Keeping healthy vs keeping a streak
Everyone talks about hustle.
How if you aren’t getting what you want out of life, then you just need to grind it out a little harder.
Wake up earlier. Work harder. Work smarter. Start a streak and keep it going.
Well in my experience that doesn’t always work.
Recently I decided to try and do a 12 week year to see about getting my side project to the point where it could generate money. It seemed like a totally do-able thing!
It turns out that it was anything but do-able for me at this time.
I did a little bit of a retrospective on this (see here for the gory details), and one thing that I keep thinking about is how I was trying to keep a constant flow of tasks and activities on a day-to-day basis.
Streaking to success
Don’t get me wrong: to accomplish something, you’ve got to do things. Its usually hard things, and there’s almost always a lot of them.
And having a time limit or a deadline is a great way to make sure they get done! But stacking them up to the point that you start making busy work for yourself… that’s the hole I fell into.
See, there’s always something to be done. It just isn’t always clear what that thing is, or how to do it. So as I started planning in the beginning, I discovered I could only come up with a week and half’s worth of tasks to do.
For those of you counting along at home, a week-and-half worth of work is a lot short of 12 weeks.
I wasn’t terribly worried, I knew some of the things I threw down were a little on the large side and wouldn’t get done in a day (or two). I figured that I could revisit the schedule in a few days and refine things out a little further.
My refinement turned into more of a “hey, I gotta keep things moving because I’ve got to keep my momentum going!” As a result, I started choosing things to work on that didn’t necessarily move the needle, but they made me feel like I was making progress.
This lead to a huge disconnect: my measurements said I was moving forward, but looking back I was getting no where.
To track my progress I was using 2 things: a spreadsheet with the “high level” plan for the week and MakerLog.
The spreadsheet basically was a column for each week, and a row for each day. I would fill in a list of things I was going to accomplish that day. If the tasks were done, I changed the background color to green. If it was a partial success, I colored it yellow. Complete failure? Red of course.
Doing this allowed me to make sure I had something planned for every day coming up, and also to look back and see what I had accomplished. Did it work? It actually worked really well as a diary: Looking at the sheet I can see patterns that weren’t always obvious:
- Work is hard to get done at the end of the week. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were often Yellow
- Early in the week I’m unstoppable: Lots of green
- In the beginning I was very optimistic and planned several tasks per day
- By the end, when red and yellow ruled the landscape, It was a struggle to get 1 task done per day
MakerLog was sort of an experiment: Would tracking my progress in a public setting encourage me to keep going? In retrospect I’m not sure if it was a success or not.
At first I was concerned about keeping the streak going there. They have a graph that is similar to Github’s activity graph, and I like being able to look at that and see what I’ve done. Plus there’s badges, and other social things to let people know how “productive” you are.
After missing a day (and another time when I think the site miscalculated when a task was done) a breaking my streak I began to feel like I wasn’t getting enough done. Looking at others on the site I notice a lot of people were keeping huge streaks going be logging the most inane activities.
I know everyone uses the site for different things, but if you are trying to accomplish something business related, should you be logging things like “sleep”, “drank water”, “email”? It felt a lot like stuffing the ballot box, and it made me stop looking at the streak.
So is streaking bad?
I don’t think it is, but it does need to have some kind of balance.
I clearly need to work on how I break tasks down, and I need to watch my energy levels. Having a goal to keep a streak going is good in that respect: it makes sure I am doing something every day.
But the streak isn’t everything! Working just to check a box doesn’t really accomplish anything other than… checking a box.
Does keeping that streak move you closer to your goal?
Do you feel ok with the stress of keeping the streak?
Is it worth it?
Those are questions I did not ask myself as I was doing this grand experiment. Next time, they are going to be first and foremost on my mind.