on streaking

screenshot of 367 day streak
On December 28, 2018, I completed the New York Times Crossword Puzzle and then every day since then, I've completed each day's puzzle before midnight the day it was published. Around July 2019, I realized I hadn't missed a day for over 6 months. I wondered how I had done that. It was simple. After a few months, I really didn't want to start the streak over again from 1 day.

Then I thought of other habits I'd like to have happen daily. I could definitely stand to walk more than I had been. I really wanted a creative "pipeline" with ideas turning to items I could clean up, then eventually publish or share on stage. I looked around the internet and app stores and found several habit tracking and streak tracking systems. None of them exactly fit what I was looking for, but they all had bits and pieces. I ended up cobbling together a spreadsheet on Google Docs that I could access from laptop or my phone. I added shortcuts to the spreadsheet and started tracking some health and creative tasks that I thought I could do daily.

I immediately started cheating. I kept exaggerating the "active minutes" my phone didn't count because I was "doing something" while it wasn't in my pocket. One day, I was frustrated with all the "cheating" I was doing to make it look like I had long streaks on all the tasks. I realized the whole system was pointless if I was just going to mark things done all the time. I let all the items go for a day except the crossword puzzle.

The next day, I woke up and started writing as I had for 89 days prior. What I wrote about that day was writing. I realized I had not cheated on the specific goal of writing 750 words a day. I had added a habit without thinking about it much because I was so disheartened by not accomplishing the others. Even on the day I let all the goals slip, I still wrote a journal entry, it just wasn't near my 750 word goal.

I realized I had let myself have all day to accomplish 5 goals. The result.. I took all day, often finishing just before midnight. That missed day had been hectic and I just kept putting them off until I had no time to do any of them. So in the three pages that day, I reframed the challenge. I called the habits challenges. I also called the system a morning routine.. morning challenges. I often get time for an afternoon nap, but I told myself I wouldn't do that until all the challenges are done.

I reminded myself they were meant to be simple "starter" activities. I would write three pages, sure, but often ideas would come up in those pages that kept me writing more that day. I would start walking or biking 20 minutes, but then I was somewhere and it would easily be another 20 minutes to get home.

 I made some of the challenges easier, as well. I realized I had no problem keeping writing and getting the crossword puzzle done each day. I had worked hard adding the morning writing to the crossword challenge. I had cheated on the other items. In the months that followed, I kept those two easily and added a stretching routine my physical therapist and I had developed years ago. I didn't cheat. If I missed a day or goal, I let it go until that goal was also a habit.

This new system is working for me. It's clunky and easy to change. I'm good with that. I need that. I'm getting better with it.