Three Weeks: An Experiment

The Gist

I am going to write a blog post every day for three weeks, and they can’t completely suck.

Some background: I am the target market for self help books. I constantly wish I were doing more to improve my self and my life, and I frequently dream up big schemes, then (maybe) execute on them for a day or two. Something pulls me out of the pattern and it’s over. The dream is forgotten, and I move on.

I’ve tried a number of approaches:

  • Just do everything
  • Do whatever single thing interests me that day
  • Commit to big specific projects I think I want to do
  • Start with small things and slowly ratchet them up
  • Try to get people to care if I fail
  • Change my sleep schedule for some reason

Regular pitfalls include:

  • Missing a single thing leads to a feeling of failure, and I give up
  • Failing to have a specific interest on a given day
  • Overcommitting my time, or getting mired in setup
  • Deciding which things to start with is hard
  • Other people are rarely motivated to see my plans through
  • There’s always a reason to stay up late or to sleep in

The Next Grandiose Scheme

I would bet that you’ve heard about 21 days being the time required to form a habit, right? Go to google and type in “21 days”, it’s probably in the first two predictive results. My plan is simple enough that I’ve ignored it for years. It goes like this:

  1. Focus on a single thing for three full weeks.
  2. Repeat.

My plans on the order of “do a billion things” have never been a truly successful, so it makes sense to give things a try one-at-a-time.


Since these are relatively small packets of time, I’m able to choose topics I might otherwise fear are wasteful. I should also be able to set realistic, objective goals for where I’d like to arrive at after three weeks of focused effort. I can also freely fail at focusing and just try again — one of the intended results of performing this experiment multiple times is that my ability to drill down and focus on something new should improve. Right now I tend to get watery-eyed and feel like a nap after an hour of focus.

Documentation of the three-week effort brings some other things to the table. There’s a well-known method (I’ll call it the Seinfeld method) where a success-to-be plots a big red X on a calendar every day they’ve performed the task they want to improve at. I don’t have a big calendar in my house (though I may get one), but I do have a blog. It’s like putting my big red X marks on the lawn, and telling all of my neighbours why. But I’d hate to get half-way into a three-week sprint and fail to blog about it. Thus, my first sprint should force me to be blogging every day. In a way, I’m combining some of the earlier strategies:

  • This is a small start.
  • I’m telling others.
  • I’m working on something that interests me.

As time goes on, my writing should improve, and you will have the chance of learning something, since I’ll often report on my activities by explaining them.

Off on a tangent: a hack I’ve learned is to trick myself into starting a large project by convincing myself to do one very easy but related task, then riding its momentum. An example is doing the dishes: rather than set out to “do all of the dishes”, I just decide to rinse a single dish that is nearly clean. Once the water is running and I’m rinsing the dish, I may as well wipe it. Now I have a wet cloth and running water, and I’ll reflexively grab another easy looking dish. As the pile grows, momentum builds.

Once more for effect

So this is my first easy dish: just write a blog post today. That’s all I have to be aware of each day, and on Monday, May 28th, I’ll find another easy dish to start.


Re: The story of George — ayttm’s most prolific non-developing contributor

A week or so ago, I watched a short series of youtube videos featuring Ira Glass speaking about being creative, telling stories, and so on.  A few key takeaways from those (for me) were:

1) Your good taste is not only what drives you to create, but what shows you that you suck. A lot of what you make will suck for a very, very long time. The people who don’t suck are the ones who manage to outlast this, which is hard.

2) A story can be thought of as an anecdote and a message. A bad story could have a lame anecdote and a lousy message, or an awful anecdote leading up to something surprisingly profound, or even a fantastic anecdote with nothing interesting to say at the end. A really good story is not just compelling to listen to, it also teaches you something neat when you’re done.

Reading this post on the other side of the moon, there’s a fantastic anecdote, and (I encourage you to go read it before you move on – it isn’t long!) a very worthy message. As someone coming onboard to an open source project, it seems to me to be chock-full of useful advice.

The ultimate message is copied here below, because I hadn’t seen it stated succinctly before. As the TED slogan puts it:

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading




I believe that this is an idea worth spreading:

When it comes to hacking on opensource software, none of age, gender, race, country of origin, or how you look matters. All that matters is a pleasant attitude to your fellow developers, a willingness to keep at it and learn as you go, the drive to not give up when things don’t go your way, and the ability to tell the difference between an idea and the one who has it.

Thank you for your insight, bluesmoon.