For the past year or so, I have been obsessed with automating my life.
By “automating” I don’t mean setting up apps to remind me of things, or using my smart speaker to take dictation. Rather, I am searching for ways to put as much of my life on “autopilot” as possible.
I try to automate the mundane, the rote, and those millions of little decisions a day that drain my daily tank of creative energy.
I 100% buy into the philosophy that we have a finite tank of creative energy every day. A few things (besides actually being creative) that drain my tank might be:
- Feeling that I’m neglecting something I should be doing
- Not sleeping enough (leads to tank not refilling)
I am always on the lookout to how I can set up mental systems to keep the above energy drains from sapping my juice.
One brain-hack that’s helped me is something I call “One-Minute-to-Spare Rule.” I know there are other One-Minute Rules out there developed by productivity experts, but this one deals strictly with building habits.
The One-Minute-to-Spare Rule
The One-Minute-to-Spare Rule goes something like this: If you feel like you should be doing some habitual task like flossing, practicing an instrument, working out, or writing your novel, ask yourself two questions:
- Is this task related to my overall life-goals?
- Can some portion of this task can be done in a single minute?
If the answer is NO to both questions, then this Rule does not apply.
But if some part of the habitual task can be done in a minute and it’s something that is important to you, then tell yourself that you’ll do it for a minute a day. After all, you’ve got at least some fire to do the thing, right? And you’ve got one minute to spare, right? So agree with yourself that you’ll do the thing.
Let me clarify with a few examples of how I’ve implemented this in my life.
My One-Minute Flossing Routine
Speaking of those millions of little decisions that drain your creative energy, let’s talk about flossing.
I’ve always been a stickler for dental hygiene. Friends tease me about this, but seriously, I want to keep my teeth! That said, I’ve never flossed on a regular basis until recently. I didn’t like flossing, but I liked having flossed. Like 99% of the rest of humanity, I had serious resistance to flossing.
One day, in the midst of a self-improvement rampage, I canvassed myself for answers to why I had such resistance to flossing. I realized that I’m very good at talking myself out of flossing. Usually because I was tired and had to go to bed.
I was negotiating with myself.
Then I considered the actual amount of time it takes to floss. Maybe a minute.
I asked myself, “Can I spare a single minute before bed in the interest of keeping my teeth healthy for the rest of my life?”
Yes, I could do that. One minute wasn’t so bad after all.
The rest is history. I’ve flossed every night for at least the past couple of years.
Implementing the One-Minute Rule has addressed the “decision-making” and “neglecting something” drains that result from not flossing.
My One-Minute Plank Routine
“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” — Leonard da Vinci
Sometimes, habits become addictive. Success begets success and the next thing you know you’re well on your way to reaching your goals.
After our son was born (our second kid) I felt a niggling to get to the gym. I knew that I’d feel better mentally if I could just get some exercise. We even bought YMCA memberships. But we couldn’t ever find time to actually go.
During a mastermind group I did with Dan Blank (which was a life-changing experience, by the way), he was talking about the importance of taking small actions in reaching big goals. He gave the example of “just doing one pushup a day.”
I adapted this idea to do a plank for one minute a day. And then I started actually doing it. My initial agreement with myself went something like this:
“Can I spare a single minute a day to reach my fitness goals?
Then, something funny happened. The more I planked, the stronger I felt, and the more motivated I became to roll in other exercises–even if they did cost me more than one minute total. Currently, I’m still doing a one-minute plank every morning, along with 39 pushups, 100 situps, and dumbbell curls.
Let me clarify one point: I’m not a fitness person. At all. But little by little I was able to roll in some quick fitness habits to my morning routine, and now I have zero resistance to actually doing them.
Some Parting Advice on Incremental Progress
To summarize, here is what I mean by automating my life: setting up habits that get me into a routine, or incrementally inch me toward a goal. Habits don’t cost any creative energy. By establishing flossing and exercise routines, I don’t expend any creative energy in either doing them begrudgingly or not doing them and feeling crummy about it.
The key to the One-Minute-to-Spare Rule is this: incremental progress, repeated consistently, will get you where you want to be.
Take a hard look at your goals and don’t get hung up on how you go about meeting those goals. I thought I wanted time to go to the gym, but what I really wanted was the exercise. Once my tired parent-brain realized that exercise can happen outside the gym, new possibilities opened up.
And remember, when you negotiate with yourself, you always lose. Don’t do it.
Now, what great things will you do with your one-minute a day?