Losing Streaks

There were two daily streaks I’ve been managing for months. One was posting daily here on my blog, and the other was hacking daily on Ingress. WordPress.com gives you a cool little notification every time you post if you’re on a posting a streak. Ingress rewards you with a badge, an award they call “Sojourner.”

In March both of these streaks started. In December, both of them ended.

The Sojourner Streak

‘Hacking’ is the primary game mechanic of Ingress. The game is augmented reality, meaning you play on your phone or tablet but to move around in the game you must move around in real life. Objects of interest in real life like art, historical markers, and churches are ‘portals’ on your phone. If you’re within range of a portal you can hack it and earn some loot.

soujourner badge
Ingress Sojourner Badge at 274 days

In March 2015, Ingress got a new badge called Sojourner. To earn the badge an Ingress agent must hack at least one portal within 24 hours of their last hack. Essentially, it’s a nudge for a daily streak — it’d be odd for someone to play Ingress and not be hacking portals; play Ingress everyday and earn your badge. But the specifics of Sojourner are more than play Ingress everyday, it’s play ‘within 24 hours of your last hack.’

Imagine your last hack was at 9am Monday on your way into work, then you didn’t play the rest of your day. Then it just so happens you arrive late to work on Tuesday, hacking at 9:15am. You’re out of luck for Sojourner because 9:15 am Tuesday is more than 24 hours after 9am Monday, even though you hacked everyday. Some folks around the internet are reporting there is more buffer than this built-in because Sojourners weren’t ending when they expected, but I’ve not seen anyone replicating that buffer reliably.

A few days after the Sojourner announcement I decided this was a badge I could get behind. At the time I was playing for 30 minutes minimum everyday, and I have several portals less than 5 minutes walk from my home. There are lots of hacking opportunities around my other local haunts as well. I setup a recurring todo in my Wunderlist for my Sojourner hack. I installed a separate application to show a 24-hour timer since my last hack. This became a pretty easy badge: never let the time hit zero and I’ll make it all the way.

And for 274 days, it was easy. There were a couple close calls, but for the most part it didn’t require attention or thought. I would do at least a hack in the morning and a hack in the evening and it was just a part of my daily habits. I’d have days where I’d play more Ingress, but everyday I’d at least get my Sojourner hack done.

The streak ended on Sunday, December 6th,  because I wasn’t thinking about Ingress at all. My mind was swimming with nothing but our Dungeons & Dragons group. That focused attention really paid off. Finishing our campaign on a high note made for a great day of writing and preparation, and then amazing gameplay from the crew. But as we were cleaning up late that evening it dawned on me that I had not stepped outside all day. I hadn’t checked my phone all day; it was still hooked up to the charger from the night before. No number of notifications and reminders and systems would’ve saved me because my attention was totally devoted elsewhere. The Sojourner streak had been dead for nearly 8 hours and there was nothing to do about it.

And I was okay with that. I’m still okay with that.

The Blogging Streak

The first post of what became eight months of daily blogging was published on March 26th, 2015. It was my wrap-up of WordCamp Dayton that happened about a week before. WordPress.com had started sending you an acheivement notification if you had a daily streak going on an individual blog, and Matt was pretty proud of his streak. With the recent excitement from WordCamp I decided to be more deliberate with my blogging.

wordpress-post-streak
Notification for 260-day posting streak

Once I committed to blogging daily the majority of posts were pretty simple. Their value wasn’t much to anyone besides my immediate friends and family. But I also became more likely to work on that big post that takes a lot of time and really wanted to share. Those posts may only happen every other week, but before I started the daily blogging they weren’t happening at all.

This extended period of working on my blog everyday helped me understand something that we hear from our users all the time. Blogging is helpful force in one’s life. Writing for the public to read is almost therapeutic, and it certainly helps one become a better communicator. Any time spent working on my blog felt like a net-positive, and I don’t feel that way about how I contribute to other social parts of the web. Blogging doesn’t feel like timewasting the same way scrolling through Twitter does.

Two hundred sixty days is a long streak. About a month ago I posted that I was having hard time keeping up. Thinking up posts is getting harder, and that’s mostly because I’ve been spending most of my time trying to get things off my plate. Finishing up work projects and doing chores isn’t really great blog fodder, but it’s the best thing for me to be doing since we expect the baby any day now. That’s not what ended the streak though.

In fact, the day my streak ended was a very exciting one for me. My creative juices were flowing and I felt good about everything. I could’ve very well cranked out three or four posts that night had it crossed my mind. It just didn’t. I did a full day’s work, I worked on my theme while watching Jessica Jones on Netflix with Amber, then stayed up late reading The Martian by Andy Weir. I slept well and woke up Saturday morning to the realization that Friday had no scheduled posts, and I didn’t so much as think about blogging all day.

It’s especially awesome that this is what greeted me when I double-checked my site to see if I had a scheduled post on Friday:

alton-brown-fail.png

You said it, Alton.

Lessons Learned

The biggest danger to my consistency is my excitement. These two streaks were something I had no problems with developing on a daily basis for two-thirds of a year. I worked around plenty of external obstacles and chaotic, unexpected interruptions during that time – but those never broke my daily habits. It was my own interests that defeated me. Shiny objects in my peripheral vision grabbing my attention.

Thankfully the world doesn’t end when any streak breaks. My blog is still here and all those posts are still published. My drafts are still waiting there turn. Those Ingress portals haven’t moved and I can hack any day I want. And the things I did instead weren’t bad uses of time by any means. Maintaining a streak shouldn’t cost you an interesting life, or even an interesting day.

