How to Be More Consistent (When it Matters)

by Ali on December 3, 2009

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Back in August, Halcyone (who didn’t leave a link) said:

I’d like to see you write about consistency and the importance of showing up. You’re clearly doing well on that front with very regular posts. What tools and tips can you share with us on how you keep yourself consistent? Thanks again!

I’ve chosen to tackle this at a point where I’ve not been completely consistent posting here; the last few weeks have been busy for me, and I’ve had to keep my focus on just a few goals. That’s part of what I want to write about today … as well as giving some thoughts about why consistency is important, and how to stick with your projects when things get tough.

Consistency – Why it Matters

You know the story of the tortoise and the hare. (If you don’t, you can read it here.) It’s not exactly news that the best way to accomplish your goals – to win the races you’re running – is by being consistent. Sporadic bursts of feverish effort, interspersed with months of inaction, are unlikely to net you a finished novel or a functioning small business by the end of the year.

Although a period of intense activity can sometimes be the best way to accomplish something, it’s often much easier to do a little bit on a regular basis. When you’re working on a big project, it takes extra time to remember where you left off, and to get back into the flow of what you were doing. I’ve found this with writing novels and ebook: if I work on the book regularly (not necessarily daily, but a few times a week), it’s easy to keep up the momentum. But if I stop for a couple of months, I need a lot more energy to get going again.

Knowing When Consistency Matters – And When It Doesn’t

I’m keen on trying to focus on a few core goals – rather than trying to do anything and everything all at once. That means being consistent on the things which really matter, and giving yourself a break on the others.

If your one priority is to finish your novel by Christmas (congratulations to the Aliventures readers who’ve now won NaNoWriMo, by the way!) then you might need to let your gym routine slip.

If you’re really going to get your small business launched in 2010, perhaps your French vocabulary is going to take a back seat.

If you want to finally start exercising each day, you may have to stop worrying about publishing something on your blog every morning.

…and so on, and so on. Sometimes, all the “cut out TV” and “get up an hour earlier” advice just isn’t going to cut it. Sometimes you simply do not have the energy or the motivation to stay consistent on everything that you’re doing.

If you have to let something slide, do. Just protect your core goal(s) above all else. My gym routine has slid to non-existent, but I’ve written 50,000 words of redrafted-novel since October. Though I’d like to stay consistent with my exercising, it’s not the most important goal for me.

So don’t feel bad if you can’t be consistent with everything, all of the time. Yes, consistency is important. But so’s sanity. I know which I’d choose…

The Right Consistency for Public Consumption

For some projects, consistency matters more than for others. If you’re working on something which involves other people, it’s more likely to succeed if you make a commitment to staying consistent with it. So as well as thinking about which projects are a priority for you, you may want to consider which will affect other people.

That means that, if you’re a blogger, you’ll want to post on a regular basis. If you’re a novelist, you’ll want to have a new book out every few years. If you are organising community events, you need to physically show up at planning meetings.

When it comes to prioritising, you need to think about the ways in which you can remain consistent in different areas. Consistency might mean a daily, weekly or monthly routine. For example, I try to post here on Aliventures a couple of times a week (occasionally this slips a little, but I stick close-ish to it). When it comes to my novel, I’ll turn in consistent work for tutorials, but this often means working on it for several weeks then having a couple of week’s break.

Some projects need a constant consistency (try saying that ten times). Others require a regular effort, but can be set aside for a few weeks when necessary.

Staying Consistent – Tools and Tips

So how do you stay consistent, with the things which matter? I’ve found a few things which work for me, and I’ve used these for various projects. There’s no single “perfect” method – it depends on your project, and your personality.

Does Consistency Have to Mean Every Day?

For some projects – particularly physical ones – daily action is necessary. (You can usually skip a day here and there, but if you miss more than one day a week, you’ll be setting yourself back.) If you’re trying to lose weight, for instance, you need to be consistent about eating healthily every day.

Daily action is also a good way to make sure you find time for projects that keep getting sidelined. Spending half an hour each morning working on your business, or learning your French vocabulary in your lunch hour, or getting up at 6am every day, might be the trick you need to see results.

Works for:

  • Physical goals
  • Goals which can be done in small chunks of time (eg. 30 minutes)

Doesn’t work so well for:

  • Goals with a lot of set-up time (eg. craft projects)
  • Creative goals (it’s hard to get into a creative zone when you only have a short time)

(If you want a bit more on this method of consistency, I had a guest post on IttyBiz on Guaranteed Goal Achievement: Your Daily, No-Excuses Target)

But consistency doesn’t need to mean doing something every single day, or even every single week. These following tips should help you organise projects that don’t fit into a neat daily slot:

Using a Calendar

If you’re not taking daily action, I’d suggest scheduling your projects into your calendar. That might mean that Friday is your novel-writing day. It could mean that Thursday afternoons are when you take time to learn and practice new skills. Or it might vary on a week-by-week basis.

However you choose to organise your time, try to set aside a certain number of hours each week to work on your top one or two goals. I find that the easiest way to do this is to block out a couple of half-days, then make everything else fit around them!

Being Accountable to Someone

I have the lovely Willie Hewes of ITCH Publishing as my “butt-kicking partner”. We exchange emails and Tweets about what we’re planning – and, crucially, about what we actually achieve. It’s definitely helping me to stick to my plans, especially the ones which involve creative and longer-term goals.

I’d highly recommend coming to a similar buddy arrangement, if you can. Knowing that a friend will be checking up on you and – quietly or loudly – cheering you on can make all the difference when it comes to staying consistent.

