30 Minutes Every 30 Days

Here’s an exercise you might try in order to improve the quality of your life. This practice started, evolved, and has been refined by me during my time here in Paris. It’s possible I see some of my fellow citizens doing something of this sort on a regular basis: cafes lend themselves perfectly to the exercise, and Parisians are nothing if not contemplative. 

So order a coffee, pull up a chair, and follow along with your Uncle Byron…

Set aside 30 minutes every 30 days, at the start of each month. Find a place you can sit comfortably, be alone, and remain undisturbed.

Bring a pen and a piece of paper. Turn your phone off, but wear a watch. Get comfortable, but dress elegantly. For some reason, it helps with the thinking processs…

For the first 5 minutes, do nothing. Don’t think of anything in particular. Watch people walk by on the sidewalk or clouds roll across the sky. Sip your coffee or your tea. Avoid alcoholic beverages or food. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

Your mind will probably bounce around to things you’ve been doing, things you need to do, people you need to talk to, arguments you’ve had, things you’d like to buy. Scribble a note and create a random ‘To Do List’ from whatever crosses your mind. This list will be whimsical. Accept this.

As you remember the past 30 days, you’ll probably recall moments when you weren’t your best self. Make a note of these. You may want to call someone and apologize for your less than stellar behavior or compliment them for the work they did (small task). You may want to make a note to improve your performance or behavior at work or in your personal life (bigger task). More generally, you may want to improve or change the way you behave going forward (large task). This I call The Taskmaster section. These are not just things to ‘get done’. They are things ‘to master.’

It’s unimportant how you itemize or categorize these initially. Just write them down. You’ll probably use up about 5 to 10 minutes of your 30 minute allotment.

Now, take another 5 minutes. Watch more people walk by. Listen to the birds chirp. Don’t talk to anyone. Avoid screen time of any kind.

You’ll now make a list of Everything That’s Gotta Go. From clothes you don’t wear to grudges you’ve held to toxic people in your life to eating junk food. Once you’ve made the list, you’re going to have to write down the First Step that you’re going to take to make each Gotta Go Item depart from your life. This spans the globe, from cleaning out your closet to having a hard but necessary conversation about a toxic relationship and ending it. Just the First Step. Gotta Go section, done.

The next block of time is going to find you making a list of the things you have, that you like, that you want to expand or increase. “I’m healthy. I want to stay that way and become even healthier as I age. I have money in savings. I want to increase that amount as I work and earn. I have a good marriage. I want to nourish that. I have talents. I want to honor those by becoming more proficient, more skilled, more knowledgeable.” This is the Double Down section, in which you’re going to articulate and itemize the good. Then Double Down on everything good and wonderful in your life.

Scribble those thoughts down. Sit. Ponder. Sip. Repeat.

Now, quickly right down your goals. If you do this quickly, with as little thought as possible, you will have your authentic desires in front of you, probably in the order of importance to you. This is your Wish List. The big question is: how do the goals or desires on your Wish List relate to your Double Down list? How do they relate to your Gotta Go list? And finally, probably least importantly, how do they relate to your Taskmaster List?

On your piece of paper, you should be able to correlate ‘what I think I can improve’ with ‘what I want to achieve’ and ‘what I’m grateful for’. If you have some task or something you’re not doing well or something you want to accomplish that’ important for you to make a note of, it should relate to something that’s important to you. If it’s important to you, you probably wrote it down at some point during this 30 minute exercise.

If it’s an outlier, something that doesn’t relate in the Taskmaster, the Gotta Go, the Double Down, or the Wish List, why is it in your life? Either you’re ignoring something that’s important to you, you’re not being honest yourself about something, or you’re wasting and energy on something that you need to dismiss and get out of your life.

If it’s important to you, it’s on your mind. If it’s on your mind, you’ll make a note of it. If you make a note of it often enough, you’ll end up talking about it. If you talk about it often enough, you’ll probably take action to address it (or your friends and family will call you out about just talking about it and never doing anything about it.) If you take action about it often enough, eventually you will get good at it. If you don’t get good at it, over time you will give up and find another goal to pursue.

As you look at your group of Lists, you’ll want to make sure that you can see a holistic quality to what you’ve scribbled down, even if it’s initially disorganized. Little, recent events and desired corrections should have meaning: they reflect things that are important to you. Things you want to get rid off…that thinking reflects a longing to improve, streamline, or be more free. Appreciation of your blessings and talents makes you focus on those. It means you care about those.

Those talents should align with your goals, your desires. They are the fuel you use to achieve. What you’ll give to the word in exchange for money, for fulfillment, for your true rewards.

