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?

10 responses to “Dailies

  1. Every day I try to get myself to do something every day.

    I have question. When do you work on writing? Like a novel or a short story? That part seems missing in your list.

    I really like the idea of doing things by minutes, because the more time I think something needs in order to be done (like writing a chapter or art practice), the more likely I’ll put it off. But two of my major goals requires more time than just a few minutes.

    One solution I had was break it up in 15 min chunks. Haven’t successfully put it into practice yet, though.

    Thanks for the post. It fits perfectly with what I’m tackling today πŸ™‚

    • Hi Amber!

      Unfortunately I am not working on any novels or short stories these days, beyond the 40-minute stories I post here. The blog is the only significant writing I’m doing right now. Partly because I got burned out, and partly because I’m really loving the AI and I don’t have time for both. Not sure yet if it’s a temporary thing or what. I talk more about my reasons in this post.

      “…the more time I think something needs in order to be done (like writing a chapter or art practice), the more likely I’ll put it off.” This is definitely true for me as well. I know how you feel.

      Best of luck with your current projects.

  2. Pay particular attention to #2: http://www.cracked.com/blog/the-6-most-quoted-pieces-advice-that-are-usually-wrong/

    You have quite the laundry list of tasks. Some things I do:
    – Try to run > 3 miles a day. I used to do 4-8 with extreme regularity, but losing access to a free gym hampered that.
    – Read… a lot. Mostly internet articles (my Google Reader usually feeds me > 300 articles a day from FoxNews, CNN, Cracked, nearly a dozen tech blogs, and friends).
    – I spend at least an hour a day on a curiosity. Its never anything specific and usually work related, but feeding my curiosity keeps me interested in my day and usually produces some very interesting, and tangible, results.

    I’d like to say I put some effort into my blog as well… but so few ever comment (or view – I have a tracker in my admin panel) that it doesn’t really feel worth it. Most days, my blog is just a place for me to vent frustration.

    • Hey Adam!

      With regard to the Cracked advice, I’d say that confronting my fear of needles is a very necessary thing. I’ve already gotten an IV recently, and that was scary enough. I’d really like to donate blood someday too. So, YouTube videos it is! πŸ™‚

      The running 3 miles a day is impressive. I tried to do that for a while, but my knees couldn’t handle it (at least not on concrete).

      I just saw you have some new posts up on your blog. I’ll have to check it out!

  3. I know what you mean about working on things in short bursts, I still do alot of that myself, though usually longer than a few weeks, and comes complete with an attainable goal, like finishing the book I’m so interested in, or finishing the puzzle or something like that.

    The coolest thing is when I can position science fair somewhere in the middle of that πŸ™‚

    I’m moving a bit away from that, now, though. I’ve got a few things going. I don’t have an exact schedule, but there are some things I’m trying to do at least a little bit of whether I feel like it or not.

    I’m starting to try meditation. It’s pretty cool. I also write, practice my instruments, peer tutor, write to my friends, read, dance, do my nails, and other such really important things.

    The key, for me, is to include other people in the things I want to do- and then I feel like I have to do them. I’ve already promised some friends that they can be the first readers of my stories, for example. Just setting a schedule isn’t enough for me.

    I could talk all day about the components of smart goal-setting- we have pretty much what amounts to a goal-setting class at my school. It’s the easiest class there is, but if you actually take the lessons to heart, it’s quite helpful.

    Plus there’s the interesting psychology stuff behind it. Well, interesting right now…

    • “I’m starting to try meditation. It’s pretty cool. I also write, practice my instruments, peer tutor, write to my friends, read, dance…”

      Sounds like you have a lot of ambitious goals going on too. Good luck! And you’re right, involving other people in your projects can definitely help get you motivated.

  4. For me it’s about winnowing down the things I do to the 3-4 (or 5-6) that I’m really paying attention to. For me the blog is one obvious priority, revision is another. My literary agent search is a third though is temporarily on hold while I wait for my draft to come back from an editor friend of mine. Gaming is another, just as a way to vent.

    I don’t do these things every day, but I try to make sure I’m doing them 1-3 times a week. I use the blog for my more random impulses (like Fractal week) in part to see what works, and in part to provide regular but limited time to pursue the myriad of things I’m interested in.

  5. For me, every day I wake up, go to school, come home, do homework, check this blog and a few other blogs from my favorite writers, play precisely 1 hour of video games and then write for 1 hour. (This is usually perfectly timed.) Eat dinner is also somewhere in there, as well as breakfast and lunch. (Also, this sequence of events is always carried out in about this order. Although sometimes a skip a part or two because I’m not feeling up to it at the moment.)
    As for the earlier part of your post, that’s how I was too. Interestingly enough, I earned the realization that for projects not school related, if I wanted to get any work done then I needed a slow burn. By earlier post I mean about 7 months ago when you posted a link to terribleminds, and from there Chuck Wendig helped me realize this.
    Of course, this behavior still persists in most things. But writing now gets its own category. Although there are days when I can’t stand the thought of writing, there are other days, most of the time now, when I write five pages a day. No excuses no b.s. I have vacation time already scheduled out according to my own rules.
    Thanks for posting!

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