One hour at a time
“I don’t have enough time”, said I to the Señor when he asked why I didn’t exercise daily.
“Everyday I work until really late, average out 12-14 hours a day. Subtracting sleep time, I only have about 3 hours for myself every day”. I continued. “There are many things I wish to do with those three hours. I want to write, read and also spare some time to take care of myself.”
“What you said just implied that it is possible”, said he. “Spare one hour each then. One hour to write, one hour to read and one hour to take care of yourself. And when you take care of yourself, exercise.”
The Señor is a health maniac, so is Miss Genius, while I have never much been a fan of the gym and exercising in general. I pretty much believe that the health of mind is the health of life, and always prioritise other goals before physical fitness. Having been butchered by Miss Genius for years on this matter, I finally dragged myself to the gym more frequently lately.
Being a gym beginner, I find it hard to complete fitness goals. (And if you have any other tips for me re: gymming, please do kindly leave a comment!) Overwhelmed by many options at the gym and not sure where to start, coupled with my low level of resilience, I invented a system call the 5-minute-rule to motivate myself. Breaking the session into several 5-minute chunks, I do 5 minutes of each exercise then switch to a new one. Whether I am on the rowing machine or treadmills or weights, as my body was about to give up, the thought of “Only 1 minutes to go” or “Only 30 seconds to go” makes it easier for me to give it an extra push and complete it to the 5-minute mark. After all, 1 minute or 30 second goes by like a blink of an eye. The next thing I know, I was pushing for more and more of myself for every 5-minute session.
The 5-minute rule works for me on the basis that decomposition of bigger goals into smaller tasks made it easier for me to feel a stronger sense of progress. Breaking it down into defined timeframe creates a positive feedback loop that is easier for me to feel potential rewards and measure the progress. I start to apply similar principles to other goals in my life - but instead of using 5-minute time frame I make it to 1-hour mark, coupled with a 15-minute break in between. This application was inspired by the fact that The Señor mentioned earlier I should break it down to 1 hour each on each task.
Having a large number of books to read? One hour of reading every day.
Having a big writing project? One hour of writing every day.
Having a distanced fitness goal? One hour of exercising every day.
Before I know it, this consistency allows me to write for 20-30 hours, or to read and exercise for just as long. If I were to ask myself in the first place to write, read or exercise for 30 hours each, I’d surely be overwhelmed. However, as I ask myself to do 1 hour each every day, it is a much more reasonable ask.
I have read about task decomposition in project management theory before, but I have not understood its power until I apply these 5-minute systems or the one-hour rule to my life. Once I understood this principle, I start to see it everywhere. For example, decomposition is also a process in programming (aka factoring), where profoundly complex problems are broken down into well-defined steps. When such problem can be deconstructed, it makes it easier to understand, tackle and then maintain the code.
So next time when you face something that may overwhelm you, proceed it one hour at a time. Define the tasks and work on it for one hour every day, you’d soon find the magic of incremental progress.
P.S. In case you haven’t noticed from this essay, The Monsieur and I have parted way on mutual grounds. Despite such separation, I hold much respects for him as he does for me and our partnership ideology remains true. In this chapter, I have welcomed a new character in my life, The Señor.
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Illustration: Whitney Hubbs, photographer (American, born 1977), Untitled (Stairs), American, 2012, Gelatin silver print.