It can take a long time to make maintenance a habit. Too often domains requiring ongoing attention become occasional, procrastinated activities performed with resentment and guilt. This is perhaps because it's so ingrained in the human psyche to seek immediate gratification (which is the same as avoiding immediate pain or annoyance). Once you see how maintenance applies to many of life's different domains, it’s much easier to see that it’s not only the better thing to do, but also the rightthing to do and also the bestthing to do.
Un-clutters your mind
Is more efficient and effective than the alternative (letting things fall apart then trying to fix them)
So let’s talk maintenance. The word probably conjures images of repair - your dad with a greasy wrench and a foul expression on a Saturday afternoon or your mother mending the crotch-hole in your jeans for the umpteenth time (or your mom with a wrench and your dad with a sewing needle). Both of them are paying respects to the gods of maintenance, otherwise known as the god of ‘shit you don’t want to deal with, but which will bite you in the ass much harder in the future if you don’t take care of it on a regular basis’.
The tricky thing is, even though maintenance is needed for just about everything, each individual domain requires a different schedule so it ends up being difficult to stay on top of everything without a set schedule. Most of us actually have maintenance schedules that we just don’t think about as ‘schedules’, the most consistent of which is (hopefully) brushing your teeth. Every day you get up and do it, and every night before you go to bed, you do it. You are maintaining teeth, rather than letting them rot then drilling them out and filling them with expensive, fake tooth replacement goo. You are also 'maintaining' your teeth by eating healthy most of the time.
Here are some classic acts of maintenance you probably carry out on a regular basis:
Cleaning your room
Brushing and flossing your teeth
Tracking your finances
Organizing your phone or computer files
Cleaning your body (showering, bathing)
Maintenance takes way less time (and thus creates less pointless pain) overall, which is really why it’s the ACE solution. The problem with letting things fall apart is that not only do they become harder to repair (and perhaps become broken beyond repair) they become way more chaotic and stressful to deal with and they usually get the job done worse in the end.
For me, the biggest wake-up call was in the financial domain. I spent my entire 20s as a self-employed, freelance musician, living ‘gig’ to ‘gig’, lesson to lesson, and odd job to odd job. The problem with being self-employed is that some of the freedoms you gain from not being under anyone’s thumb are actually burdens in disguise - one of them being ‘complete control over your finances'. This means you don’t receive a pretty little paper at the end of the year stating how much you made and how much the government took. Instead you have to track every penny, dime, and dollar yourself and not only what you made, but also what you spent, where you spent it, and whether or not those expenses are ‘business write-offs’. The whole process is dismal and there are many ways to get lost if you don’t deal with each transaction the very minute after it transpires.
My terrible maintenance-shunning process was: avoid tracking finances altogether and try to make sense of it all over a frantic 1-2 week period right close to the tax deadline. I would dump a pile of receipts on my bed with my laptop next to me with about 50 tabs open of bank account statements and emails, then try to make the most educated guesses as to what every dollar in and dollar out was for. This was supremely inefficient and many errors occurred as a result of it. I simply couldn't remember everything, nor did I track it enough to be able to find out. Spending time trying to figure out what something was for is a waste of time because it could have been dealt with and accounted for on the spot - right when you know why you just spent what you spent.
My decision to get a bookkeeper - to pay someone to track my finances with me and teach me better practices - was one of the best decisions of my entire young adulthood. The funny thing is, I did this first for my business (www.silverthornstudios.ca) which was a total nightmare to do bookkeeping for alone, then I realized it would be best to do it for myself, a year later. Now, I don’t dread 2 entire weeks of the year in April when I have to sort through a fall-leaf-pile’s worth of receipts wondering what the f*ck I spent this two dollars and sixty-five cents on eight and a half months ago.
Now I use quickbooks, and snap a photo of my receipts in Receiptbank, right after I buy something (or at the latest, by the end of the week).
In the world of fitness, you can maintain your current strength and size level by doing ⅓ of the volume as long as you keep the same intensity and nutrition. The alternative is to stop exercising completely and not pay attention to your nutrition, in which case you atrophy quickly, lose all of your gains, and have to slowly reintroduce your body to resistance again or it will get very sore from just a few sets of hard work. The whole process sets you back easily a couple of months, which in a human lifetime is actually quite a large fraction of time.
