I wrote part of this on another blog about fitness. Rereading it, I see an almost universal application. Are you a writer? A programmer? A woodworker? What is your minimal baseline? What do you do every day to put your butt in the chair?

My Weak and Measly Workout Routine

The first workout you’ll do for most fitness programs is a fittest. It’s the same thing as the spelling pre-test you did every Monday morning in elementary school. You become familiar with the words or the workout and see where your strengths and weaknesses lie.  When I did Beachbody P90 a few years ago, I made it through five minutes of the twenty-minute fit test which reduced me to a fatty stain on the garage concrete. I took two days to sleep it off.

So, I made a plan. I would don my workout togs at least five days a week and go the garage. I would play the scheduled workout DVD and stay in the garage and do anything I felt like doing for ten minutes. If I wanted to exercise, that was fine. If I swept the floor, then that was fine. Same for laying on the floor or changing the oil in the car. Success was achieved when I clicked the play button on the DVD. Everything else was gravy.

You might guess what happened. Some days, I did nothing. Some days, I stretched a little and kept up with the DVD for five minutes. Some days, I did the whole workout. By the time 90 days had rolled around, I could complete a forty-five-minute workout, and add a run on top.

Brooke Castillo Rescues Me

Somehow, for me, this ridiculously low bar for success works. I’ve learned that I’m not the only one who uses this idea. I listened to the Life Coach School podcast today where Brooke Castillo recommends what she calls the minimal baseline tool. It’s exactly what I did. Set the requirement for success so low that it’s almost easier to do it than it is to not. She notes that several things happen when you adopt this kind of plan.

One is that you honor yourself and the things you tell yourself you will do. This is the opposite of what happens when you tell yourself, “On Monday, I will start a fifty miles a week running program to train for the Boston Marathon.” By Tuesday, you already feel inadequate and useless and spent. Remember that it’s taken you a lifetime to entrain the habits you have today, and I can guarantee you you won’t change them tomorrow using willpower alone.


Brooke Castillo

With this, you will also develop a heightened sense of personal accountability. As you follow the promises you make to yourself, it becomes more important to do so. Soon you’ll see a shift in your thinking; rather than seeing your self-promises as something easy to wiggle out of, the opposite becomes true. Because you have learned to value yourself and your goals, you see your promises to yourself as truly important.

You will also become used to following through with what you tell yourself. Whereas you might easily dismiss your goals and promises in lieu of what other people want, you attend to yourself first.

Because it’s such a trivial thing, she advises that you don’t share these minimum baseline goals with friends. Who needs to hear a round of “Hey, muscles! Did you sweep the garage for ten minutes last night? I can see those biceps bulging!”


How many words can you write in ten minutes? A hundred? If you want to write and commit to writing for ten minutes a day that equals 3650 minutes in a year. Which translates into 36,500 words and a novel in two years. In ten measly minutes a day! So, don’t tell me you can’t be a writer.

But I bet that sometimes the muse does a dance, and, for reasons unknown, you churn out 1,000 words. Or, heaven forbid 2,000.

When I was a furniture maker, I made a deal, once, with myself, to be in my shop ready to work at 6:00 AM. Oftentimes, when I run, I make a pact with myself to go around my neighborhood loop twice. Somehow this drives me to do it five times.

My Writing

I use something close to this in my writing. I have two goals.

The first is that, for five days a week, I will write 400 words on some work-in-progress. This is before anything else. I define it as working on moving a piece toward publication. That includes writing, editing, and anything having to do with submitting. It does not include checking on Twitter or updating my website’s About page. But, as you might expect, when my rear end is in the chair in front of my computer, and I get my daily goal done, I always find time to do other necessary things. To keep me on track, I start each session by listing the things I will do in the order that I will do them. It helps.

My second goal, tied to my writing goal, and, yes, it’s a little weird, is to get 100 rejection letters in a year. This is simply a backward way for me to push out as much work as possible for publication. So far, it’s working. I’d like to be that writer who, when a publisher sees my name, says, “Good gawd, send this to press immediately. Put it on the cover!” But I’m not quite there yet.

The Basics

The minimal baseline tool addressed the toughest part of doing anything: getting started. Getting your running shoes on. Getting your butt in the chair in front of your computer. Writing the first line of a poem.

In what other ways can you see using the tool to get you started? What are your tools to get started?

Thanks so much for reading. Can you think of someone else who would enjoy the post? Someone who can’t get their rear in the chair to write? Please mail it to them or share with your favorite social media using one of the icons below. And won’t you follow me? You can do so in the sidebar. Thanks again! And feel free to comment!

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