How I use Habitica to improve my exercise

In this post I discuss how I use Habitica for health – and specifically, to improve my exercise habits!

Procrastination

I am one of many people who find food and exercise important and have goals related to them (often weight loss), but procrastinate too much to achieve those goals. But since I’ve been using this new habit-building approach, I feel that things are starting to change a little bit and it’s not just the goal that motivates me, but the process.

The scenario I sketched with procrastinating on exercise is as follows:

  • Have a vague goal of “exercising more”
  • Be convinced you still need to do something (e.g. buy exercise equipment find the time) to start
  • Delay it until tomorrow, the day after, next week…

Or maybe like this:

  • Have a clear goal of what you want to do (e.g. go running three times a week)
  • Start enthusiastically and push yourself in the beginning to meet the target
  • Quit when you slip up too many times

I’ve had more variations on these in the past but I won’t go through all of them 🙂

First exercise habit

With Habitica and the idea of building habits, I decided to do things differently. I would start with something very simple and concrete, that I could do already, and that I wouldn’t have an excuse not to do: stretching in the morning.

I gave my yoga mat a permanent place in the living room, where I would see it in the morning. Before I have breakfast, I roll it out and do a few yoga-type stretches. The whole process takes about 5 minutes. Then I get a reward: checking off the daily in Habitica and having breakfast. Sometimes I have a lazy morning, but then I usually still stretch later in the day to complete the daily. All in all, I think I have missed less than 5 days since November.

Adding more exercise

Once the stretching became a habit, the yoga mat was joined by a kettlebell. I started with doing 10 kettlebell swings in addition to the stretching, and have now built it up to three different exercises. This was a bit more difficult to adopt, so I created a habit, which I can do as often as I want, and thus get extra rewards.

The last thing on my exercise list is walking. I set my goal to 10K steps a day. I don’t always complete this one, but to motivate me to do as much as possible, I set it up as a checklist where each 2K counts. And on days when I’m doing a lot of walking, I get extra rewards for each additional 2K steps I walk.

This is how all of this looks in Habitica (left are the habits, right are the dailies):

Now walking definitely became a habit. Before, I would sometimes have days where I barely get 1K steps in. But now I feel like I need to get moving, and I’m motivated to go for a walk to make sure I check off at least some steps off the list.

The verdict

None of this is particularly impressive compared to e.g. going running three times a week. But it’s something that I can do consistently, so for me it’s better than a too enthusiastic goal I can’t keep up with. I also really like the process of building up the habits and updating them in Habitica, so perhaps one of these days I will introduce a running habit as well.

I would be happy to hear how all of you are keeping up with exercise – is it something you do routinely, or something that you don’t usually get to? Do you keep track of what you’ve done and your progress over time? Any other tips others should hear about?

 

 

How to avoid decision fatigue

Procrastination

I have to admit that for the first time since my good blogging streak started last November, I procrastinated with writing a blog post. I briefly thought about not posting anything – we’re all allowed to have an off day after all! But the accountability I’ve built up, both to myself and (hopefully) a couple of readers who are used weekly posts, removed the choice for me. Posting weekly just became a habit.

[As I wrote that sentence, my brain made a connection with the number 21. I quickly checked the calendar and to my amusement discovered that last November was approximately 21 weeks ago! But then I realized that the popular saying is that it takes 21 days to build a habit, which is actually false].

I thought about why I was procrastinating more than the other times. I still had an Evernote notebook with lots of ideas on what to write about. Perhaps the problem was the opposite – I had too many ideas and I couldn’t choose between them!

Decision fatigue

I learnt recently that not being able to choose, procrastinating and being unproductive is a result, is something called “decision fatigue” (Wikipedia). This applies to several other areas of my life as well, for example:

  • Handling email and trivial tasks first, and procrastinating on big projects, because I can’t decide where to start
  • Having a vague goal of “exercising more”, but having too many choices (weights? run? in the morning? in the evening? tomorrow? … )
  • Deciding what’s for dinner when it’s dinner time, being unable to choose due to already being too hungry and getting take-out in the end

Habits

To reverse this process and be more productive, the secret seems to be to eliminate decisions. Then you can spend less time deciding, and more time doing! Or, as Doctor_PMS recommends, “set up your personal habits and goals in a way that prevents you from having to take a decision on a daily basis“.