But it’s worth noting that for the most part – my systems worked. I’ve figured out how make myself do something everyday if I want it to be done. And it took these lessons to figure out where the system will fail.

Going Forward

Ingress has already started taking a back seat. I have a Guardian portal I’m recharging (which can be done from home) and I still play when I can, but it’s mostly when I walk the dog. For a fun little cell phone game, that seems like enough.

Blogging will continue. You’re reading this post, right? But I’m only going to schedule/plan on posting on Mondays and Fridays. Anything else is gravy and I’m sure they’ll still happen, but I don’t see another daily streak as something I want to strive for. I’m also considering starting a second blog and doing a more rigorous posting schedule there, and reserving my personal blog here more for on-a-whim updates.

I’ve had some recent successes with fitness. Maybe my daily habit tracking will switch to obsessing with that instead. Pushups and and steps replacing blog posts and hacks.

Or cat pictures. Everyone loves cat pictures.

 

Not Much Longer

This will be day number 236 in a row that I’ve published a blog post. One hell of a streak. There aren’t many other things that I’ve done every single day, without fail, during that time.

It’s a habit I’m happy to have formed. It keeps me in touch with the product I support everyday. Writing has become easier, which helps with my other hobby of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s also helped me stay connected with my family, who I don’t get to see as often as I’d like. Anything big seems to make its way to the blog soon enough.

But the streak is something I don’t think I can maintain much longer. I don’t do enough interesting things to warrant a post everyday, and I’ve started putting less effort into any one post. That time would be better spent making cooler things less often. That said, I don’t want to fall out of the habit. So whenever the streak finally breaks, I’m going to treat it more as shift than a stop.

I’ll miss that notification everyday though.

streak.png

Repeat Yourself

One of my favorite bloggers is Seth Godin.

If you read Seth enough, you’ll find he repeats some of the same ideas a lot. It’s become some ideas are worth repeating.

Have you ever read a post and thought “I need to come back to this again a few more times to let it sink in.”

Seth’s blog has that pre-installed.

What’s a topic you need to repeat for your readers?

What You Consume Drives Your Creative Acts

Since it’s near the end of the month, I took a look at my blog stats. My most popular posts are about the webseries Critical Role on Geek and Sundry’s Twitch channel. But you may have noticed something; I haven’t been writing about Critical Role at all recently. You know why? I haven’t been watching. I’m so behind! Anything I could offer is already so well discussed in the community, it’s not really worth touching on.

This got me thinking about a bigger issue. When it comes to your creative output, the way you consume things matters. It’s incredibly hard to dream up a new fantasy world if you’re low on fantasy fuel. Writing a personal blog everyday becomes near impossible when you haven’t left the house for anything but groceries in two weeks. This is the same reason so many prolific authors are also prolific readers.

Think back to when you started blogging (or drawing, or playing the bass guitar, whatever creative outlet you call your own.) You probably had a fair amount of ‘taste’ before you ever started producing your own work. After consuming enough of someone else’s material it’s easier to step back and say “I can do that.”

We need to stay in that groove. Consume enough that it keeps giving you energy to create that next lyric or paint the next stroke. Block out time for consuming the right material just like you’d block out time to do the big work. And feel no shame!

You’ll need to face some reality though. Facebook and Twitter feeds are rarely inspirational unless your goal is “social media digerati.” Consuming the wrong type of media will not push your art, at best it will keep you distracted. Call this sort of consumption what it is: resistance. You are what you eat.

My goal for this blog is for my readers to understand me as my closest friends would. It’s a constant experiment in sharing because even to my close friends I don’t normally share until asked. Looking at my blog as a whole right now, I think it’s clear I could use some quality consuming. The posts I’m most proud of are the book reviews – and that’s on-the-nose the cycle of consume to create. In coming weeks, I hope to make some memories and blog about them in new way. Letting my consumption habits change might also change my blogging for the better.

Writing Bit by Bit

It’s fair to say I underestimated the difficulty of writing campaigns for my Dungeons and Dragons group. Going through a pre-written module was simple enough and it provided a good outline for the sort of information I’d need. Having DM’d that adventure with success, I thought I knew enough about the game to prepare a good story.

Having blogged everyday for 17 weeks straight, I figured I also knew how to write consistently. Inching forward bit by bit in hopes of making something bigger seemed like a habit I already formed.

Between knowing DnD and having a writing habit, I was totally prepared. Boy was I wrong.

Writing in short-form blog posts and publishing them for that quick endorphin rush is so much easier than writing for a long-form project. Sure, it’s still writing a small amount everyday – but making all that little work fit into the puzzle of a larger arc? Ugh, it’s beyond frustrating.

Every little bit that I add to the story is some of the hardest writing I’ve ever done. I sit there tensing up over why I can’t find a way to connect one scene to another. I write up non-player characters, dungeon crawls, and antagonist monologues all to delete them minutes later. Each session is a workout in my mind.

Manticore, a monster our players fought in a recent game
Manticore, a monster our players fought in a recent game

And you couldn’t pay me to stop. Writing for these games has brought how I think of storytelling to a new level. It’s made me appreciate my reading more too. Most importantly, it makes me proud to present my work to my friends at each game. Working through a module, I was playing ‘not to screw it up,’ and now I’m playing to make what’s in my head come to life.

Bit by bit, my writing will get better.