The power of flexible consistency

When I launched the newsletter last summer, I didn’t expect to hit 20,000 subscribers about a year later. Beside the financial freedom, what started as a little project has brought me countless opportunities to connect with smart people and create new friendships.

Many readers are also writers, creators, designers, and entrepreneurs—whether full-time or on the side—and may also want to make progress on one of their projects. While there are many tactical guides out there, I believe it all boils down to embracing flexible consistency.

For one year, I consistently wrote almost every week.

The keyword here is “almost.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, consistency is “the quality of always behaving or performing in a similar way.”

The problem with rigid consistency is that it does not reflect the way life works. As Aldous Huxley wrote in Do What You Will: “Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead.”

Life is chaotic. Things will go wrong. Flexible consistency is about combining proactive planning with reactive adaptation so you can make significant progress over the long-term.

The flexible consistency mindset

Rather than a specific framework, flexible consistency is a mindset. Instead of having an “all-or-nothing” approach to life, where each failure or unexpected event can derail a routine, flexible consistency offers a set of principles to bounce back and keep on making progress.

  • Plan for disruption. You can not expect to predict all events, but you can create a contingency plan to make sure they don’t derail your routines over the long term. For example, “If I miss my writing session tomorrow morning, I will do it before dinner” or “If there is an emergency at work, I will postpone my weekly run to the weekend.” Even the most talented athletes are human. They sometimes have to skip a training session when life gets in the way. And if your goal is to turn the routine into a habit, rest assured: research shows that “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.”
  • Fail like a scientist. Learning is a perpetual experiment. Whenever things don’t go to plan, see it as a personal growth opportunity. Failing like a scientist means overcoming our fixed mindset, and considering every result is a new data point—whether it was the result you wanted or not.
  • Schedule over scope. In the long run, it’s more important to stick to a schedule than to be absolutely perfect. We often focus on a specific goal, for instance meditating for X amount of time or running X miles or writing X words. The problem with this approach is that we just tend to skip a session if suddenly there doesn’t seem to be enough time. James Clear offers an alternative: “Reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule.” For instance, when I don’t have time to write a long article, I’ll just post a short one. If you don’t have the energy to run your planned 3 miles, just run 1 mile instead. Being flexible and reducing the scope will make it easier to stick to your routine than completely skipping a session.

Having this mindset helped me write 250 articles since I launched the newsletter last summer. There are some articles I’m more proud of than others. Some articles took me much more time to write. Others were written at a time where life was particularly chaotic.

It’s not always perfect, I did have to skip a couple of editions, and sometimes I wished I had more time. But by planning for disruption, failing like a scientist, and reducing the scope when needed, I manage to stick to an overall schedule.

Mindful time-blocking

One of the best tools for flexible consistency is time-blocking. Not the kind where you fill your whole calendar with blocks such as there is no wiggle room left. The kind where you try to keep as much of your calendar free as possible, and where blocks of time are for the activities you deem truly important.

The crucial part of mindful time-blocking is to be flexible. Blocks can be moved or made shorter. Ideally, try to never delete a block. This only works because you need to be highly selective with time blocks in the first place.

For instance, if you have two one-hour blocks for writing in your calendar every week, and somethings comes up, you can either:

  • Move the block. Just try to find another time that works, either on the same day or another day.
  • Shorten the block. Only have 30 minutes instead of one hour because of an unexpected meeting? That’s fine, just shorten the block and reduce the scope. You could brainstorm an outline instead of going for a proper article.
  • Delete the block. This should be avoided as much as possible, but it is also an option. There are two weeks this year where I didn’t write at all. The first time was when my grandma passed away, the second time when I took a holiday and decided to not open my laptop for a week.

It’s okay when things don’t work out exactly as we planned. Long-term success is not a result of being perfect all the time, which is impossible. It’s the result of showing up consistently. That’s only possible if we accept the inherent chaos of life. Thank you to all of you 20,000 readers for being part of this journey!

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