How to Be Consistent & Get Stuff Done


It’s easy to go running once. It isn’t even that hard to go running for an entire month. What’s really difficult is going running, day after day, for years. It’s easy to start something; it’s much harder to consistently finish it.

Many people think consistency is a matter of willpower. That the people who exercise every day, always save a percentage of their income. Or those who manages to upkeep a blog for years have a special ability to endure.

I completely disagree. I think consistency has little to do with willpower and I want to use this article to explain why.

How I Became Consistent

I’m not perfectly consistent in my life. But, for the important things, I have been pretty good at showing up. I’ve exercised 4-5 times per week, nearly every week for the last four years. I’ve maintained a vegetarian diet and kept detailed records of my spending for almost as long. I also just finished writing my 724th article for my own website, which has had regular updates every week for more than three years.

Not always was I as consistent. I was a starter—good at starting projects, bad at sustaining them. I would hop between obsessions, starting a new project or pursuit, and giving it up as soon as I got bored. I think a lot of people are like how I used to be—great starters, lousy finishers.

But gradually, I became consistent, and I think you can too. The problem isn’t your willpower, just the approach you are taking to new goals and projects.

The Power of Consistency

Before I start talking about how to be consistent, I think it’s important to clarify why I believe consistency is important to start with. Many people associate consistency with boredom and a lack of initiative. People have told me earnestly that if something isn’t improving after a few weeks or months, you need to change it.

If that’s your attitude, consistency will be difficult. Consistency is about working on a larger timescale than weeks and months. A consistent person doesn’t care that their weight loss plan isn’t working after three weeks, or that their website isn’t earning six figures after three months. A consistent person looks at the longer time horizon, where the little hiccups of progress are smoothed out over the next years and decades.

Consistency works because while continually starting has short-term momentum, it doesn’t build anything. Doing the same thing every day eventually snowballs into tremendous progress because it doesn’t stop.

What’s the best way to be in shape? Exercise, for five years. What’s the best way to launch an online business? Practice running one for a decade. What’s the best approach to enhance your social life? Put yourself outside your comfort zone, every day, for years.

Sustainability Instead of Speed

The reason I struggled with consistency was that I cared more about speed than sustainability. In other words, I worked on my goals to achieve the maximum progress I thought was possible in the shortest amount of time. Aim to read a book every day. Set the deadline for a six-month project in eight weeks. More, faster, sooner.

The reason it’s easy to go for a day or a month but not ten years is that the two time frames require completely different mindsets. To do something for a day or a month, you need to put a lot of effort into it. To do something every day for a year, you need the opposite, you need to have the activity require less effort so it doesn’t exhaust you.

When I started my business, I was working on a software program. I had created an intense deadline which was incredibly difficult to achieve. So difficult that, near the end of it, I was completely burnt out. At the time, I thought I was doing what was best for my new business, working extremely hard.

But after three years and dozens of projects, I realized I had things backwards. Sure, hard work is important, it is always going to be important. But if I can’t sustain that hard work, it isn’t worth it. Setting an impossible deadline and crushing myself to meet it meant I was useless for a few months afterward. If I had planned ahead, set the project in a sustainable way, I wouldn’t have lost that time.

If you’re going to start running, aim to run every day, just for a little bit. Don’t aim to break personal records on every single run, just aim to run. When you tweak your expectations slightly, it becomes far easier to continue for the long haul.

Show Up Every Day, Not Once in Awhile

This lesson might sound redundant, but it’s often missed. Many people try to be consistent by doing something irregularly. I suppose, technically, if you ran six days per month, every month for a decade, that would be consistent. But I know very few people who can pull that kind of schedule off.

Surprisingly, doing something every day or nearly every day is far easier to sustain than doing it once in awhile. If you want to be consistent with a new habit, run it every day uninterrupted for a month. Make it an irreplaceable part of your life, not an afterthought you do occasionally.

Sometimes you can’t do something every day. But you can at least make it work on a fixed schedule. Once per week, every week, I sit down and record all my expenses into a spreadsheet. I don’t bother with it every day, but I do it on a regular enough schedule that it is part of my life.

