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Philosophy Productivity

The 20-Second Rule

Recently I read about a simple trick called “The 20-Second Rule” to build good habits and break bad ones in the book Barking Up The Wrong Tree by Eric Barker. The trick originally comes from a Harvard happiness researcher Shawn Achor.

Achor mentions that he was struggling to play the guitar every day. And by just moving his guitar in immediate reach instead of 20 seconds away made him practice it more.

By lowering the barrier to change your behavior by just 20 seconds will help you to form a new good habit or break a bad one.

As you experience every day, you have to take many decisions throughout the day. The more decisions you have to make — the more likely you experience decision fatigue. And the more you experience decision fatigue, the less likely you have enough energy to work on your goal — especially at the end of a hectic day.

The most common mistake we do with building or breaking habits is – we think in its entirety as a giant goal. Instead, if we consider habits are a series of multiple tiny actions and steps, then it won’t overwhelm us as much. If we simply focus on the first tiny action, then it’s a lot easier to get started. Once you do the first step, then think about the second step, and so on.

Achor explains this happens because of activation energy – the spark you need to start:

In physics, activation energy is the initial spark needed to catalyze a reaction. The same energy, both physical and mental, is needed of people to overcome inertia and kickstart a positive habit.

In Achor’s example, he realized that having to remove his guitar from his closet to practice increased the effort to practice – even if that effort was just extra 20 seconds.

And then by putting his guitar in the center of his apartment he practiced guitar for 21 days straight without exception.

The 20-Second Rule is not only applicable to build good habits, but it can also be used to break the bad ones.

In Achor’s another experiment to replace watching TV with reading and writing his book, he took the batteries out of his remote and moved them – 20 seconds away in another room.

And sure enough, the effort required to walk across the room and get the batteries was enough to do the trick to not watch TV.


You need to decrease the activation energy if you want to build good habits and increase the activation energy if you want to break bad habits.

While the rule says 20-seconds, I have experienced similar results even if I make certain things a few seconds easier or harder.

One of the things I have done to build a habit of reading more books is – at any given time, I read 3-4 different books. I keep one book next to my bed, one book next to the couch in the living room, another book on my work desk, etc. So by keeping these books easily accessible, whenever I’m sitting next to these places, if I have some idle time, I pick up these books and read a few pages. And it’s helping me finish reading more books.

Another thing I have done to break a habit of spending more time on social media is – i) turn off all the app notifications, ii) uninstall most native apps and check respective services from the browser, and iii) for the important apps you care, keep them on the second screen (not on the home screen) and in a folder (not as independent apps). By making it a little difficult to access these apps in one-touch, I consume social media a lot less.


Building good habits and breaking bad ones isn’t easy. Hopefully, implementing this little trick will make it easier for you.

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Uncategorized

2017 Retrospective and 2018 Goals

My reflections on what worked well and what didn’t in 2017 and what I would continue to do and do something new in 2018.

I’ve started this practice last year — to retrospect on the last year’s achievements, misses, and learnings and define the goals for the next year at the beginning of the new year. I have written about why I started doing this exercise in my last year’s post, but if I want to summarize it in one key reason — it would be — to be accountable and answerable to the world about my new year’s goals.

But before I begin, wish you all a very Happy and Prosperous New Year 2018!

Retrospective for 2017

Overall, it was a great year. I made satisfactory progress across many areas and I feel good about it. Having said that, I still feel I could have done better in a few areas.

As mentioned in my last year’s goals, my 3 big priorities were —

  • Family
  • Health (Exercise + Sleep)
  • Startup (Venture + Programming)

Family

On the family front, I enjoyed spending a great time with family in general.

Travel
We traveled to India, Hawaii, and Tahoe together and spent a great time with the extended family as well.

Daily routine
The most important habit I’ve been following for the last couple years that I continued even last year was — I try to be home from work between 5–6pm instead of staying up late till 7pm or so such that I can spend more time with the kids before they go to bed by 9pm. I catch up on work after they fall asleep.

Health

On the health front, overall I did decently well, but I’m personally not very proud of it.

Workout
My key goal was to complete 3 routines of P90X-3 — that is 30 minutes intense exercise for 90 days — and do it for 3 times in the year. Unfortunately, I finished the entire P90X-3 routine only once, and then for 2 times, I started the routine and gave up in the middle after 4–5 weeks into it. So in short, collectively I’ve worked out only for 5 months than the planned 9 months.

