We have a small 30-day challenge "club" at my department. We meet on the 1st of every month and promise something. It's sort of like a new year's promise but smaller. The promises we make have to do with either trying on a new habit for a month, or, getting rid of a habit for a month. It is possible to keep the promise in question for one month only, or to continue indefinitely while taking on a new habit. The original inspiration came from a 3.5 minutes long TED talk by Matt Cutts called "Try something new for 30 days". Do have a look at it - it's very inspiring.
We started in February and we meet on the 1st every month. At that meeting we both evaluate and talk about our previous promises and discuss ("operationalize") our new promises.
My February promise was a piece of cake, I promised to not use the elevator at work (we're on the 6th floor). My March promise was so-so and I quit it one week into the month. The promise wasn't very good and I also didn't have time as research application deadlines took precedence. My April promise is great thought and this blog post is about that promise.
I've already written about my book-reading habits and a recurring topic here is "Books I've read lately". Since I read (a minimum of) 25 pages of academic literature (books) per weekday, I'm plowing through 600-700 pages per month, or, a little more than two books per month. I'm happy with that pace, but, the problem is that my pile of unread articles just gets higher and higher. So my April promise deals with academic articles. More specifically, my promise is to read an average of 10 pages of academic articles every weekday and preferably at work rather than home. Ten pages per day doesn't sound too much, but with an average of 22 weekdays per month, it adds up.
So, in advance of April 1, I sorted the half meter high pile of printed-but-unread articles (I also have other similar-but-older (and higher) piles on my desk) into smaller thematic piles. The pile represents stuff that I have printed during, say, the last six months. Sorting these texts was in itself was a pleasurable activity, reminiscent of seeing old friends again ("hello interesting article, I haven't seen you in months!"). I then skimmed off one or a few of the very most interesting have-to-read-articles in these thematic piles while adding up the page count. I ended up with 220 pages, consisting of 17 texts ranging from 2 to 50 pages each. I then went one step further and divided them into four piles with 50-60 pages in each, put each pile into a yellow plastic folder and mentally labelled these folders "week 1", "week 2" etc. Each folder is pretty thin and it felt totally do-able to read the contents of each folder in one week.
Fast forward and two weeks into the month of April, I'm right on target and it feels pretty good. I have a Google doc which helps me to keep track of my status, and, it's open for you to promise something and add yourself to it - just follow this link! You can even be anonymous if you'd like to. Or you can write a short or an extended comment here about your promise.
The last part of my April promise is to add the articles I read to Medeley, a free program I have just started to use in order to manage references to papers and books that I have read. If I manage to read 22 days worth of papers in four weeks, the very final task for Monday April 30 is to add all the papers I've read in April to Mendeley under the "April 2012" tag I've created. Another benefit is thus not only that stuff gets read, but that I keep track of what I read and when I read it.
I think I will renew this promise of mine to read articles also for May, but I have (already) something else in mind for June (I'll probably write something about it in a later blog post). I will also here and now add an additional dimension to my April promise and that is to write a separate blog post in the beginning of May with a list of the articles and texts that I have read in April. If I continue to read 220 pages of articles on a monthly basis, I might start a new "series" of blog posts about "Articles I've read lately"...?
So, scamp over to the Google document and promise something for the second half of April. Other popular promises in our group have been to walk or bike to/from the job, not eat sugar/sweets on weekdays, tweet or take a photo and upload it every day etc. Do also check out Matt Cutts' short talk and get inspired!