Make Consistency Your Routine

Have you ever been sleeping away from home, perhaps in a hotel room, and in the dark walked in the wrong direction to go to the bathroom? Or rolled over and forgotten that your spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend isn’t with you?

The hotel room isn’t your normal. That’s why you can be temporarily confused in the night, because it’s a foreign surrounding that you need to consciously navigate. New pursuits are like the hotel room—they aren’t normal yet. When you start exercising seriously for the first time, it isn’t normal to you, it sticks out like the misplaced light switch in a temporary bedroom.

If you want to do something consistent, it has to be a part of your life. It needs to be so deeply integrated that you roll around confused at night when it is missing. After exercising and writing consistently for several years, I feel bizarre not doing them.

You can make something your normal by ritualizing it and working to achieve certain milestones in your behavior. If you do it the same way, almost every day, for a month, the new pursuit won’t stick out anymore. Keep it up for another ninety days and it should feel like home.

Don’t Associate With Inconsistent People

Alright, maybe that proscription is a little harsh. But if you do something with a friend or group: running, writing, or socializing, for example, and they are inconsistent, maintaining consistency going to be far harder for you. A sketchy gym partner can drain your ability to keep going.

Of course, the reverse is also true. If you have friends or partners who are also committed to being consistent, they can be an ally. Just pick carefully the people you use as partners in any new pursuit, because if they aren’t serious, you might fall off the wagon because they’re jumping in and out.

The Red Triangle Method

The old gym I used to exercise in was run by a fifty-something real-estate professional. In addition to having a thick mustache and a zero-tolerance policy for people who didn’t pay their dues, he kept a small calendar in the back room.

On the calendar, he colored in half of the date in the shape of a triangle every day he showed up. If he was at the gym, there was a triangle. If he wasn’t at the gym the spot was blank. Sure enough, most of the spots had a triangle, and my guess is that he had been consistently exercising for at least thirty years.

We lie to ourselves about our level of consistency. We claim to be following our diet spectacularly, but omit the time we ate half a cake or binged on a bag of pretzels. We claim to be studying every day, but then still need to cram the night before an exam. We claim to be consistent, but often those are convenient lies to make us feel better.

The beauty of the red triangle method is the level of accountability. You can lie to yourself, but you can’t lie to a calendar. If a pursuit is important to you, I suggest trying the red triangle method, it keeps you consistent and it forces you to acknowledge when you’re slipping.

Be a Finisher, Not a Starter

“Just go start something.”

It’s a popular mantra these days with bestselling books like The Art of the Start. But I don’t feel it’s a particularly useful mantra. Many people are good starters. In fact, I’d estimate that for every hundred starters there would only be one or two finishers.

After blogging for a few years, I get a lot of emails from newer bloggers asking for advice. Even in a two paragraph email it’s easy to separate the starters from finishers. The starters email me, overflowing with enthusiasm and big goals. Maybe they even have a few articles online. Maybe they’ve slapped on a few ads or a widget. But, after a few months I never hear from them again. Maybe they got bored.

The finishers are completely different. They have the same level of enthusiasm, but it’s controlled. They talk about their posting schedule or their projects. Most importantly, they outline their goals in years, not in weeks and months. These are also the people that, after meeting them, have often gone on to greatly eclipse my own blog so that they are now the ones receiving email from new bloggers.

It’s good to be both a starter and finisher. But, it’s difficult to be both, so if you have to pick, choose to finish. Choose to show up every day until the job is done. Choose the pursuit that appears more boring on the surface, but has richer rewards in its depth. Choose to stick with a plan even if it isn’t paying out immediately. Choose to be consistent.

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Scott Young is the author of The Little Book of Productivity, Think Outside the Cubicle and Learn More, Study Less. In addition to his blog, Scott runs a rapid-learning training program.
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Discussion

  1. Samar Farag on the 18th April

    Thanks a lot for this great article .. it’s really awesome , it helps me, also i love the Red triangle method .. thanks again

  2. Vaughn on the 18th April

    Scott, this article managed to articulate something I’d been beginning to notice but could not yet clearly identify. I am, without any doubt, the classic description of a starter. In fact, I start so often I’d dare to say I’m a consistent starter. It seems to be, at the very least, every other Sunday evening when I find the inspiration to change my life. It seems to be every Thursday afternoon that my excitement for the leisure-filled weekend strips me of my motivation and I lose of focus of those goals.

