Get Stuff Done, Now!

Form new habits, quit old ones, write that novel... Here's the best technique for productivity.

We've all been there. Today will be the day I stop smoking! I'll start learning Spanish! I'll become an early bird! and so on and so forth.

Then, come one or two or three weeks, momentum has slowed. You forgot why, exactly, you're doing what you're doing, life gets in the way, or you can't make time. Whatever the reason, I know the feeling. Here's how I beat procrastination, unproductive days, and kept up new habits.

Let's Get Started!

First of all, get a piece of paper. I suggest large grid maths paper for this —you know, the sort of paper you did sums on when you were seven — but you do you. It can be plain, lined, whatever, doesn't matter. Just get some. This is your first "card".

Second, grab a pen or pencil, and if you have one, a big red marker.

You might also want a ruler or eraser, but that's not required.

Draw!

Next up, get that paper and draw 49 empty boxes — or, a 7 by 7 grid. Seven days, seven weeks. The boxes only need to be big enough for a visible cross, so don't worry about the size of your paper. You don't have to worry about how neat it is, you can always go back and correct it — for now, just get it done.

By the way, the reason for 49 is because it takes at least 7 weeks to form a habit. This might seem like too long, or too short — but it's just a guide. Once you've finished your first card, you can change it to suit your needs.

But I Don't Like Paper/Have a Phobia of Pens/Only Live Online!

Fine. Here's a template. You can also keep track of your data on Excel/Google Sheets.

There's also this neat little Google Play Store app, too.

Setting Targets (and Keeping to Them)

Next, set a daily goal. Don't make this goal something crazy like "write 5,000 words", "do a full-house tidy", or "do some exercise" (what...? just me?). We both know that's too much for brains to comprehend, so be reasonable. Failing frequently might make you discouraged and give up -we want you to succeed. So set SMART targets — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed.

Every day you complete this goal, put a big ol' cross in the corresponding box. Congratulations! You're on your way to daily productivity. But when you don't, leave the box blank. And trust me, those blank squares get annoying, fast.

Aaaaaand... that's all, folks. That's the entire thing. The X Effect is not about life goals or where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years, it's about today, it's about tomorrow. Every day counts to make something great.

And if you're stuck, here's some habits you might want to consider...

  • Do 2 lessons on Duolingo
  • Draw for 10 minutes
  • No 0 Days (write something, anything, every single day)
  • Apply for 1 job
  • Write 500 words
  • Do 30 minutes of exercise
  • Learn a new word (bonus: in another language!)
  • Make the bed and clean the dishes
  • Put away laundry/put dirty clothes in laundry basket
  • Brush for 2 minutes, mouthwash & floss
  • Listen to a new song
  • Don't play video games
  • Don't smoke/drink alcohol/drink coffee
  • Don't text your ex first
  • Go to bed before 10 / Wake up before 9
  • Do 10 minutes of HTML/JavaScript/Python/etc
  • Read for 30 minutes / Read 10 pages
  • 1 hour of homework
  • Don't check work emails outside of work
  • Practice guitar for 20 minutes

Etc. You get the idea.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I have rewards/cheat days? Yes! But make sure you keep track of how many you've earned, and don't just award yourself them. I suggest 7 days unbroken = 1 reward. This can be some chocolate cake from that expensive cafe in town, it can be a cheat day, it can be anything you like. For cheat days, I also suggest to not plan them in advance if you can help it; decide on the day if you're going to need one.

How many cards can I have? As many as you like! But start out with 1-5, and make your first ones attainable. 

Can I start a new card halfway through my old ones? Sure!

What do I do if my card is too easy/hard? You're fine to change cards halfway through, but make a note somewhere that you did. If the card is too easy and you fancy a challenge, then feel free to make it tougher!

If you're struggling to hit a cards target, you need to examine why - are you slacking on it, or are you struggling to find the time? Once you've got an answer, act accordingly - either lower the threshold, or double down.

Does it have to be 49 days? No. In fact, my cards are just 7 by 4, so I can see monthly targets. Do what works best for you.

What if my new habit doesn't need to be done daily (e.g. gym, cleaning, etc)? Black out the days you don't need to do it, or cross them off anyways in a different colour pen. Alternatively, if you go to the gym 3 times a week, do a 3 by 7 grid instead.

Who else is doing this? Check out reddit.com/r/theXeffect for some examples of cards, support, and help.

Final words...

If you're struggling to get started, your first card can just be to cross off an X or to do something you usually do anyways, to get you into the habit of paying attention to your card. Make sure you put it in an obvious place, somewhere you see every day.

And, by the way, the first day of your card is today. Not tomorrow. Not next Monday. It's today. So good luck, and get going.

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