Why They Work
In some ways, Daily Blocks work like the other tools we use to manage our lives.
But Daily Blocks are unique in a few key ways.
1. They change your environment.
With their color, size, and conspicuous location, the blocks can work something like Post-It Notes. But they're more substantial than just another scrap of paper.
Because they're unique within your surroundings, they stand out. And unlike any fleeting schedule or list, they become a part of the permanent structure of your life. You reinstall them daily in one prominent place, and they consistently represent the same tasks.
Daily Blocks are an example of “choice architecture" – a way you can manipulate your environment to help you make better choices. For example, keeping cookies out of the house makes it more likely you'll eat fruit to satisfy a sweet craving. And having comfortable exercise clothes on hand makes it easier to stay active.
Blocks change your environment so that you have an obvious, permanent, and unique presence drawing your attention and prompting you to act. This gives them a power than lists or apps can't quite match.
2. They make use of your urge to clear things away.
Because they're in your way, blocks exert a slight pressure – a nudge.
It’s a friendly pressure. A block is there to help you with something you’ve decided is important. But you put it there to be removed, and you want to remove it.
The urge to clear your space, and the satisfaction you receive when you do, powers your use of the blocks.
3. They make abstract rewards concrete and immediate.
Many of the tasks we do with long-term goals in mind are less than fulfilling in the moment.
For example, I know that brushing my dog's teeth is something I want to do. But in the bustle of daily life, my sense of the task's upside is remote. And since it's not something I really enjoy in itself, my default mode is to avoid it.
Assigning the task to a block changed that dynamic. It made the reward immediate. Now, I brush the dog's teeth not because I know it's a good thing to do. I do it because I get to clear a block away!
This may sound silly. But it does work. When you turn an abstract goal into a concrete one, you make completing a task more immediately satisfying. As a result, you’re more likely to get it done.
4. You use them daily, and the tasks stay the same.
Unlike to-do lists, calendars, and schedules, blocks are for tasks you want to accomplish every day.
This is helpful in part because it makes using the blocks more likely to become a habit. And as Charles Duhigg has discussed, changing even one habit can dramatically improve your life.
Also, doing the same routine every day keeps things uncomplicated. You don't debate which tasks to do or whether they are worthwhile. You just follow through.
5. They break goals down into manageable tasks.
Like Daily Blocks, to-do lists, schedules, and other self-management tools divide large goals into smaller parts. But because the blocks method is piecemeal by nature, it's particularly effective at making an extended exercise and health routine more manageable. Each block represents a discrete, doable task that can be done anytime.
Breaking down large goals is important for two reasons. First, small tasks are less intimidating, so they're easier to begin. Second, you give yourself more opportunities to experience a sense of accomplishment.
The more accomplishment you feel, the better you feel. And feeling better helps you persevere.