“Take twice daily”

Everyone has things that they need to do regularly, just not at particular times. Washing your sheets, cleaning out the refrigerator, hitting the gym, drinking two glasses of water; these tasks don’t have specific deadlines, and you can always push them back by several hours or days, but everyone still has their ideal rate. It might be twice a week, once a month, or three times a day, but these rates are hard to enforce: because they are infinitely deferrable, it is hard to ensure you are hitting the rates you want.

So what are we to do? I don’t have the definitive answer to this, but here are some different approaches.

Create external tools to keep you on track. One approach is to tweak the Jerry Seinfeld calendar technique. Seinfeld wanted to write new comedic material every day, and his trick was to get a whole-year calendar on one page. Every day that he wrote new material he put a big, red, satisfying X through the day. After only a few days, the impetus to “keep the streak going” helped reinforce good habits. With daily tasks, try keeping reminder stickynotes in your wallet and mark the calendar on each success day. Similarly, for each week mark success or failure in doing the x-times/week tasks. Don’t just continually look forward; block off segments of time and succeed or fail on those!

Make the reminders when you have the willpower, then do those things later. Tools like followupthen can be set to email you reminders on specific days (like March 31) or relative days (like tomorrow)to build a reinforcement system on top of the email we all already use. If it doesn’t matter when during the two weeks you wash your sheets, just pick a day and set the reminder for then. The freedom of “anytime” is exactly the thing that obstructs getting what you want done, so sacrificing that flexibility may actually make you more effective!

Account for how you spend your time, and fill in the gaps with anything on your “I ought to” list. Some things in life require intentionality and planning, for example putting in the time to become a sketch artist. But frequently, periodic tasks are easy and require no planning; you just throw your sheets in the wash when you have a moment. But unless you account for how you spend your time, it can feel like you are constantly overwhelmed when really you are wasting lots of time. Fight that phenomenon by taking measurements, so you can change things.

Your brain is good for many interesting things, but managing the dull and boring nature of periodic todos is not one of them. Why do the drudge work yourself when you can invent a system (a much more interesting task) and offload all the minutiae into that?