As with any endeavor, Daily Blocks work better if you follow certain guidelines.
1. Choose their location carefully.
Put the blocks where you’ll see them often during the day – somewhere slightly in the way. This will help motivate you to get them out of the way.
That said, they shouldn’t be a sledgehammer. If they become too irritating or disruptive, you may lose patience with them altogether. Or you might adjust to them and find them easy to ignore.
A shelf in your office or workroom, your kitchen counter, a bureau in your bedroom – any of these might be a good spot for the blocks.
2. Choose your tasks carefully.
The types of task you choose will have a big impact on whether the blocks will work for you.
Choose tasks you want to do every day, even on weekends.
The blocks system thrives on dailiness. Using them this way makes it more likely they'll become a daily habit – and a change in habit holds immense power to improve your life.
This doesn't mean that if you don't do every task every day, the blocks system won’t work for you. I fail to complete my blocks all the time, when life gets too hectic or I hit some other kind of bump in the road. But I still get up and place the blocks in a row, ready to try again each day. You'll never truly fail unless you give up altogether.
Choose tasks with a clear beginning and end.
The best type of task is one that can be completed in a single block of time. For example, “15 sit-ups” will work better than “I will not eat chocolate."
Also, blocks lend themselves to tasks that are positive actions rather than feats of self-restraint. They run on the fuel of completion and satisfaction. You should be able to decide to do a task, complete it, and award yourself a block in a set amount of time.
Choose tasks that aren't too onerous.
After managing a daily 20 pushups for a week or so, you might feel ready to increase to 30, or 40, or 50. Proceed with caution. If you make your tasks too difficult, or if you assign yourself too many blocks, using them can become overwhelming, even discouraging.
A good approach is to set a minimum task size but allow yourself to do more on a good day. When you’re feeling more focused, energetic, or even more relaxed, fit in a few more repetitions, or spend a longer time in your yoga pose. But be clear with yourself that a set minimum is enough to earn a block.
3. Get up and set up.
The best time to set up the blocks is first thing in the morning, or as soon as you can get to it. (If you find yourself forgetting, set an an alarm as a reminder.)
The act of setting up the blocks early and consistently is important. While it’s not a difficult thing to do, it sends a signal to your brain that says, “I’ll try again today.” It’s a chance to renew your commitment to your goals. And it’s a moment to put yesterday behind you, to grasp the new day’s potential, and to move forward.
4. Frontload your day.
It helps to complete tasks earlier in the day, when you have more energy – particularly difficult tasks. Keep in mind that the sooner you get a task done, the longer you’ll feel a resulting sense of accomplishment: you'll get to enjoy it for the rest of the day.
That said, even if you wait to do your exercises just before bed, it’s still very satisfying!
5. Jump right in.
While you can fit them in anytime, it can be helpful to tie a block to your morning routine and finish it off first thing. For example, I do squats while making coffee. As with setting up the blocks, this is a small act that can have big consequences:
It breaks the ice.
It makes a dent – you’re already one block down.
You start your day with a feeling of accomplishment.
You remind your brain that removing a block feels good.
You strengthen your discipline muscles, making it easier to accomplish other tasks that day.
Kelly McGonigal addresses this last point in her book The Willpower Instinct. She cites research showing that any act of self-control can increase your powers of self-discipline, just as physical exercise strengthens your muscles.
McGonigal also advocates tackling particularly difficult tasks when you're rested and have more energy. Meditation is my most difficult task, and I find it easier to do in the morning than at any other time of day.
6. Link tasks to other routines.
It helps to link exercise and health tasks to other daily tasks. Just as you floss when you brush your teeth, try to build time for a task or two into breaks from work or alongside other routines.
Even better, make a block, or several blocks, something you must do before a break or some other enjoyable part of your daily routine. Do pushups before breakfast, stretches before lunch, etc.
7. Be flexible.
It can be hard to stick to a regimen of any kind. Using the blocks in a flexible way can make them work better for you.
Since each block represents only one task, a certain flexibilty is built into the system to begin with. Unlike an exercise routine that demands to be done all at once, you can fit them in at different moments throughout the day.
Before using the blocks, I would scramble to find a big chunk of time for exercise. On bad days, that effort would become too overwhelming, and I would avoid exercising altogether. Now I complete individual tasks, or a few at a time, whenever I can get to them. For someone generally averse to stricture and routine, it’s a more forgiving and effective approach.
Mix in some variety. While keeping most of your tasks the same helps them to become habits, you can alternate some tasks from day to day. For example, if you have a block for arm exercises, you could lift weights one day and do push-ups the next.
Have substitutions ready. On those days when you get home from work too late to walk outside, substitute with another type of cardio. Walk up and down the stairs 20 times, or do a few sets of jumping jacks.
Always remember: something is better than nothing. Completing a single block is an accomplishment.
8. Savor your accomplishments.
As you complete your tasks, work for the satisfaction of accomplishing a goal and clearing a block away. Focus on that satisfaction, and relish it – it’s the power that will fuel you through the daily tasks that will make your life better. Whether this satisfaction is related to dopamine production, the craving of the habit cycle, innate compulsiveness, or something else, it's fuel. And it holds the potential to make you feel better, be stronger, and get more done.
To amp up the satisfaction you feel from removing a block, wait to clear it away until you’ve fully completed a task. Waiting will make that moment of removal even more powerful.
And if you don't finish every block, considering letting the undone blocks sit overnight until the following morning. This will also increase the satisfaction you'll receive from the blocks you do get to.