Sleep
Overall as planned, I continued to sleep well for an average 7 hours/day. Even though we had an infant baby and I had my ambitious startup plans, I managed to get a decently well sleep. Obviously, a lot of that credit goes to my wife! 🙂

Meditation
Overall, I had not planned to do meditation in the last year but learned to do a guided meditation, Pranayama and different breathing techniques to meditate well. I learned this in the 2nd half of the year, but managed to do 20 mins meditation in the early morning at least 3–4 days/week.

Food
As I started exercising actively, I adopted some good food habits too. Most importantly, a drastic reduction in sugar intake — for example, no sugar in Tea, Coffee, etc., but also, in general, less consumption of sweets. In addition, I’ve also increased protein intake mostly through plant-based supplements in smoothies/shakes and energy bars.

I’ve also seen, when I didn’t exercise as per the plan for the half of the year, I lost my control and ended up eating more junk food. So the lesson learned is — when you exercise actively, the guilt of eating junk food is very high.

Work

On the work front, I think I’ve made good progress, but again, I’m not completely happy with my own accomplishments and believe that I could have done more.

Startup
The biggest focus for the last year was to start my new venture. I started exploring the problem, solution, etc. since Jan 2017, finalized what I want to work on in Mar 2017, assembled the co-founding team in Jul 2017 and officially started — Avoma, Inc., and raised a pre-seed funding in Oct 2017.

We’re still in a stealth mode and have launched the product in private beta to a few early customers and iterating on our product. So technically while we’ve made a lot of progress, obviously, I would have wished this would have happened a lot sooner and we would have achieved a lot more things by the end of this year.

Programming
While my initial goal was to re-learn programming and launch a meaningful application by the end of the year, ideally for my startup only, unfortunately, I just learned different programming languages and frameworks but did not end up building a real-world application.

I learned Python, Django framework, Javascript, React and Redux. I’m still not an expert in any of this. Since I was not an expert yet, I was being a bottleneck in our startup’s product development efforts while other cofounders were pretty strong technically. So I ended up getting out of their way and let them handle the end to end product development.

Miscellaneous

Reading
My last year’s goal was to read a book per month. While I read 10 books in the entire year, I must admit — I didn’t really read them each book per month. Sometimes it took longer to finish a book more than a month, and sometimes I read smaller books and could read more books in a month.

The books I read are (with my ratings) –

Blogging
My last year’s goal was to write a blog post per week. I failed miserably in this. I only wrote 14 articles in the last year. One of the challenges was — writing a thoughtful article takes around 5–8 hours per post. So sometimes even though I had a lot of lessons and point of views to share, I ended up not prioritizing blogging over other important tasks at hand.

Goals for 2018

In short, for 2018, I won’t be changing a lot of things from my 2017 goals— just a couple minor changes. My goals for 2017 were pretty decent, and I plan to just repeat those this year too.

Family

  • Continue to spend a good time with the kids and wife — these times won’t come back again
  • Don’t plan to travel much this year due to startup commitments, but prefer to spend more quality time on a daily basis

Health

  • Complete P90X-3 routine at least 3 times
  • Meditate 3–4 days/week
  • Continue to follow good eating habits — no/less sugar, no/less fried/oily food, more protein, more vegetables and fruits
  • Continue to sleep 7-hours a day

Work

  • Achieve revenue and funding goals for my startup — Avoma, Inc.
  • Take Machine Learning, NLP courses from Coursera
  • Build a real-world application — preferably relevant to my startup, but in case if that’s not possible, then a side project

Miscellaneous

  • Continue to read 1 book/month — preferably 50% fiction and 50% non-fiction (or at least non-business related)
  • Continue to write 1 blog post/week — including both for personal and professional (startup related) blog

If you’ve read until this point, then I would request if you have any suggestions to improve my thinking or to achieve my goals, then please free to comment or send me an email at aditya dot kothadiya at gmail dot com.

Also, if you haven’t already done any retrospective for your 2017 and planned your 2018, then I would highly encourage you take a moment and think about it and write down what worked well and what didn’t in 2017 and what are your plans for 2018 — if not publicly, but at least for your own benefit.


Once again, wish you all a very happy and prosperous new year 2018! Hope you all crush your 2018 goals!