Right now, I am keeping track of some of my success spirals publicly on this spreadsheet. You can read more some details about why I’m doing this in a previous post, but the basic point is to do a live walkthrough of using success spirals to fight off procrastination and actually accomplish things.
My plan is to do this for 30 consecutive days, and today marks the completion of the 7th day. Accordingly, as the point of this live walkthrough is to demonstrate how even modest first steps can yield strong results, I thought it appropriate to write an update post recapping my progress and the ensuing results.
Success Spiral Progress
The two spirals I’m keeping track of publicly are both related to this blog: the first is about writing content, and the second is about managing and promoting the blog.
The blog writing spiral is exactly what it sounds like: I want to dedicate at least a little time every single day to writing new content.
Starting goal: 5 minutes per day
Current goal: 10 minutes per day
Next promotion level: 15 minutes per day
Next promotion criteria: 15 minutes per day for one consecutive week
When you see that starting goal, one thing to keep in mind is that I had already built up a fairly strong spiral over 45 days starting last October. I had built it up from a minimum of 1 minute of writing per day to a minimum of 20 minutes of writing per day. I never missed a day. But, at the end of the 45 days, I decided to pause the spiral as the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were around the corner. Expectedly, as soon as I suspended the spirals, my output drastically reduced.
To rebuild my spiral and re-up my productivity, I started this spiral again. As I had already built up some expectancy in my ability to meet this goal, however, I started fairly high — I would typically start at something even smaller, like 1 minute per day. Still, my initial goal of 5 minutes per day was much lower than the level at which I suspended the spiral. You might be wondering why: It’s because the point of success spirals is to make it impossible to lose. I know I can do far more than 5 minutes per day, but starting back at 20 minutes per day might have been too much of a stretch. So, I started small and outperformed my expectations.
How well did I do, exactly? Below is a graph, taken straight from the spreadsheet, that shows my actual progress relative to my minimum required progress. Clearly, I absolutely crushed the minimum required time: instead of writing for 35 minutes in 7 days, I’ve written for 340 minutes. That’s an order of magnitude higher. But, one day this past week, I wrote for just 15 minutes and that was right before I went to sleep. If I had set my spiral at 20 minutes, I might have not even tried. Now that I’ve crushed my expectations and met my promotion criteria, I have promoted my spiral to 10 minutes per day.
Effort is good, but what was the fruit of all of this labor? Two posts. This post and a post (the longest I’ve written, to date) about picking a job in academia vs. industry. Not only did I write a lot of content, I wrote content about a very tricky topic that required quite a lot of re-reads and editing to make sure I was not selling anybody short.
The blog management spiral has a less obvious definition, but basically encompasses improving the blog in any other way apart from writing content: e.g., making design changes, promoting content, learning about how to better run a blog, and establishing contacts with other bloggers in the space.
Prior to establishing this spiral, I only incidentally spent any time on this. My strategy was not to worry too much about all of the administrative responsibilities of running a blog and focus on establishing a habit of writing every day. Accordingly, I started this spiral with a very low goal: just 1 minute per day.
Starting goal: 1 minute per day
Current goal: 5 minutes per day
Next promotion level: 7 minutes per day
Next promotion criteria: 7 minutes for 7 consecutive days
I had two primary reasons for starting the spiral at such a low level: (1) I had built up no prior expectancy in my ability to “manage” the blog, so I wanted to make it difficult to fail even if I disliked doing it; and, (2) I had no idea what to do, exactly, and unstructured tasks are easy to dismiss or delay.
Starting the spiral with a small goal was a good call. My first day, I was lost, so all I did was browse through WordPress themes to find one that better matched what I wanted. My second day, I decided I would start reading about the things I should be doing to better manage my blog. This initial investment taught me a lot, and now it’s much easier and more enjoyable to spend time managing the blog. Here’s how I did, overall:
As you can see, I also crushed the minimum required time for this spiral. Including an interim promotion to the 2 minute / day mark, my minimum required time investment was 17 minutes. I actually invested 150 minutes and promoted the spiral a second time to the 5 minute / day level. And what are the fruits of all this labor? First, a nicer theme. Second, all my posts are now categorized and tagged, and categories are pinned to an omnipresent menu so that it’s easier to find content. Third, I reached out to prominent academic blogs to seek out opportunities to guest post. In addition, I’ve learned many more strategies about blog management and promotion that I hope to put into effect in the coming weeks.
Okay, so that’s it for the first update. I hope this live walkthrough is providing some concrete evidence that success spirals work. If people like this enough, I may continue doing these live walkthroughs with more and different success spirals (e.g., with programming projects and research).
One final note: If you liked this post and would like to show your support, here are two things you can do:
– Follow me on Twitter @scyrusk; and,
– Consider signing up for my mailing list below. I won’t spam, you can unsubscribe at any time, and you’ll get some content that I don’t post on the blog.
If you do either or both of those things, you’d make me happy. Thanks!