Question: can you draw a line from an item in each category and connect it to an item in another category? It should look like a ‘conspiracy of desires and priorities’. What’s standing alone? What’s not connected to a priority or an action or a desire? Address it or stop thinking about it, like I said.

Take the last 5 minutes of your 30 minutes and clean up this document as best you can. You’ll have things you need to address in the next week, the next month, the next year, and over your lifetime. If you’re sitting at a cafe, pay your bill and leave. Well done.

You may want to buy a 5 x 8 inch moleskin notebook and keep this ongoing list in there. 30 minutes. Every 30 days. Or every 7 days if you really want your life to change. Yes, it’s a slightly disorganized approach, but it accommodates our thinking process: from random to specific. From vague to focused. From intangible to tangible.  From most important to least important.

The next time you refer to your document, you should be able to check things off that you’ve accomplished. Big, small, trivial, life-changing. Who cares. You’ll also add on items. Big, small, painful, joyful. You’ll be able to look back on this journal/diary/to do list and see patterns of behavior. Things you thought you wanted. Things you didn’t achieve. Things you found meaning in. Things you obtained and enjoyed. (Date your entries to gain perspective on the passage of time and weed out procrastination.)

In closing: the elements of thought/word/deed in your life should line up. Stated goals should align with time spent/money invested/emotions expended/commitments honored. You should never ask yourself, Why am I doing this? If you find yourself asking that question, find an answer and adjust your choices. Your actions are not reflecting your true desires.

I hope it helps. That’s it from here, for now… A bientot.

  • BGT

8 thoughts on “30 Minutes Every 30 Days

  1. A very useful exercise. I like your observation that dressing elegantly helps with the thinking process. I have noticed the same thing. Which raises an interesting question about cause and effect. Do we dress better because we’re thinking better or do we think better because we’re well dressed?

  2. I have a similar practice, but reading this, I might need to elevate my system! Every day, I need to blowdry my hair, and since it is a block of time when I can do little else, I keep a steno pad and pencil next to me. The steno pad is the kind with a vertical line down the center. As my mind wanders (which is actually a valuable pastime), I write negative thoughts or problems on the left side, and ideas or positive inspiration on the right. I can’t remember why I started to do this, but I always need to sort out my mind by writing, and this comes naturally to me. It is both funny and disheartening to look back at what I have worried about.

  3. I think that doing this, or some version of it is helpful and important. To me it’s about being mindful and living with purpose. I might try your process for a change!

  4. I like it! And as it happens, I bought a few small Moleskine notebookbooks last year. Just now I’ve gotten out the red one to use for this project. Thanks, Byron, and thanks to all for the above comments.

  5. Gold. This kind of reflection is something I normally do over the Holidays, i.e., once per year. But you’re right — writing these thoughts down monthly makes so much more sense. Cheers!

  6. What a lovely suggestion! Thank you, Byron! I’ll have to give it a try.

    I, too, have a similar practice, although I fear mine’s less sophisticated. I’ve kept a physical, paper monthly planner for years and can’t imagine living without one. I buy a new one at the end of each year from Amazon – a nice, sturdy one, but by no means posh. Each month, when turning to a fresh 2-page spread and filling in important dates, I copy a few little lists that have formed themselves over the years. This wasn’t intentional – it just happened that I kept a running “to do” list in the sidebar… and it became multiples that now spill over into empty days. There are now four lists, unnamed, but they’re roughly “To Do,” “To Be,” “To Learn,” and “To Keep in Touch.” The last list never changes, but it’s the most important: it’s my dear friends and family I want to maintain a relationship with and not forget to write or call. “To Learn” is a behemoth now and barely fits into a square no matter how cramped my writing – but that’s because I never consider any skill fully learned. It expands but rarely shrinks. “To Be” includes basic things like “Be humble and kind,” and “Always thank, compliment and appreciate,” as well as anything I might really need to work on about myself. If I were perfect, I’d always remember; but I’m not perfect, and I’m afraid I’ll become weighed down by my own worries without the daily reminder. “To Do” is increasingly short compared to the rest, which matter so much more – and I see more with age that the others are all that really matter. “To Do” the right thing will follow the rest. I may start making the monthly ritual a more pleasant one involving coffee and a relaxing environment – and include your Lists and thought-provoking questions. 🙂

    I hope my thoughts help someone. Wishing all a happy and healthy February!

  7. Interesting concept. Currently, I am doing goals by quarter months. I pick 2-3 goals on my list and get started, then by the end of that quarter, look over, add or keep to what I am doing, but narrow the vision. I will pop this concept on the list as this is something which can be added on easily to what is already being done. Thanks.

    Best wishes to all and I hope we all check back to share what has been discovered.

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