Try and make maintenance a habit. Science suggests it take around 66 days minimum to establish a habit. The difference between a habit and 'just something you do from time to time' is that the habit becomes a built in part of your daily or weekly ritual in that particular domain.
Identify the most chaotic domains in your life and start there. Not everything needs maintenance, but most things do. Almost everyone has something which feels like the thing you can't keep up with or that you can't seem to get a handle on. Next, research ways that you can simplify, systematize, automate, and ritualize the behaviour that will deal with that domain regularly so that you never get overwhelmed by it. The process of implementing the habit will not necessarily feel good at first. It's a challenge asking you to elevate your skills and self-respect.
Though what comes to mind is one of my dad's Buddhist mantras: "when you sit, sit; when you eat, eat; when you shit, shit," I also know that for some of us, especially for Millennials, we just can't seem to get enough time to do what we want to do. How can you do just one thing at a time all the time? For the most part, it's still mostly the way to live, but there are some life hacks worth noting and applying to one's daily routine that don't seem to harm a thing.
The challenge of our generation is that we are exposed to so many forms of media that we it's difficult to not get swept away with too many interests, tasks, passions, distractions - you name it. The most prolific artist I ever met - Aron Tager - had no computer, cell phone, or television. What did he have to show for it? Over 5,000 pieces of incredible original artwork.
Get rid of your distractions and watch your productivity sky-rocket, right? Well, I wish I could say it were that facile. Aron was born in the 1930s, so he has no inherent connection to shiny new devices. It's unrealistic to tell a Millennial to chuck their devices out the window.
Discovering your 2-in-1s means finding those things that work synergistically with each other and allow you to truly accomplish two or more things at once without diminishing either one of them.
Here is a list of ones I've discovered that work well for me:
1) Cardio + reading: assuming you're not doing HIIT (high intensity interval training), it's safe to say doing cardio at the gym is an excellent opportunity to take in your daily news, book chapter, or podcast.
2) Toilet + texting: what better time to catch up on unattended messages?
3) Working out + meditation: working out it a form of de-stressing and when approached with calm, can be a time in your day when you clear your head and reset your body and mind.
4) Public transit + music theory (or anything that you're trying to learn that involves some kind of theory): sitting on the train for an hour can be drag. Why not take this time brush up on the knowledge that you would normally study at a desk?
5) Biking (5 in 1?!): biking is an anomaly that provides so many benefits in one action, it's hard to believe. For one, it's exercise. For two, it's a mode of transportation. For three, it helps reduce carbon emissions. For four, it's saves you money. For five--need I go on?
6) Intermittent fasting + being productive: intermittent fasting--an eating system that allows for certain periods of fasting followed by defined feeding windows--has proven to be one of my favourite 2-in-1s. It allows me to lose weight and get more work done than I normally would. As a bodybuilder, it's usually essential to eat 5-8 meals a day, which takes a lot of time and it's always interrupting whatever else you have to do that day. I.F. also helps extend your lifespan, so you know - that's good too!
Some of these don't seem like 2-in-1s, but they actually are--they're just so perfect you hardly think of them as getting 2 things done at once. For example, biking to work is doing cardio plus getting you to your destination PLUS saving the world from one more environment taxing, exhaust powered trip. With driving, you could listen to a podcast and make it a 2-in-1, but then you're also contributing to green house gases (unless you have a Tesla) and you're not getting any exercise.
The key is to find the 2/3/4/5-in-1s that match your lifestyle and values. For example, if you value environmentalism and health, buying organic food might be a good 2-in-1 for you: it preserves the earth and it's healthy. If you also value time, perhaps you'd be delighted to sign up for something like Fresh City Farms, which delivers organic food to your house each week.
Now, certain 2-in-1s seem like a good idea, but are in fact dangers or distractions in disguise. For example, more than a handful of my harmonica students like to report that they were able to get in their practicing this week--while driving! This 2-in-1 is not only not very effective, it's also dangerous and puts others at risk. You won't get good at playing an instrument while doing anything else at the same. When you're learning something that complex give it your undivided attention. Some things are meant to be good ole' 1-in-1s.
Sometimes, if you're lucky, you can discover a passion, which perfectly grants you a 2-in-1. For example, I love and value good food and I'm a bodybuilder. This is a wonderful combination since bodybuilders have to eat more than the average person.
Discover your passion, and start fishing for the 2-in-1s that apply to your field. You'll be surprised where you find them.