    De-spite all of this, I want to thank you. You just given me, in a few hundred words above, a glimpse into the world I’m slowly beginning to realize I want a part of. I’ve always envisioned myself at the peak of my potential somewhere in the distance, months and/or years down the road. I’m not caught up in the mirage that I can change things in week, but I’ve never been able to understand the gaps in my behavior that would help me get to that miraculous end. For that I need thank you again, I much appreciate the insight.

    • Ellena on the 28th August

      Oh Vaughn, you are sooooo not alone. I am right there with you. The fact that we both Googled ‘how to be more consistent’ and came across this article (among hundreds of others) shows that we do recognize a problem that not only affects us but the people around us.

      I will have to assess every goal i take on and make sure that I plan and make long term goals. there is nothing wrong with short term goals as long as they make up your long term goal.

      All the best. It can be done!!

  3. Katie Macdonald on the 18th April

    Thank you for sharing such a thought provoking post. Something to read again and again, some great pointers!

    Katie

  4. “What’s the best way to launch an online business? Practice running one for a decade.”

    Great stuff, Scott! Inconsistency has been the #1 reason why so many startups stop at day 31.

  5. Peach on the 22nd April

    Nice read! This article had me thinking whether my exercise schedule is consistent. Apparently it is not. LOL. By reading this makes me wanna go exercise now! Thanks for the article. :)

  6. Jatin on the 24th April

    First of all, great article.

    I got really inspired by the article so much that I have decided that I will consistently do exercise everyday, starting with today.

    Going for exercise now.

  7. Cassie Lang on the 28th April

    I’ve just stumbled across this website and this is the first article I have read so far, great stuff!

    Really thought provoking and I think you are right, being consistent is key to maintaining success. Consistency even when times are tough is even more important, and probably why so many people give up.

    Thanks!

  8. Uzma on the 29th April

    Its very interesting and useful and non-intimidating to see how consistency is about getting stuff done everyday, rather than the tall order of doing it brilliantly. It takes the pressure off. Consistency is definitely an important factor is being successful, just as much if not more than, innovation, uniqueness, learning from mistakes and broadening our horizons is. .

  9. Josh on the 3rd May

    I only clicked on the article cause I thought the girl in the picture was hot. But really enjoyed that article also.

  10. Hi there! I’m new to your blog and I like it :)

    I’m currently living what you’re writing about here. I was one of those crazy people who got all excited at the start, only to abandon any project after the first sign of a flaw. I didn’t get me anywhere, I might add. Although, it did convince me that change was needed ;)

  11. Megamonkat on the 19th July

    Hi!
    I’ve been in the crazy-excited-start position my whole life, and though I know this isn’t the way to go, I haven’t been able to make that mental switch.

    Any tips?

  12. grodergave on the 14th August

    What a wonderful article! I am completely relating to your points. Thanks Scott.

  13. Sourav Mishra on the 21st August

    Thank you so much. I hope I change my life…

  14. PAF11 on the 22nd August

    What a great written article.. I too related to your points and can happily say that I am a consistent person.. well as consistent as I need to be. After so many useless endings, consclusions and outcome – I finally realised that routine and ‘consistency’ where the real key to achieve literally every goal.

    Nice work Scott – fine piece.

  15. nina detox on the 18th September

    i am going to share this with all of my customers!

  16. garrymoore on the 23rd November

    hi to all workawesome.comers this is my frst post and thought i would say hello to you all –
    thanks speak soon
    garry m

  17. Rahul on the 29th January

    Thanks mate… It was very helpful.
    You helped me clear my mind full of doubts… :)

  18. Tanya on the 17th February

    I really enjoyed you article and found it to be very helpful. Keep up the great work!

  19. Nilesh Karhade on the 27th February

    Very informative article. You have given me some tricks to solve my problem.
    I’ll surely like to join your blog.
    Thanks buddy…!

