Goals and Habits: Program for 5 hrs/week

Since I think coding practice should be a higher priority in my life, I’ve scheduled two days out of the week to program. Monday and Tuesday evenings after work, I will spend at least two hours programming. Four hours of the week can easily be accounted for there, and I could always do more on those days and others.

Previously I assumed I could squeeze time out of my week to program, but since I didn’t have any hard rules about it, I never did it. The thinking was that I could always program “tomorrow”, and of course tomorrow always had its own excuses.

Eventually procrastination became a habit. If I did have time in front of my computer, I ended up checking email or configuring something that I didn’t need to configure at that moment. Even now I catch myself getting distracted too easily during my programming time. I find myself trying to check my email or reading blog entries and have to force myself to continue programming.

Breaking old habits is hard, as everyone knows. I recently bought Steve Chandler’s 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself audio book. I listen to it in the car and am amazed at how much education you can get in a 30 minute drive. One of the things he talks about is breaking bad habits. He says we can’t simply drop bad habits. We must replace them with better habits. In my situation, I simply need to get my mind to think that it is time to program whenever I am in front of my computer instead of having it think that it is time for recreational web browsing. He also talks about will power and the need to exercise it. The more we practice control, the stronger our will becomes. The two tips go hand in hand.

Each time I refuse to check my email during my designated programming times, I get that much closer to replacing habitual time wasters like useless email and web browsing with habitual productive activities. Building will power in this way applies elsewhere. For instance, each time I make myself check my calendar before making a committment, the more useful and powerful my calendar becomes. Each time I check my lists when I am deciding on my next action, the more important my lists become to me, which means I’ll use them more.

Creating good habits and getting rid of old ones is great for accomplishing goals. If I make a regular habit of programming each day, I simply have to hit my goal for the week, and therefore I can’t NOT hit my goals for the month. As Chandler says, “It’s mathematical.”

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