Erik Ramsgaard Wognsen

Thoughts & technology

Keep Track With a Year at a Glance

The calendar helped me floss (more or less) daily.The calendar helped me floss (more or less) daily.

If you are already starting to forget about your New Year’s resolutions, here’s a tip to keep going: Visualize your progress: Put X’s on a calendar on every day you do what whatever you want to do more of. Stick the calendar on the wall or wherever it would remind you of your goal.

Some years back, each time I visited my dentist, she recommended that I floss. And I would decide that this time I would start doing it. But some days later, I started slipping and forgetting about it. It wasn’t until I put a year-at-a-glance calendar on the bathroom cabinet door that the habit stuck.

Putting a mark on a calendar is not rocket science, but the satisfaction of marking a completed task and of seeing your progress is a mental reward that can make a big difference. If you want to try, I made a one page 2016 calendar you can print (LibreOffice/odt, Word/docx). (It was easily made with the open source ncal utility, invoked as ncal -bh 2016.)

Don’t Break the Chain

For goals that can practically be done every day, it’s not just having many marks on the calendar that is important. A further motivation is to keep the chain of successful days unbroken. (This method is widely known as the Seinfeld Strategy, even though Jerry Seinfeld says it wasn’t his idea.) For workouts or other things that you might not have time to do every day, you could still use the chain method by using a list of weeks of the year, and checking off each week that met your goal, say, doing at least two workouts. Or maybe drinking at most three bottles of soda that week.

The chain method is also used in games and apps. For example, the app Memrise shows me my learning streak, or unbroken chain of days that I learn/memorize words or images in my chosen topic. Showing the streak has helped me to learn the world map for five minutes a day, 234 days in a row today. (The streak trick worked better than even the designers anticipated – the app crashed when trying to award me a 200-day badge.)

Not Just for Resolutions

The fine art of putting marks on a calendar is not just for New Year’s resolutions. I find it useful for anything I want to track. For example, I use one to remember when I last watered my chili plant. Or put a mark when you vacuum clean. Then you can see both when it would be a good idea to do it again, and in the long run, how often you do it – if you’re interested in that sort of thing. Happy tracking!