The 21 Day Timehacker Project matches readers with coaches who help them find time for their most important goals.

DAY ONE: For years, Deb Calvey, 48, of Mukwonago, Wisconsin has been consumed with working for a scientific journal and caring for her three kids. Though they’re now teens, are more self-sufficient and don’t demand her full-out attention, Calvey hasn’t been able to switch gears, and she feels a little stuck. “I think I’ve just been in this rut,” she said. “I know everybody has busy lives, but I’ve just been feeling like I’m not accomplishing what I want to accomplish.”

She’s been putting on weight, her energy and motivation has fallen, and she would like to exercise, but just can’t seem to get started. She works from home. On some days, it’s great having the flexibility to combine her work and home duties, she said. At other times, when she winds up working in her PJs and not showering, she feels frustrated with herself. She loves photography, and would like to spend more time on her photography business and blog, but she can’t seem to get motivated.

“I’m a chronic procrastinator. I am easily distracted by the little things and often put off what I need to do. I can talk myself out of anything,” she said. “I’ve just been putting everything off until tomorrow. And tomorrow just never came. I just want to be more proactive in my life.”

THE TIMEHACKS: Calvey worked with coach Jill Farmer, of St. Louis. Farmer suggested four Timehacks:

1. STOP SHAMING AND ASK WHY: “Deb is really self-aware and is onto herself in many ways. She doesn’t like the fact she’s gained weight over the past couple of years and was using ‘I don’t like how my body looks’ to try to motivate herself to lose weight,” Farmer said. “In my experience, that’s a really [counterproductive] way to motivate yourself to exercise—because it’s steeped in shame and criticism and that’s not a good long-term strategy to making sustainable change in habits.”

Instead, Farmer suggested Calvey really think about why she wanted time to exercise, and make time to spend on her photography business. The idea, Farmer said, was to shift Calvey from a negative and energy-draining mindset – ‘I don’t want to weigh this much’ – to one that’s more positive and motivating – ‘I want to be more active so I can have more energy, be more productive, have a sense of accomplishment and be a good role model for the kids.’

2. GO FOR 80 PERCENT. NOT PERFECTION: “Deb says she has some tendencies to procrastinate. In my experience, procrastinators tend to be closet perfectionists who often believe they need more time to do things “right” or the “right way.” So, they end doing nothing,” Farmer said. Farmer talked about a story in her book, “There’s Not Enough Time … and other lies we tell ourselves,” about a cardiologist. In cardiac catheterization procedures, doctors would get 80 percent clearance of a blockage, then their perfectionism would kick in and they’d go back in to try to get the other 20 percent and the vessel would blow.

“I encouraged Deb to notice where 80% may be plenty good enough in her life and where she was draining herself into stagnation and procrastination with that other 20%,” Farmer said.

[Related: This businessman wanted to play guitar on the side.  His biggest obstacle had nothing to do with time]

3. TAKE TURTLE STEPS: “Turtle steps is the notion of doing things in ridiculously easy increments, the way a turtle walks with its extremely short legs in proportion to the rest of it’s body,” Farmer said. “That helps get momentum rolling and minimizes the likelihood something that feels onerous to us will trigger the fight or flight (freeze) response.” She suggested “doable” things like taking a walk with a friend, looking for ways to add steps and movement to her regular day, and parking further from her destinations.

“Deb had a bit of an “all or nothing” attitude about exercise – ‘If I can’t make time for 60 minutes of rigorous exercise, than why bother?’” Farmer said. “By recognizing that any exercise she does is going to help her energy and endurance and give her a sense of accomplishment…she can lower the hurdle for herself and make it more likely she’ll get up out of the chair and make a habit of doing something.”

4. SCHEDULE IT: Farmer brainstormed with Calvey about some “ridiculously easy” ways to begin to introduce more regular movement into her life, and make time for her photography. And instead of spending her days putting everyone and everything else first, Farmer suggested Calvey give value to the activities that give her energy by scheduling them into her calendar. Once they’re scheduled, it’s easier to make them into habits. And once they’re automatic habits, Farmer said, the brain doesn’t have to work as hard deciding whether to do it or not, and can devote its attention to something else.

DAY 21: When I caught up with Deb, she laughed and explained that the most helpful turtle step to help get her out of her rut was a really simple one: GET DRESSED.

“It sounds kind of silly, but I started to shower and get dressed, like I was leaving the house, even if I was staying at home to work,” Calvey said. “That was a big deal for me. Because once I’m ready to go, then I’m ready to go. But if I’m hanging around, working in sweats or PJs with a cup of coffee, there wasn’t the same sense of urgency.

“By taking this tiny step, getting dressed, was a big switch in my brain. It motivated me,” she continued. “My productivity changed. It really did. That was the shift that started it, and it all snowballed from there.”

Calvey had begun to make more of an effort to walk, to park farther away, to create more movement. “That was an easy fix,” Calvey said. And while she hadn’t lost a ton of weight, she was feeling like she had more energy, and kept reminding herself that that was the real goal.

To remember that, at Farmer’s urging, she wrote down her goals, and put them on her mirror, where she could see them everyday. “That was a good reminder to take time and pause to make them part of my life,” she said.

She also began to set aside the first hour in the morning to her photography business, writing a blog, and planning for photo shoots, advertising to offer to take senior portraits for high school students, and setting up photo shoots in the evenings or on weekends.

“I’ve always been the first person to jump on board something, and then the first person to walk away. I was really tired of never being able to stick with anything,” Calvey said. Things aren’t perfect, but she has been able to accomplish the small goals of the Timehacks. “There’s a tremendous feeling of joy in that.”

Jill Farmer’s TOP TIMEHACK:Making exercise into a habit is the most effective way to add it to your life. Habits take less mental and physical energy than other tasks. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, says “In fact, the brain starts working less and less,” says Duhigg. “The brain can almost completely shut down. … And this is a real advantage, because it means you have all of this mental activity you can devote to something else.”


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