Have you ever had the mail pile up? And then the pile is out of control and it keeps growing? You know that if you would just sort through it, you’d feel better because it would be dealt with…but you also know that now it’s going to take you three hours to go through it, and so you keep procrastinating. No? (Just me?) Okay…
I touched on it briefly during the walking challenge, and today I’d like to revisit the concept of using incremental effort to your benefit.
Three weeks ago, K and I reorganized our living room after cleaning everything from top to bottom. We only put back furniture and items that we wanted in the room, and one of the things I knew I didn’t want to put back was the basket where we put our mail.
We have had that wicker basket on the coffee table for as long as I can remember, and it is always full. Yes, I catch up on sorting mail a few times each year. For the rest of the year, the basket collects all of the junk mail that neither of us wants to deal with.
Three weeks ago that basket was overflowing, and I wasn’t about to put it back into my nice, clean, happily reorganized, book-filled, cozy living room.
For a moment, I was worried that we’d start putting the day’s mail on the coffee table — even without the basket.
Lucky for me, the intention to keep our cozy room free from clutter has helped us to change our habits. Since the mail doesn’t belong on the coffee table, the mail doesn’t get put on the table. In fact, I deal with it right away and there is no growing pile of mail. Yippee! 🎉
By spending just a few minutes each day, I have preserved the sanctity of the living room and addressed the mail without it becoming a to-do-later item.
Spending three hours sorting the mail once a quarter might be more efficient. Treating the mail like an assembly line means that you aren’t task-switching, and you can get through like items a lot faster when you’re in the zone. But who wants to reserve three hours to deal with junk mail? 🤔 (Not me!)
Similarly, if you put off exercising during the week and then try to make up for it on the weekends, you might be tempted to spend a big chunk of time working out. Or you might not exercise at all…
Applying the incremental-effort approach to exercise, the benefits to you are much greater when you reserve a small amount of time to exercise on most days. At the same time, the associated effort to complete a workout is reduced.
Consider the following options:
- Exercise for 120 minutes once a week
- Exercise for 30 minutes four times a week
- Exercise for 20 minutes six times a week
Though all scenarios add up to 2 hours of exercise each week, I would argue that the benefits to your health would be vastly improved by selecting option 2 or 3.
Option 1 is good. Option 2 or 3 can elevate your fitness game.
When you break up your exercise throughout the week, you don’t need to commit as much time in a single session, which may make scheduling a little easier. Further, you are giving your body more opportunities to adapt (and recover) by increasing the frequency of your workouts. You are also reducing your risk for injury by reducing the duration of your exercise sessions.
Missing a day of exercise when your goal is to exercise for 20 minutes has less of an overall impact on your fitness routine than missing a longer workout session.
And, if you do choose to extend a workout on a different day, the possibility of exercising for 40 to 60 minutes is a reasonable option (unlike the possibility of exercising for 240 minutes at one time to make up a missed 2-hour session, which — if you are not conditioned to do so — would not be a reasonable option).
Whether we’re talking about managing the mail or exercising, using incremental effort can make a huge difference in how you direct your energy and manage your health.