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You want to start a new habit or routine. You want to “exercise more” and “eat healthier,” but without a set routine your goal may feel futile and too flexible. There’s an easy way to fix that.
As humans we have an urge to complete things, which is why we get addicted to fun games so easily.
Depending on your personality, seeing your social calendar fill up may either stress you out or calm you down. But that’s only for social calendars, meetings, and obligations. Personally, I feel burdened when my to-do calendar is filled up, but that’s just because I’m an introvert and a lot of social time will burn me out. Plus, there’s this hilarious meme that sums up the way I feel about work meetings.
Anyway, your social calendar isn’t going to help you start a new routine. Sorry to get off track here. Maybe I just wanted a reason to share the meme.
What I’m talking about here is an accountability calendar. What’s awesome about an accountability calendar is it allows you to see your progress on any given habit that you want to form, and it’s easy to see where you skipped a day.
This is similar to my concept of The Done List. Keeping a done list instead of a to-do list can help you feel more accomplished and will also double as an appreciation list. How many times have you ended your workday, wondering how on earth you spent your time? By keeping a done list, you’ll be able to quickly view the tasks you completed, whether it was clearing out your inbox, walking during your lunch break, or completing a big project. It feels good to recognize your achievements, and you can go home feeling satisfied with yourself and your progress.
An accountability calendar is related, and can help make you feel like you’re kicking ass.
An Accountability Calendar
Whenever you want to start a new routine, it can be difficult to wrap your head around. How do you get started? How often should you do it? No matter what, the most successful habits you wish to start are going to be ones that you plan out ahead of time and know exactly when you’re going to do it.
For example, in late December I set a goal for myself to write at least 500 words in my journal every day after listening to Hal Elrod’s interview with Pat Flynn about The Miracle Morning. I’m using the Day One desktop app for Mac, and I love being able to look at the calendar view the app provides.
But something happens when I close the app. Even though I have a daily goal set, it’s easy for me to forget to write, especially on the weekends when my morning routine gets slightly altered.
So what to do? I watched how best-selling author Joanna Penn keeps an accountability calendar for her daily writing goal. At the end of every day, she records the number of words she’s written. Then she rewards herself with a sticker if she’s done particularly well that day.
Right after I saw Penn’s interview, I set out to look for a real paper calendar after work. Then I remembered I could probably download and print one for free. But looking through the free printables available, none of them matched the style I wanted. They were either too girly or too colorful.
So, duh Jenn, you’re a designer and you know your way around Photoshop et al. I created my own minimalist calendar set, starting in July of 2015 and ending in December 2016. (I used Illustrator and Sketch, if you’re curious. The font is the one I created for my Skillshare class.)
I’m going to keep record of two goals on my calendar: the number of words I write in my journal, and then the number of words I write for this blog if I end up writing an opinion piece.
I already have a lot of data from the back of my Moleskine and I can’t wait to get my calendar printed (since I refuse to buy a printer for home, you know, being a minimalist and all) and can fill it out for July so far.
If what others are saying about printed calendars, rewards, and streaks are true, then I’m in for writing a lot this year and next.
Habits, Rewards and Streaks
What do you want to change? What habit do you want to start? Do you want to start eating a certain number of calories per day to help you lose weight? Do you want to walk at least 10K steps a day? Do you want to practice guitar for at least 30 minutes a day? Do you want to spend at least 5 minutes tidying up your house each night before you go to bed? Set your habit. Write it down. Then print out a free calendar to get started.
The benefit of a printed calendar: you can post it on the wall by your desk or somewhere you’ll see it every day. Don’t put it away in a drawer or under a pile of papers. Don’t use it to schedule parties or to remind yourself to take out the trash; this is for your new habit only.
Then, find a way to reward yourself when you have a day that is particularly good. Set your threshold of “good” and be clear about it. For me, I’ll reward myself when I write at least 500 words in my journal and at least 1,000 for a blog or book. Whenever you meet or exceed your goal, reward yourself on your calendar by coloring in the day with a highlighter or adding a sticker. (Note to self, I need to buy stickers. At least I have an excuse now. What was I saying earlier about being a minimalist…?)
Soon your calendar will start to fill up. It’ll feel amazing to record your accomplishments for each day, watching your progress from week to week.
If you start your habit but then end up with false starts and skip a day or two, don’t worry. Just start again. Then once you have a streak going, try not to break it.
Like I mentioned before, humans want to see things through to completion. Once you get a good streak going on your calendar, especially a streak filled with stickers, you won’t want to break it. You’ll be more likely to keep your own promises.
If you have the opportunity to do so, find a buddy that wants to change a habit too. If you live with someone or work closely with someone, I guarantee they have something they want to improve upon, even if it’s just drinking more water or watching less TV. Print out a calendar for him or her too, and commit yourself to your calendar and your buddy.
Already I’ve seen the buddy system work for me. I joined a fitness accountability spreadsheet with some coworkers where we report our calories in, calories burned, Fitbit steps, amount of water drank, etc. Since doing so, I’ve managed to lose a considerable amount of weight in a couple of weeks. Before I joined the spreadsheet, I was struggling and often forgot to keep my own promises (because an extra scoop of macaroni and cheese is just that good). Now that I am part of a shared accountability team, I feel like I’m not only letting myself down but I’m also partially letting them down, too, if I go over my calorie limit or if I don’t drink enough water.
You could argue that accountability buddies don’t matter, that you’re either going to stick with your new habit or you aren’t, regardless of others. But you’re almost guaranteed to succeed if you are in the perfect storm of having determination combined with keeping accountability with similarly determined people. And even if your buddy isn’t the most reliable, you may end up getting a kick out of the competition factor.
So, print out a calendar. Make it clear to yourself what goal you want to achieve each day (or any other frequency). Record your progress on the calendar every day, and reward yourself for extra-awesome days. Maybe even reward yourself for really great streaks.
What habits are you looking to form or fix? I’d love to hear your plan and whether you think a printed accountability calendar would help you.
Cover photo via rawpixel