Catch Up And Maintain
With this system, you keep what you've accomplished.
Everybody knows this: once a week, we come to clean our apartment. Often we sacrifice one day of our weekend for this because, during the week, we have to work and have neither time nor energy left for the household.
Another example: You have attended a language course and invested a lot of time and effort over a few months to do your daily chores and learn vocabulary.
There are countless other examples of this kind. They all have two things in common.
1. we achieve the desired state by investing a lot of our time and energy over a specified period.
2. after this phase of great effort, everyday life takes its toll, and we no longer find the time to maintain the achieved state.
Catching up is only the first step
If we clean our apartment once a week, it is usually a process of catching up. We make up for what we have missed for a long time. If we had invested a little time in the household every day, the work on the weekend would not be so overwhelming.
A language course is structured according to a similar principle. Because we have done nothing at all in recent years to learn a new language, we now have to make up for this in a highly structured and time-compensated course for a lot of money.
Of course, we could have approached the new language in small steps again and again in the past years. To learn a new vocabulary every day for ten years would have the same effect in the end as a three-month expensive language course in which we have to learn forty new words every day.
Most of us, however, will probably have neither cleaned up every day nor learned a foreign language vocabulary every day.
What is right for these two areas is equally valid for a vast number of other things.
One reason why we feel so stressed out in our daily lives today is because of this seemingly endless series of things in which we always run at least three steps behind the desired state.
Sometimes, when the level of suffering in one of these areas becomes too heavy, we force ourselves to take massive action and close the gap between the actual state and the desired state.
When the weekend is over, we will have caught up on cleaning the house. After the language course, we caught up with our colleagues who already know the other language so crucial for business.
But such phases of massive action are almost always followed inevitably by a period of regression.
From Monday to Friday, the dirt collects on the floor again because we are too busy again. The laundry piles up to the ceiling again until the next weekend, and the supplies are running low so that we have to do the next big shopping next weekend again.
But that is not all. We don't just have one or two areas of our lives where we continuously go through the cycle of catching up and regression.
We also have an endless list of projects where we are not making any progress at all, because we devote all our energy to maintaining a few cycles.
Our house may be tidy and clean every weekend, but what about our physical fitness, for example? Millions of people each year decide to finally go running again, to go to the gym or to swim regularly.
But we just don't get around to it. When we tackle the fitness project, we usually stick it out for a few weeks. But we neglect other duties and then stop again to make up for the lost time in another area.
We want to catch up too quickly
Why does it happen to us again and again that we cannot maintain a state that we have painfully achieved? How do some people always manage to have a clean home while we come home after work, and every day greater chaos awaits us, against which we feel powerless?
Why do some people seem to have no difficulty in shining at work, having a fulfilled family life, and a well-toned body at the same time?
When we look enviously at such people, we usually make a crucial mistake. We look at the current state of affairs and assume that these people have achieved all these desirable results simultaneously and in a short time.
But it is not so. If we think about it more carefully, it can't be like that at all. Everyone has only twenty-four hours a day, and everyone gets tired, has to eat, and has a thousand obligations.
More resilience, better stress management, and healthy eating alone cannot explain the differences between these others and us. So what do they do differently?
They were patient and unwavering in their journey, and they had a plan.
But above all, they understood one thing: Catching up is only the first step in regaining control of an area of life. The second, much more important step is to maintain the state they have reached.
But haven't we already realized above that precisely this is impossible in our hectic everyday life? No, we have only determined that it is impossible if we maintain our previous strategy.
Making a significant effort once and then stopping any further effort for a long time inevitably leads to a cycle of catching up and regression. This happens because we compress our efforts too much on the timeline, and we clog the schedule on one section for everything else.
If we want to have a chance to maintain the state we have reached, we must reach this state not in the shortest possible time, but over the longest possible period.
Yes, I am serious. If we want to have lasting success somewhere, then we have to give achievement the time it needs to maintain itself. A stable state only comes into being on a firm foundation.
A crash course is just as little a stable foundation as a cleaning day of several hours at the weekend.
catch up slowly but steadily
Instead of working on a single area of life at the moment, as most self-help counselors recommend, I am convinced that we have to push many projects at the same time. But then, down to the day, we have to do this on a microscopic scale.
Why am I convinced of this? Why do I contradict all those who say that we should always concentrate fully on one thing at a time?
I do not do that at all. I'm not saying that we shouldn't have priorities. If your work is the highest priority for you, then let it be that priority. But I am saying that, for example, work cannot be the only priority.
If we neglect everything else for one thing, we will eventually succeed in this one thing. But what good is that if we ignore all other areas of life?
I once wrote that a writer cannot always have a clean home. I believed that we must devote ourselves entirely to writing if we want to be successful in this area.
Today I see things differently. When we have achieved a great goal, but then the rest of life around us falls apart, we end up with nothing of this great success.
