A month ago, I announced a brief creative challenge called #30march30. The concept was simple: we all have something we always say we want to do — write a novel, make a movie, learn to cook, etc. — but we always say we’ll get to it “someday.” So my challenge was to work on that thing for 30 minutes a day in the month of March [which has 31 days, so hey, you also get a free day off].

My theory was that training yourself to work on that thing for even as little as 30 minutes a day would do three things for you:

  • It would force you to find that time in your schedule
  • It would make you commit to the process
  • It would show you what’s possible with steady incremental progress

Because if you don’t get started on something, you can never finish, right?

When I mentioned the idea on Facebook, several friends said it sounded like something they could use. They were willing to try it.

Leslie Poston set a goal of developing a working knowledge of Spanish.

Dan Greenwald set a goal of working on his comic book for 30 minutes a day.

Nenad Ristic set a goal of coding and designing his video game for 30 minutes a day.

And I set a goal of writing the first draft of a screenplay that I’ve been tinkering with for the past 3 years.

So… did the #30march30 challenge work?

As it turns out, yes it did.

I asked Leslie, Dan, and Nenad for their feedback. Here’s what they had to say about their #30march30 experiences:

Leslie: By practicing every day, I was able to gt back to conversational levels of Spanish, and my written Spanish improved. If I keep at it, I could be fluent in a few months.

Additionally, having THAT goal spurred me to look for more goals, and now I’m enrolled in grad school for fall. This was a case of “that wasn’t as hard as I thought. I can approach this larger goal the same way, by taking few classes at a time and working toward my Master’s in increments, rather than one big push.”

Dan: First, it worked, plain and simple. I’ve always had problems organizing myself when it came to personal projects; so many good intentions, yet so many disappointments. I’d start to feel guilty about not working, so occasionally I’d binge-work and jam in as much as I could in a couple of hours, but that was ultimately self-defeating because it’s not a realistic or consistent work schedule.

The #30march30 challenge forced me to compartmentalize my project — to work smaller, so to speak. I could focus on one thing for 30 minutes, no more, no less. I feel like I did better work in a shorter amount of time and I never felt frustrated that I wasn’t getting enough done because I knew I’d be back the next day.

In the past, I’d eventually get overwhelmed by thinking about the finish line, but that wasn’t the case this time because I was only thinking about the next 30 minutes. Toward the end of the 30 days, I also found that I was getting more done in 30 minutes than I had when I first started. I’d check the clock, certain that I had already hit the 30 minute mark, and being surprised that only 10-15 minutes had passed.

While #30march30 is technically over, I decided to keep its spirit alive by continuing to work for 30 minutes a day. It’s a realistic, attainable, and consistent way of working and I definitely recommend it for anyone who finds themselves wanting to do more personal projects.

Nenad: I personally found it very valuable, although I did have one unplanned missed day. (A combination of me and my daughter getting sick). It really helped me structure my day. I actually got my game into something like a playable state, and am now busy getting it to work properly on mobile. I will let you know once it is released.

NOTE: Since he sent that note, Nenad actually has released his game. You can see it here.

So, yes, #30march30 was a useful challenge for people who wanted to turn their big ideas into manageable, bite-sized daily increments of accomplishment.

And Now, the Ironic Caveat…

Did I get my screenplay written?

No, I did not.

In fact, I actually missed 90 minutes’ worth of work on the #30march30 challenge. (I fell behind by several days and then almost caught back up, but not quite.)

And yet, there’s a silver lining there, even in my case.

That screenplay idea I’ve been wrestling with for 3 years now? I learned a lot about it — and about how I write — during the challenge. Namely:

  • Forcing myself to write for 30 minutes [almost] every day inevitably led me to come up with new ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of if I hadn’t been “in the zone,” even for just a short time.
  • I started unraveling why the story wasn’t working for me — its structural flaws, its character deficiencies, its theme and purpose — and the answers I started getting took the idea in a new direction that I feel is stronger than the original concept.
  • I realized I need to dedicate a specific time of day, or a specific point in my workflow (like “after I finish X tasks”) to write, or else it becomes too easy to skip a day because “I’d only have to write for an extra 30 minutes to get caught up.” (Do that three days in a row and guess what: I’d need to write for two hours straight to get caught up, which feels like a much larger hurdle to clear.)

So, no, I didn’t reach my own goal. But seeing the challenge work for others felt good anyway — there’s definitely something to be said for communally-shared achievement. Plus, the new ideas I did get as a result of the challenge make me feel like my resulting screenplay will be better than it would have been otherwise.

All I have to do now is write it.

Hmmm…. #30may30, anyone?

Image by Katy Warner.

If You Like This Post

… then you may also like this post about how to build momentum into your workday, or this post about how to get better at taking risks.

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Vann Lantz · June 1, 2016 at 2:15 pm

As an aspiring photographer, I have just this morning selected a project which will take me a year to do, including all the post-production work. I am calling it, like others before me, Project 52. One special photo a week will be shot and released. these photos will be designed to touch certain topics and hopefully will touch people where they live. This will be the perfect way to kick this off and help get me in the groove for this project. Thanks!

Teresa Trich · April 12, 2016 at 1:46 pm

I love this idea! Now to pick which goal to work on first :)

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