30 Day Sprints for Personal Development: Change Yourself with Skill


"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen." — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve written about 30 Day Sprints before, but it’s time to talk about them again:

30 Day Sprints help you change yourself with skill.

Once upon a time, I found that when I was learning a new skill, or changing a habit, or trying something new, I wasn’t getting over that first humps, or making enough progress to stick with it.

At the same time, I would get distracted by shiny new objects.  Because I like to learn and try new things, I would start something else, and ditch whatever else I was trying to work on, to pursuit my new interest.  So I was hopping from thing to thing, without much to show for it, or getting much better.

I decided to stick with something for 30 days to see if it would make a difference.  It was my personal 30 day challenge.  And it worked.   What I found was that sticking with something past two weeks, got me past those initial hurdles.  Those dips that sit just in front of where breakthroughs happen.

All I did was spend a little effort each day for 30 days.  I would try to learn a new insight or try something small each day.  Each day, it wasn’t much.  But over 30 days, it accumulated.  And over 30 days, the little effort added up to a big victory.

Why 30 Day Sprints Work So Well

Eventually, I realized why 30 Day Sprints work so well.  You effectively stack things in your favor.  By investing in something for a month, you can change how you approach things.  It’s a very different mindset when you are looking at your overall gain over 30 days versus worrying about whether today or tomorrow gave you immediate return on your time.  By taking a longer term view, you give yourself more room to experiment and learn in the process.

  1. 30 Day Sprints let you chip away at the stone.  Rather than go big bang or whole hog up front, you can chip away at it.  This takes the pressure off of you.  You don’t have to make a breakthrough right away.  You just try to make a little progress and focus on the learning.  When you don’t feel like you made progress, you at least can learn something about your approach.
  2. 30 Day Sprints get you over the initial learning curve.  When you are taking in new ideas and learning new concepts, it helps to let things sink in.  If you’re only trying something for a week or even two weeks, you’d be amazed at how many insights and breakthroughs are waiting just over that horizon.  Those troughs hold the keys to our triumphs.
  3. 30 Day Sprints help you stay focused.  For 30 days, you stick with it.  Sure you want to try new things, but for 30 days, you keep investing in this one thing that you decided was worth it.  Because you do a little every day, it actually gets easier to remember to do it. But the best part is, when something comes up that you want to learn or try, you can add it to your queue for your next 30 Day Sprint.
  4. 30 Day Sprints help you do things better, faster, easier, and deeper.  For 30 days, you can try different ways.  You can add a little twist.  You can find what works and what doesn’t.  You can keep testing your abilities and learning your boundaries.  You push the limits of what you’re capable of.  Over the course of 30 days, as you kick the tires on things, you’ll find short-cuts and new ways to improve. Effectively, you unleash your learning abilities through practice and performance.
  5. 30 Day Sprints help you forge new habits.  Because you focus for a little bit each day, you actually create new habits.  A habit is much easier to put in place when you do it each day.  Eventually, you don’t even have to think about it, because it becomes automatic.  Doing something every other day, or every third day, means you have to even remember when to do it.  We’re creatures of habit.  Just replace how you already spend a little time each day, on your behalf.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

The real power of 30 Day Sprints is that they help you take action.  They help you get rid of all the excuses and all the distractions so you can start to achieve what you’re fully capable of.

Ways to Make 30 Day Sprints Work Better

When I first started using 30 Day Sprints for personal development, the novelty of doing something more than a day or a week or even two weeks, was enough to get tremendous value.  But eventually, as I started to do more 30 Day Sprints, I wanted to get more out of them.

Here is what I learned:

  1. Start 30 Day Sprints at the beginning of each month.  Sure, you can start 30 Day Sprints whenever you want, but I have found it much easier, if the 17th of the month, is day 17 of my 30 Day Sprint.  Also, it’s a way to get a fresh start each month.  It’s like turning the page.  You get a clean slate.  But what about February?  Well, that’s when I do a 28 Day Sprint (and one day more when Leap Year comes.)
  2. Same Time, Same Place.  I’ve found it much easier and more consistent, when I have a consistent time and place to work on my 30 Day Sprint.  Sure, sometimes my schedule won’t allow it.  Sure, some things I’m learning require that I do it from different places.  But when I know, for example, that I will work out 6:30 – 7:00 A.M. each day in my living room, that makes things a whole lot easier.  Then I can focus on what I’m trying to learn or improve, and not spend a lot of time just hoping I can find the time each day.  The other benefit is that I start to find efficiencies because I have a stable time and place, already in place.  Now I can just optimize things.
  3. Focus on the learning.  When it’s the final inning and the score is tied, and you have runners on base, and you’re up at bat, focus is everything.  Don’t focus on the score.  Don’t focus on what’s at stake.  Focus on the pitch.  And swing your best.  And, hit or miss, when it’s all over, focus on what you learned.  Don’t dwell on what went wrong.  Focus on how to improve.  Don’t focus on what went right.  Focus on how to improve.  Don’t get entangled by your mini-defeats, and don’t get seduced by your mini-successes.  Focus on the little lessons that you sometimes have to dig deeper for.

Obviously, you have to find what works for you, but I’ve found these ideas to be especially helpful in getting more out of each 30 Day Sprint.  Especially the part about focusing on the learning.  I can’t tell you how many times I got too focused on the results, and ended up missing the learning and the insights. 

If you slow down, you speed up, because you connect the dots at a deeper level, and you take the time to really understand nuances that make the difference.

Getting Started

Keep things simple when you start.  Just start.  Pick something, and make it your 30 Day Sprint. 

In fact, if you want to line your 30 Day Sprint up with the start of the month, then just start your 30 Day Sprint now and use it as a warm-up.  Try stuff.  Learn stuff.  Get surprised.  And then, at the start of next month, just start your 30 Day Sprint again.

If you really don’t know how to get started, or want to follow a guided 30 Day Sprint, then try 30 Days of Getting Results.  It’s where I share my best lessons learned for personal productivity, time management, and work-life balance.  It’s a good baseline, because by mastering your productivity, time management, and work-life balance, you will make all of your future 30 Day Sprints more effective.

Boldly Go Where You Have Not Gone Before

But it’s really up to you.  Pick something you’ve been either frustrated by, inspired by, or scared of, and dive in.

Whether you think of it as a 30 Day Challenge, a 30 Day Improvement Sprint, a Monthly Improvement Sprint, or just a 30 Day Sprint, the big idea is to do something small for 30 days.

If you want to go beyond the basics and learn everything you can about mastering personal productivity, then check out Agile Results, introduced in Getting Results the Agile Way.

Who knows what breakthroughs lie within?

May you surprise yourself profoundly.

Comments (1)

  1. Sean Liming says:

    Nice article. 30 days is a bit long for some situations. I had 10 days sprints to get up to speed on something new.

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