  20. Marina on the 25th March

    This article is just spectacular. Took me a while to admit the fact that I am a starter and not a finisher. This article has all the right information to help me transform my life. So greatful to have found this post

    Thank You

  21. Enkhjin on the 17th April

    Thank you so much for the great post! I finally realized the root of my problem. I have been trying to become a finisher even though I still have a starter mentality. Having the mismatched goal and action make me frustrated and stressed. I will try your tips to be a consitent and a better person. But I am afraid about my emotion which tends to dominate me all the time. I guess consistency and emotion don’t get along well.
    Thanks again for your post!

    • Pooja Lohana on the 17th April

      Enkhjin,

      Thank you for opening up to us. Awareness of the “issue” is half the battle won. Let us know how you go with the steps mentioned.

      By the way, you may want to check this post I wrote on pro bono life coaching. If you’re interested, just shoot me an email.

      Hope to speak to you soon.

      Pooja

  22. Damayanthi on the 4th May

    Excellent article. I have to confess that I need your advise big time. I am a great starter…
    I guess the red triangle method sounds good. Also I realize that often I bite more than I can chew.

    Thanks for sharing :)
    Damayanthi

  23. Anil on the 6th May

    Great article which could inspire almost all of us. Thanks

  24. Reshe on the 12th May

    Great article. I guess i get too enthusiastic about new things more than i should. And then I end up getting disappointed

  25. Almaz on the 31st May

    I love this article. I have always been a good starter but not a finisher. It made me realize that what I did was totally wrong. It is time to change by using your tips and tricks! Thank you!

  26. Damion T on the 21st June

    I love this article, amazing, the point of view was perfectly explained. I got a lot out of it.

    Thank you,

    Damion :))

  27. Adrian Bolosin on the 19th July

    I enjoyed this article a lot! Being in the personal development and social media arena, consistency is the key to success in whatever I and my clients do.

    I will send my people here, so they too can read it and get value from your approach!

    Thank you for writing you 724th article Scott. :-)

    Regards,

    Adrian Bolosin

  28. vijay on the 31st July

    i really liked your blog. now i will try hard to became a finisher. thanks a lot….

  29. frank david on the 21st August

    I didn’t have reason why I’m inconsistent after read this article I have on the conclusion.

    Thank you

  30. Ben on the 20th September

    Wow! Very good article. I am battling with inconsistency in almost every aspect of my life -such that I can’t even complete statements when communicating with my wife. I feel like hanging up on life but reading this article gives me some kind of hope to try in a different way.

    Thank you.

    Ben

  31. Maribel on the 5th October

    Great article.. Thank you~

  32. sachin on the 8th October

    Really helpful thank you.

  33. Sat on the 11th November

    I just Googled “how to be more consistent” and your article came up, first time to this site and to your blog. I have to say I’m really impressed, it seems like you’ve highlighted a great deal of the issues I’m facing and most importantly their solutions.

    Thank you.

  34. sachin on the 24th November

    Very practical. Thanks a ton.

    Wish you Christmas & Happy New Year.

  35. Abdul Rauf on the 31st January

    Wow, I’m writing an article on how to be consistent with consistency on my life blog: AbdolRauf and I’ve landed a great page for researching on how to be consistent. Thanks for your detailed study.

  36. nan on the 16th February

    Thanks for sharing,
    The start a routine bit always gets to me! I’m terrible at following routines. I realized that I did have the problem you stated though, setting an outrageous goal date for something that requires time to achieve. Patience is one virtue that I lack, so unfortunately it has been a major pitfall when it came to setting project goals.

    Now if I can apply these skills to everyday life.

    Thanks again.

  37. NB on the 25th May

    Great article!

    I just had an epiphany, and I just realized that my life has just been about starting projects and not finishing a lot of them, specially the ones that require long term objectives.
    Do we really not know this? Is it just the fact that we want to make more in less time, or fear of the fact that we have to do it everyday?

  38. John on the 9th June

    Consistency is doing what you set out to do when you want to, and more importantly, when you do not want to.

  39. Megha on the 27th June

    Great Article!

  40. Megha on the 27th June

    Very true…I do have the habit of hopping from one task to another…Which is why I am an inconsistent person!

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