixing activities has been working well for me, one thing doing that alone has not resulted in, is me maintaining my drive throughout the day. I’ve really always had this issue that, like the beginning of the school term with the fresh new textbook, I’ll begin my day well, but loose my rhythm by the afternoon. This can happen with our Yearly Resolutions, hence those wasted gym memberships or returning habits we thought we kicked. Obviously if I’m expecting too much of myself in the morning then finding myself having a lazy afternoon where I can’t even muster the enthusiasm to read a book is to be expected. I realised that something else had to change but it couldn’t involve doing less in the morning just so I could make up the difference in the afternoon, because I would be letting slip the rewarding gains I had made this far. Instead, and new for January, I’ve divided my day up into two halves.

This really is only how it is laid out on my To Do list, but I’m hoping my subconscious will be less daunted by the single lengthy list and appreciate the clear gap I’ve placed along the middle of the page; a bit like a second morning. As long as I can properly bring it on board!

Not all days are the same for me. I’m self-employed and my work comes and goes depending on the demands of my clients. Therefore sticking to a rigid daily schedule has never worked for me beyond arriving somewhere on time, and going to bed at a set time.

Often I would begin my days well but work or something else might crop up that draws me away from my efforts. Getting back to The List when this happens is not easy for me, therefore not only will (as I hope) the dividing of my To Do list into two halves help me instill some renewed focus on my quiet days, but it will give me a clear point at which I can return to my efforts should my day be interrupted. To aid this each half of the List begins with things I want to focus most effort on; I can then allow myself to relax my effort, as I find myself doing anyway, without beating myself up, and then “regroup” and start the second half which can begin with renewed focus and energy, before allowing myself to calm down by the evening and crawl into bed satisfied that I did my best!

That’s the plan anyway!

Click here for the next segment on this topic where I give some further tips.


    • I do find myself still making a list in my journal. I tend to write in that the evening as a review of the day, and then make my plans for the next day there also based on my reflections, but I have to be careful because I don’t always check on that list the next morning; and it’s sort of a bit knee-jerk-reactiony. The list I keep on my computer helps to keep me focused throughout the month.

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