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Micro-Dosing Habits: Getting Past All-or-Nothing Limits

Micro-dosing habits: getting past all-or-nothing limits
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Harvest has continued this whole week, and with it, the balancing act of keeping up on my other habits like writing, reading, and piano practice.

Each day has been its own challenge, and within this context, I’ve been able to apply another important habit principle. Today we will talk about this thing I call micro-dosing a habit.

My writing habit is something I almost never miss. Usually, I have a fixed time I put in on it, and usually I do it the same time every day — the evening.

But with the changing season and the extra demands of harvest, I’ve had to improvise.

There are several writing tips I could share, and we can go into these in later articles — such as, the renewable goalpost principle — but for now the micro-dosing concept is most relevant.

When we think of doing a habit that requires focus, such as writing, we usually think of making significant progress in a session. In previous articles, I’ve talked about how the timer is on and you get your time in for the day. Then, if you’re trying to put time in on multiple habits, you move on.

This is a good practice, when all is ideal and you can make it so.

But this isn’t always the case. This is where our system helps us.

If you’re tracking multiple timers on your habits, you can view each one as a degree of freedom. Each of these timers represents one of your habits. At any point in the day, you can choose to put in some more time on any one of them — even if it’s a micro-dose of time. You can do it in multiple sessions, of any size, not just one!

Today, for example, I had 10 minutes free between my workout and family dinner plans. It was such a small stretch of time. If I didn’t have the Multihabit system, I likely would have just taken out my phone and scrolled social media.

But because I have my panel of timers always reminding me of the habits I want to put time in on, I was able to cut through some of my anxiety about feeling behind. I decided to micro-dose my writing habit.

For 10 minutes, I tried to make some progress. Most importantly, I got a few things out of my way that left me set up to write this article. Closing my computer and heading off for dinner and a movie, in the background, I had the pieces for this article coming together as a thinking project.

Now it’s my usual evening writing time, but I’m not scrambling to come up with ideas like I would have been had I put it off until now. Having some time — even if it was a small time — to dip into this habit, has given me a lot more flexibility to feel engaged with it.

I practice this micro-dosing principle with other habits. Piano practice, for example, usually takes up about 2-3 hours of every day. However, I don’t put in one session. Usually, I get in a few sessions. I find the breaks lets me think about the repertoire I’m working on and where I want to spend practice time so it’s more effective.

I do something similar with reading. It’s great to read in the morning when I’m waking up, but I often find I read too much and end up running out of time to do other things. So, I have learned to shorten this period in the morning, then, based on however the day pans out, put in extra time before bed. Or, if I have a long wait time at an appointment, bring a magazine and work through an article.

Usually when we set our sights too high on how much time needs to go into a habit, we procrastinate because it feels too hard. Micro-dosing gives us a way to put in a very small amount — and sometimes this is exactly what you need. If you’re working a busy job and only have a 15 minute coffee break, and you really want to work on a novel, you might only have 10 minutes with your computer. But that 10 minutes might be all you need for a light bulb to go on where you realize what you need to do. Then, because much of writing takes place in our head as we think about the concepts, those ideas will be set in place for you and waiting to be dealt with whenever you can get in front of your computer next. And, of course, if this really excites you after doing it regularly on your coffee break, maybe it will compete with other things you like to do in the evening on your off-time, and you’ll make quicker progress on that novel.

Micro-dosing a habit is a great way to simply show you that you can do the habit, to keep it alive and ticking, even if just a little each day. It may differ for other habits, but I can certainly say with writing (and this applies with editing as well), micro-dosing is a sure way to ensure you get in that butt-in-chair time that makes words go on page (or move around on page), while also engaging your brain in the creative work that happens between sessions to make the sessions the most they can be.

I hope you’re enjoying this newsletter. Stay tuned for next Tuesday, when we’ll explore yet more ideas built around the Multihabit system.