We forget too often that every primary system always needs a robust support system to function smoothly.
If I only write, I inevitably neglect my physical fitness and may become seriously ill after I have made my breakthrough as a writer.
But this makes it impossible to maintain the status quo because if I can't continue writing at the same level after my breakthrough, I will quickly be pushed back from the top.
Each of our projects is influenced by countless moving parts from other areas of life, which we don't even know that they could affect our seemingly most basic plan.
Therefore, we cannot afford to concentrate exclusively on one thing for long periods. We must also always keep an eye on the circumstances that may influence the outcome of our most important projects.
So, instead of cleaning the whole apartment in one weekend, we should clean the living room floor one day, dust the living room furniture the next day and wipe the kitchen floor the next day.
But we must continue to keep an eye on the condition of the floor in the living room on day two.
After two or three weeks, when we have cleaned every area of our apartment in small steps, we don't want to start from scratch again with the floor in the living room. In this way, the whole flat would never be clean, but only a small part at a time.
So as soon as we have caught up in one area, we have to start with the maintenance of the new condition.
So on the second day, we not only dust the furniture in the living room but also immediately remove new visible dirt on the floor. But the effort for this will be many times smaller than the complete cleaning of the day before.
At the end of the second day, we have a spotless living room. This example is, of course, very simplified. In reality, it can be useful to divide the living room cleaning into further sub-projects.
Besides the floor and furniture with smooth surfaces, I can think of windows and upholstered furniture.
It's not a question of getting the living room into a clean state as quickly as possible, but of keeping it clean for the long term.
Although this means that every day we have to carry out new small tasks to keep it in good condition, in the end, it will still take less time than a one-off action at the weekend.
Organizing the maintenance process
In order not to lose track of the maintenance process, every small intermediate step must be recorded in writing. If the living room is only kept clean when the floor is cleaned every two days, the windows every two months and the furniture every other day, then we should also make a note of every single step.
The first step is always to take stock. Only if we know and write down which measures we have to repeat in which intervals to maintain a condition, we will not forget any of these steps in the future.
Each of these steps is then a recurring task. Tasks, in turn, do not belong on a rigid to-do list but as appointments in the calendar.
An electronic calendar is best suited for this because we will, of course, not be able to complete all tasks every day. Life will go on despite our intentions and plans.
Therefore, it is vital that we can postpone a task to another date without effort if it is necessary. With to-do lists, this requires more effort than with an electronic calendar, which is why I prefer this option.
In the same way, we can not only target each objective but also ensure that the result will be sustainable as we move towards it.
Make a note of every step you have taken to catch up in an area and immediately determine when you need to repeat that step and, above all, at what interval. Then turn these tasks into deadlines and treat them like any other binding appointment in the future.
Acceptable instead of perfect
Even with the catch Up An Maintain method, it is, of course, impossible to achieve perfection in every area of life. Perfection is always the exception and, strictly speaking, will never be achieved.
It also remains true that we cannot do anything. Nobody can become a writer, musician, politician, super athlete, and multilingual at the same time with Catch Up And Maintain. Our time is simply not enough.
But that is not the point. We want a system that allows us to keep the most critical areas of our lives running while we strive for ambitious goals outside of our daily duties.
Therefore, it is not only important to identify the areas in which we want or need to catch up. We must also define the level of perfection that we should reasonably strive for in each area.
It makes no sense, for example, to strive for perfection in the field of cleaning, because then we would be busy cleaning all day long and would still never achieve perfection.
But we can say that we want to keep our home free of visible dirt. To do this, it is enough to clean the floors regularly, to clear away things standing around, and to wipe up dust. If we then add work surfaces, toilets, and washbasins, we already have a very tidy status.
There is nothing to be said against cleaning the windows once every few months or descale the coffee machine every few weeks, but none of these things have to keep us busy every day. What matters is that we achieve and maintain the status that is objectively acceptable to us.
If we do this in every area of life, we end up with a manageable number of tasks that we have to repeat every day or at other intervals.
In order not to be overwhelmed by life with all its obligations and, at the same time, to be able to pursue our higher goals, a multi-stage process is necessary.
1. we have to realize that for a great goal, we must not lose sight of everything else.
2. we have to identify the areas of life in which we want to achieve and maintain a certain status quo
3. we must define for each of these areas which status quo is acceptable to us. We have to give up the idea of perfection.
4. we divide the path to the desired state into many small steps and carry them out one after the other.
5. while we are still making progress, we are already securing what has been achieved by minimal maintenance steps.
6. we make a note of every recurring task necessary to maintain what we have achieved so far.
7. each of these steps is entered at reasonable intervals as a recurring date in an electronic calendar and managed there
Over weeks and months, we gradually achieve the desired status quo in all selected areas and maintain it permanently.
Then we will have a stable foundation on which we can place our larger projects.