That is essentially what me, @Doctor_PMS,  @TheNewPI, @rebeccalinnett, @AidanBudd and a few others are doing on Habitica – eliminating decisions. I briefly wrote about Habitica before, but to summarize, it’s a habit tracker with game elements. Here is how I’m trying to tackle procrastination on important projects:

  • I have a “daily” (a habit you can complete at most once a day) called “Add most important task (MIT) of the day as a to-do to Habitica”. My MITs are tasks that move big projects forward, like writing papers or blog posts. Of course, adding a task as a to-do is trivial, but I get a little reward from it, so I complete it every day. But what makes it more effective, is that having to define task forces me to break up projects into parts that I can actually get done.
  • I have another daily, with a bigger reward, called “Spend 1 Pomodoro on MIT”. I put my headphones on, set focus@will to 25 minutes, and start working.
  • Often once I get this first Pomodoro done, I don’t want to stop there, and continue. To encourage this behavior more, I have a “habit” (something you can do multiple times per day) called “Extra Pomodoro”.
  • To top it off, I have the MIT to-do I added in the first place! The to-dos give me the most rewards and are very satisfying to check off. Here’s how this looks in Habitica:

Since I enjoy the in-game rewards, I use this system on most days, gaining gold and experience, and levelling up! This is me, in one of the many outfits you can collect in the game:

Conclusion

Once I decided my post would be about decision fatigue, the post practically wrote itself. To avoid procrastination on future posts, the solution seems simple. I need to have specific blog posts on my to-do list, rather than a “blog weekly” to-do with a long list of ideas.

For extra accountability, I’ll share the two upcoming blog posts! Next week, of course, will feature another “How I Fail” guest post! And in two weeks time, since I quite enjoyed writing this post, I will write more about how I’m using Habitica to improve other areas of life, such as food and exercise.

5 apps that improved my productivity in 2016

Less than a year ago, my “How I work” setup only included Gmail, Google Calendar and Wunderlist. After reading Getting Things Done, I started listening to podcasts that focus on productivity, like The 5 AM Miracle and Beyond the To Do List. In the process, I started discovering apps and trying them out. In this post I present the 5 apps that improved my productivity and that are staying in my “How I work” process.

1. Podcast Addict

Of course I used Podcast Addict to listen to the podcasts above. This helped me not only by teaching me things about productivity, but by motivating me to walk more (so that I could listen to the podcasts). Although I was spending more time on getting to places, the exercise + fresh air helped me to focus afterwards.

2. Evernote

OK, I had Evernote before listening to the podcasts, but I didn’t know how to organize it and therefore didn’t use it. One example of how I use it now is for writing these blog posts! I have a stack of five notebooks for this:

My Evernote notebooks for writing blog posts

In “Online: pin or tweet” and “Online: write about” I keep all the articles, threads on Twitter etc that I saved with the Evernote web clipper, and I think might be interesting to share with others. Once I pin, tweet or write, I move the note to “Online: done”. In “Writing: drafts” I keep blog posts ideas, which eventually grow into blog posts. Then I move these to the “Writing: done” notebook.

Given my difficult relationship with blogging and weekly posts for the last two months – a personal record – I’d say it’s working!

3. Streak

Streak is an app that integrates seamlessly with Gmail and has lots of awesome functionality. I use it to (1) achieve inbox zero (2) keep track of your contacts.

For (1), I use Streak to “snooze” emails. This means that I archive the email, but it’s moved to the inbox again at a later date. For example, I snooze emails to register for events. If it’s December, but the event is March, and the deadline to register is in February, I will snooze the email to late January.

For (2), I use Streak to keep track of people I have contacted, or might want to contact at some point. Currently I do this for people who have emailed me with questions about my papers. If I have an important update on the project (for example an error in my code), I can simply send an email to the whole group.

4. Focus @ Will

Focus @ will is a radio you can listen to, but with music (or sounds) that are supposed to help you focus. There are a few channels with different types of music/sound, and you can just press play and pause, or set a timer so that it stops playing after X minutes. I usually use it with the timer, Pomodoro-style. I can’t say if it’s really doing something to my brain or if it’s the placebo effect, but it’s been pretty effective so far!

5. Habitica

Habitica is a habit-tracking app, a bit like a todo list for things you’d like to do regularly, like exercising every day. I tried to create daily tasks for these activities in Wunderlist, but I didn’t like this approach. The main reason was that I didn’t know how to deal with doing the activity more, or less than I am supposed to.

For example, if I missed a day or two of exercising, I had two choices. The first is leaving the tasks unchecked, i.e. doing doubling/tripling the amount of exercise on another day, which is not very realistic. The second is checking the skipped tasks off, which is incorrect. The same goes for doing extra exercise: did that mean I could skip exercise the day after? Not great if you are trying to develop an “exercise every day” habit.

In Habitica, instead of done/not done, you have a character with overall statistics like health. Here’s mine:

And here are some of the habits I’m tracking:

They are all green, because I did them today! By doing habits, the character gains experience and coins. If you don’t do a habit for too long, the character’s health goes down. To be honest I don’t know the details of how this works yet, but I like the layout and the habit-tracking part!

Any other apps?

I like trying out apps, so if you have some that have helped you out, please let me know!

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