#30daychallenges – an introduction

I’ve been doing a lot of reading (for me) this year, listening to podcasts and making notes like there’s no tomorrow, with no clear idea of what I’m going to do with everything that I’ve been learning. I have beautifully organised Evernote notebooks (really) where I’m keeping a lot of my notes, but there’s little point in taking down all this information if I’m not going to use it. I doubt that the “one day” file will ever get opened unless I open it, and the things in the “things to think about later” file won’t be thought about if I keep adding to it*.

This has become more and more obvious, but it’s only been in the last couple of weeks, it seems like every second thing I’ve listened to has told me that I need to actually take action instead of collecting more and more information. The most eloquent expression of this was in yesterday’s episode of the Asian Efficiency podcast with Steve Kamb (of Nerd Fitness), who urged listeners to stop collecting underpants.

Yeah, I didn’t get the reference either, but as soon he mentioned the source of the idea – the episode of South Park where the gnomes go around stealing underpants – I remembered. If you recall, the gnomes have a three-phase business plan to make money. Phase 1 is to “collect underpants”. Phase 3 is “profit” but no one has any idea what Phase 2 is – what they’re actually going to do with the underpants to make profit. You get the idea. You have to stop collecting underpants and to get to Phase 3 – where you want to get to.

As Steve describes it, you have to put Phase 2 into action – taking what you’re learning and putting it into practice. It doesn’t matter if you’re any good at it, you need to just take action – do something, anything – or you’ll get stuck in Phase 1 and end up with a giant pile of underpants! Doing something will teach you more than collecting more information ever could. (Here’s a link to the clip from the show.)

Zack puts it like this: “Sucking at something is the first step towards being sort of good at something” – (A quote from Jake the dog from the show Adventure Time.)

So, having heard this message from several sources over the last couple of weeks, and hearing it yet again yesterday, I knew it was time to do what I’d been thinking about for the last couple of days.

Inspired by things like Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, where she does little projects based on themes for 30 days to test them out, and Kylie Dunn’s Year of TED project, where she undertakes a series of 30-day projects based on TED talks she’d listened to, I’ve decided to do my own project of 30-day challenges to try out some of the ideas I’ve been learning and reading about recently. (I read this book earlier in the year.)

The idea behind 30 days is that it’s long enough to see if it’s a habit you want to stick with but not so long you can’t stick it out (from Matt Cutts’ TED talk which Kylie refers to in her book).

I’m stuck for a title of the project so it’s currently #30daychallenges so that I don’t use having no title as an excuse not to start.

I thought a year of 30-day challenges would be a good goal to aim for, using the same timeframes that Kylie used, so that would mean starting a new challenge every two weeks or so. With this approach, at any one time I’d have two challenges on the go.

I thought I could do some challenges that were more about habits that will take very little time to do (e.g 30 days of no social media), alongside some that are more introspective and need more work (e.g. 30 days of embracing imperfection). This means that at any one time I’ll be doing something simple (not necessarily easy) and something to think about in more depth.

I have a few ideas of potential challenges, but haven’t settled on a definite list. I I don’t think that matters, because I can adjust the project as I go – and if I make myself settle on a final list before I start I won’t start because I’ll never agree on what should be in and what should be out.

My plan is to start on 1 June with one of the non-time consuming challenges, so I have about a week to decide which one, and then another two weeks to finalise anything else that I haven’t quite settled on (like what notebook I’m going to use – that will probably take a year to decide) before the first detailed challenge begins.

I also want to set myself some basic principles for running this project. How I’m going to do it. 12 seems like a good number, so my draft list is:


  1. I don’t have to be all or nothing. I can be *this* person and still do *that thing* that this person doesn’t do. Embrace the paradoxes.
  2. Treat it as an experiment, get curious and see what happens.
  3. Try not to have any expectations about what might happen. Focus on the journey – not the destination.
  4. Take one day at a time. It’s only for 30 days, not forever. Make a commitment to that time. Keep going.
  5. Even if I hate doing it, at the end of 30 days I can stop and know that I won’t have to do that thing again.
  6. Check in with myself regularly. Journal at least 3 times a week.
  7. It’s not a race. Slow down. Pay attention. Be in the space and with the task.
  8.  Be honest.
  9. The point is to learn and grow, so push out of my comfort zone when I can.
  10. You can’t be good at something unless you’re bad at it first. Don’t feel bad about not being good at something you’ve never done before. (It’s better to have tried and failed than never tried at all. . . but on the other hand . . .
  11. transform “I can’t do it” into “I can’t do it yet”. (This is a message Kramstable’s school is pushing and I think it’s a good one.)
  12. If I have the urge to gather more information and take more notes, work out at least one action step from this to incorporate into the project (if I can) – don’t keep collecting underpants.
  13. Do anything but not everything (thanks to Zach at Asian Efficiency for this one).

Hmmm. That’s 13. I think a few of these are the same, so maybe I can whittle it down a bit and maybe find a couple more helpful principles. Or maybe 13 is OK. I’ll figure that out as I go. Not using an undecided peripheral detail as an excuse not to start!

I’m going to start this adventure on 1 June. That’s next Wednesday. That’s like six days away now. So I have a week to figure out what my first challenge will be (I already know. It’s going to be one of the lifestyle changes ones that doesn’t take any time. I just have to get myself ready to do it. It won’t be easy), and about three weeks to work out which of the more complicated challenges I want to start with, and whether there’s some logical sequence they might slot into or whether I should just go for it. (Again, I need to make sure I don’t use not having the perfect order as an excuse not to start. Any order will do. I will do all the challenges in the next 12 months.)

This also means I have a week to find the perfect notebook. Or not.


*I have no “one day” or “things to think about” files in Evernote.

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