Other options are:

  • Blogging about your particular goal, and giving regular updates
  • Joining a forum with supportive members who can advise and encourage you
  • Writing down your progress (or not!) in a journal each day – even accountability to yourself helps

Don’t Overdo It

Trying too hard to be consistent can actually be counter-productive. You’ve probably experienced this at some point: you’ve been chasing a particular goal, and you’ve set yourself some particular set of rules on how you should achieve it. As soon as you slip, you feel as though you’ve “failed” and you end up giving up.

With this blog, my intention was to post on Mondays and Thursdays each week. There came a point a few weeks ago when I wanted to wait until a Tuesday to post (the review of Marketing School – which Naomi was releasing on a Tuesday). And it struck me that it really doesn’t matter which days I post on. There’s no point feeling anxious about getting  my posts out on the “right” days, and, indeed, trying too hard to do so would mean that I’d have to rush writing posts – which is something I definitely don’t want to do.

A big area where people often overdo consistency is in dieting. I’ve had a long-standing interest in healthy eating and weight loss (I write for Diet Blog and You On A Diet, and own The Office Diet), and I know one big mistake is to have a bad day and turn it into a bad month. Many dieters feel that if they’re not 100% consistent, they might as well give up. In fact, one large meal or one day of over-indulgence isn’t what causes 95% of diets to fail … it’s the perfectionist attitude which says, “I’ve failed, I might as well give up now.”

So, by all means be consistent – but don’t get obsessed. If you plan to write every morning and you miss a day, just get straight back on track the following day.

That’s how I stay consistent (when it matters) and how I stay sane too! What do you feel about being consistent when working towards your goals? Does it come easily to you? It’d be great to have some more tips, so please add yours below!

{ 2 trackbacks }

On kicks in the butt | ...AND DO IT ANYWAY
December 3, 2009 at 6:39 pm
SOMC Leadership Blog » Disruptive Behavior: React Consistently
January 16, 2011 at 9:20 pm

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Mohan Arun L December 3, 2009 at 11:15 am

You clearly mean ‘the tortoise and the hare’…. (First line in Consistency-why it matters) Consistency needs to be at just the right ‘manageable level’ in order to achieve useful purpose.
.-= Mohan Arun L´s last blog ..03-Dec-2009 =-.

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Ali December 3, 2009 at 11:46 am

Whoops, I most certainly do, thanks Mohan!

(I’m now tempted to invent a story about a hairdressing tortoise…)

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Nate December 3, 2009 at 4:25 pm

I agree with this 100%. Consistency is key. That’s why you see so many New Year’s resolutions fail…or even any goal for that matter. People go into it 110% and then just end up quitting. Take up exercising, for example. Someone will go from doing nothing to going too the gym every single day, but that will only last for a bit because you get burnt out. Instead, start slow and be consistent.

Good tips here!
.-= Nate´s last blog ..Getting a Living =-.

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Marty December 3, 2009 at 9:52 pm

Is that the same as the story of the turtle and the rabbit? Oh, I see that it is. Good thing you posted that link! ;)

Seriously, good article. I wish I had a butt-kicking partner, and I don’t mean that in a kinky way.

I hate it when I sit down to write and then get stuck not knowing how to say something. I always have something to say, but how to say it is the problem. That is one way that consistency gets thrown off track even when I am trying to be consistent.

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Seth M Baker December 5, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Hey Ali, great post. It took me several years to arrive at this same conclusion. Consistency and momentum almost always give better results than sporadic bursts, especially for skill-based activities like learning musical instruments, writing, or speaking foreign languages.

I would say that in my experience, consistency is one of the keys to achieving creative goals. When I make time to do some creative activity on a regular basis, the flashes of inspiration come more often, even if I only have a short amount of time. Just having that time is like telling my brain ‘okay, go run amok, it’s play time.’

Consistency, I think, is a habit. If you can develop this habit in one area of life, it’s easy to apply it to other areas.
.-= Seth M Baker´s last blog ..How I Use My Knockoff Moleskine =-.

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Miche - Serenity Hacker December 5, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Hi Ali! I really enjoyed this subject. I think consistency is often more challenging for “creative types”, where “flow” and bursts of inspiration come at various times. When you work on something and the creative juices are going, sometimes you don’t want to quit. Often, though, after such a time, other things have been neglected and consistency has taken a back seat… things get a little out of order in other areas of life.

Your other point on the scheduling time makes a lot sense, and I like how you’ve broken things down into “physical goals” and non-pyshical ones.

For me, I try to take some time everyday to keep up with being consistent with the things that are important to me… even if I don’t do them 100%, I try to do something. But when I fall off for a day or two, I pick back up. I used to see that as “failure”, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve adopted more of a “progress, not perfection” mindset, and that really helps!

Thanks a bunch for sharing this.

Cheers,
Miche :)
.-= Miche – Serenity Hacker´s last blog ..Regaining Inner Peace, Clarity and Focus When You’re Busy: Walking Gratitude Meditation =-.

Reply

Ali December 6, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Seth, I find the same thing with creative activities — I reckon that “thinking creatively” is pretty much a habit, and our brains can get better at it! And as you say, consistency itself is a habit (maybe a meta-habit, if such a thing exists…?!)

Miche, thanks for the comment! I need to do some more thinking about how flow and inspiration connect with being consistent — I suppose this ties in with Seth’s comment; allowing regular time to be creative actually makes it easier to get into that flow state.

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chetna August 1, 2012 at 4:50 am

being consistent is the only key to get the success and as well as to judge the success.. thanks ali … for this wonderful motivational article .. will try to follow your thoughts b’coz i found it as somewhere it’s mine too… :)

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