I started 2020 with a more rigorous tracker and game plan to keep up with some habits that I felt were vital to my wellbeing. Three months into 2020, it’s clear that a strong foundation of habits is more important than ever, especially during this COVID-19 quarantine period where many familiar routines are no longer viable.
Reflecting on my Q1 2020 efforts, I can confidently say that holding myself to a more detailed tracking document has been well worth it.
These are the activities I tracked daily:
- Working out
- Writing (15-minute minimum)
- Blog post publication
- Newsletter send
- Books finished
- Intermittent fasting
I also created columns to take notes so I could look back and see if anything unusual or interesting happened. The Misc Notes column has been a good place to jot down fun things I did with the family or activities we did with friends (now mostly via Zoom).
So how did I do?
Out of a possible 91 days, I worked out 48 times in the first 3 months of 2020. Here’s a visual breakdown:
Two thirds of my workouts were either lifting or running. Most of my lifting workouts also incorporated bodyweight exercises like burpies and box jumps, so I’ve lumped them together under “functional fitness.”
I think in the coming months, yoga will quickly add up in count as it’s something I can see myself doing at least 3-4 times per week.
Overall, I’m feeling fairly fit and active. I miss my half-mile walks to the train station but I’ve replaced that with slightly longer stroller + dog walks in the mornings. I also try to be fairly conservative in my exertion. I push myself but never so hard as to risk injury. This might mean easing up a bit on my runs when deep down I know I can push harder or doing a slightly lighter weight rather than tough it out if a muscle or joint doesn’t feel quite right. The upside to my “gains” might be capped as a result, but I prefer always having the option to work out versus having to sit out a week or two due to an unfortunate (and preventable) injury.
The fear of injury is what’s kept my mobility habit a perfect 91 out of 91 days in Q1. It’s the first thing I do after waking up and greeting our son, who takes his AM snack and plays with his toys while I do my routine next to him on the floor.
The core activity is trigger point therapy using a lacrosse ball on my upper back. This I do for a minimum of 2 minutes on each side. I also use the MobilityWOD Gemini to target my thoracic spine and lower back. I’ll also do some exercises to loosen up my wrists and forearms. I’ll usually end with a pigeon pose stretch to open up my hip. If I have extra time, I might do some couch stretches as well.
All in, this takes between 10-20 minutes. Sometimes, if I’m feeling extra stiff, I’ll hang out on top of the lacrosse ball for 5-6 minutes to get the knot out of my upper back. I thoroughly credit this habit for helping me keep a relatively loose and pain-free lower back, a vulnerable area for dads whose poor form and tight hamstring/hips can easily lead to pain with the daily motions of picking up their child.
Writing, Blog Posts, and Newsletters
I set a goal of having at least 200 15-minute writing sessions in 2020. My thinking is that if I can focus on writing for at least 15 minutes, it’s likely that I’ll end up spending a lot more time. What matters is that I get in the habit of making the time on most days and feeling like it’s more normal to write than to take the day off.
In Q1, I logged 74 out of 91 days with 15-minute writing sessions. At this pace, I should easily surpass the goal of 200 days. I can attribute the strong start to the deliberate design of “stacking” goals and designing habits around them. Along with the 200 writing sessions, I set out in 2020 to write at least 24 blog posts and to send out 50 email newsletters.
The pressure of putting together a newsletter every week forces me to be on the lookout for interesting content to review and reflect upon whenever I have a free moment. I store the links and my thoughts into Evernote. Oftentimes, reading certain pieces will lead to ideas for writing topics, which I also save to Evernote.
I then use my writing sessions to organize my saved notes and to write rough outlines and drafts of topics I have in the backlog. Many topics fall flat and don’t make it far, but some of them end up developing into blog posts that feel good enough to publish.
This approach seems to be working. I’ve published 9 blog posts in 3 months, ahead of schedule. I’ve also sent out 13 newsletters, exactly where I want to be. I’ve had to forgo my desire to watch TV or just veg out on many occasions in order to keep up. I don’t regret any of those occasions.
In Q1, I finished 10 books. I have an arbitrary goal of 50 books, but the number really doesn’t matter as much as the quality, my enjoyment, and what I can learn from them.
I’ve found myself juggling 6-8 books at a time, which means I’m taking longer to finish each one. Right now, I have a few that I’m reading each night before bed, a few on Audible, and a few on my Kindle app. I also have a few that are available on all 3.
For most books, I’ve tried to be better about making highlights (both in the Kindle app and with a yellow highlighter) and then going back to review the highlights and to create some notes that could come in handy in my writing later on. I know I can be a lot more disciplined and productive if I spent less time on Twitter and email, but my pace of notes generation is still higher than it has been in previous years. I’ve got a lot of fun titles in progress right now that I hope to wrap up in the coming weeks.
One tool that’s been really helpful for me is Readwise. It ingests my various highlights from Kindle and Instapaper and then serves them up as a set of 5 daily flash cards. On a given day, I might get served highlights from books I read 1, 3, or 5 years ago. I can choose to “favorite” a highlight, which allows me to revisit them more easily later and I can also append my own thoughts with the highlights. Even for books I’ve only listened to on Audible, there is an option for popular highlights to show up in my daily set, so it’s a great way to pick up some highlights that I was too lazy to mark up on my own but still find worth keeping.
I feel like intermittent fasting is one of my most important life hacks. I logged 63 out of 91 days of intermittent fasting. During the work week, I keep a 17/7 fasting schedule (17 hours of not eating and 7 hours of eating), giving myself a window of 3PM to 10PM to eat while sticking only to water, coffee, and tea outside of that window.
I allow myself to eat all day long on weekends, mostly so I can enjoy breakfast with the family. But during the week, I do my best to hold out till 3PM. There are a few instances where, due to scheduling conflicts and lunch meetings, I might break my fast a couple hours earlier. I’ve still counted these as long as they come after 12PM.
My go-to “meal” at 3PM on weekdays is a bowl of blueberries, walnuts, pecans, dried cranberries, and a couple of dried dates. I’ll have hearty dinner after working out around 8PM. I wish I could eat earlier sometimes, but for now, this is the schedule that works best and it’s allowed me to keep off the excess weight that might otherwise creep in especially during the quarantine period.
The Efforts Compound
I find the act of updating my tracking document very therapeutic. It allows me to take stock of my day and to know that I put in the time to make incremental progress in some form. If I didn’t get to work out, write, fast, or finish a book, then I also get to think about what came up or what special occasion led me to take the day off. And then it’s right back to starting over again, hopefully to get a new streak going.
The beauty of all this is that these efforts compound. The more I work out, the more progress I see in my strength, cardio, and flexibility. The more I read, write, and publish, the more confident I become in my knowledge and the greater my curiosity becomes for wanting to learn more. The tracker, as it continues to fill up with tick marks, serves as a motivating inner scorecard that helps me stay competitive with myself while also showing the investment I’ve made in myself to be a healthier and happier person.
And lastly, during the coronavirus crisis, having these habits and goals has given me an outlet where I can still feel a sense of control and accomplishment. This has been immensely fortifying for my mental wellbeing and in turn, has allowed me to stay fairly upbeat and optimistic. That said, I hope for things to improve soon and for us to all safely come out of quarantine.
Inspiration & Further Reading
James Clear’s Atomic Habits has been very influential in shaping the design of my own system. If you’re not the book-reading type, here are some articles that’ll quickly get you up to speed on some of the principles and concepts for formulating a system of good habits: