When I was younger, I tended to work on projects in big bursts. I’d get excited about something new – writing a book, learning about dinosaurs, or even building a spaceship – and spend all my free time on it…for a week or two. Then I’d gradually get bored and move on to something else.
Now that I’m (a little) older, I still like the excitement of new projects, but I’ve realized that these big bonfires of enthusiasm go out too quickly to sustain any kind of major, long-term undertaking (like actually writing a book, or actually building a robot). Instead of bonfires, I need a slow burn.
I’ve learned that if I want to make real progress, I need to establish habits.
Here’s a list of my “dailies” – things I do (or try to do) every day:
- Write this blog. ~40 minutes.
- Exercise. 10 minutes. Not very long, but better than nothing – enough to keep me from going crazy. Usually this is karate practice in my living room, but sometimes it’s as easy as walking around the block with my wife.
- Meditate. 15 minutes. This seems to help a little with focus and de-stressing, but that’s secondary. I’m chasing Zen enlightenment.
- Work on artificial intelligence. 30 minutes. Good progress on this lately! I’ve built my project up from a mess of compile errors and segmentation faults into a program that actually runs, and does more or less what it’s supposed to do. No intelligence yet, but the framework for intelligence is there.
- Listen to Writer’s Almanac. ~5 minutes. Teaches me about famous (and not-so-famous) writers, and lets me hear a new poem every day, all in Garrison Keillor’s soothing baritone.
- Practice solving a Go problem. ~2 minutes. Gobase.org has a new problem every day. I rarely make time to play a full game of Go anymore, but I try to hang on to what limited Go abilities I have.
- Work on needle desensitization. ~1 minute. I watch a YouTube video of someone donating blood, especially the part where the needle goes on. This is to overcome my needle phobia.
- Practice with Anki. ~5 minutes. I’ve written about Anki before. It’s really cool, free software that shows you flashcards according to a special algorithm to help you retain the knowledge better. You can make the flaschards yourself, on any topic you want. I tend to focus on vocabulary, but lately I’ve added a General Knowledge section too.
- Practice with the Unix command line. ~5 minutes. I don’t actually have Unix or Linux, but I downloaded Cygwin, which simulates a Unix command prompt on Windows. Haven’t found much practical use for it yet, but I figure if I’m going to make a career out of computers, I ought to get at least a little taste of the world outside Windows.
- Read (or listen to) the news. ~5 minutes. Primarily MSNBC and Al Jazeera online, or NPR on the radio.
- Write in my journal. ~5 minutes. Generally a quick, no-frills summary of what I did during the day, without taking a lot of time for thoughts or analysis.
- Read webcomics. ~3 minutes. Not easy, but somebody has to do it!
That looks like a lot when you write it all out, but most of the items are only a few minutes. If you add it all up, it’s only a little over two hours – and remember, that two hours includes exercise, keeping up with this blog, and putting in real time toward a project I care about (the AI). Obviously I don’t always get around to everything every day, and items get added and removed from the list all the time. But it’s a start – it’s better than nothing.
What do you do every day?