“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Those are J.R.R. Tolkien’s words, in the mouth of Gandalf. They also perfectly describe the intentional life.
You’ve got a certain amount of time. It happens to be exactly the same amount as the people around you: 24 hours in a day. You have hopes and goals. The most important tool you have for reaching for those goals is your time. How you spend it matters. In fact, this is the chief difference between you and the people you see reaching their goals. They spend their time differently than you do.
The problem, of course, is that some things are fun or easy or have an immediate pay-off. Then there are things that are hard, or slow, or don’t seem to make an immediate difference. In many cases it is that second category that move you toward your goals.
The intentional life is really about setting yourself up for success in getting those hard things done. Here’s one example. I have two goals that are important to me. Both require hard work. I needed something that would help smooth that uphill climb for me. Craigslist and $280 gave me the answer I needed.
Make Level Paths for Your Feet.
I’m a big nerd with a sedentary lifestyle who really enjoys delicious food. Oh… I also hate exercise. Exercise is hard and painful. In the moment it never seems to be taking me anywhere.
I know that’s all bunk, but my brain just gets bored at the gym. However, I have this goal of being healthy so that I can be around for my family as long as possible. Can you see my problem?
I have another goal. I am a writer and a speaker. I’m in the early stages of adjusting my life so that I can do these two things full time. In order to do this, I want to write every day. Every single day! But every day starts and there are so many things to do. Most of those things feel considerably more urgent than my daily minimum goal of 500 words.
About a year ago I found a solution that marries these two goals. As a result I’ve had more success in meeting them than anything I’ve ever done. It wasn’t about trying harder, or beating myself up when I missed a day. It wasn’t even that costly.
Here’s one of the little known tricks of intentional living. The best “life hacks” are not about forcing yourself to do something. They are about making it easier for you to do something. Picture a path through the mountains winding toward your goal. The path is full of rocks and downed trees. It’s hard going. The effort required to navigate all the obstacles makes turning back attractive. Those obstacles represent all the reasons and excuses you have for not moving forward, all the justifiable alternatives for how you could spend your time that don’t move you toward your goal.
Proverbs 4:20-27 offers sage advice for moving forward with a positive and productive life1. One line in this ancient poem says, “Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.” This line acknowledges that the path toward anything good in life will be covered with obstacles. It also places responsibility squarely on you. Don’t complain. Don’t give up. Instead, make a level path. Do what you can do to make the path forward easier for yourself. The goal is setting yourself up for success.
Craigslist and $280 helped me to make a level path for myself with these two important goals.
My Level-Path Desk
I’ve been a standing desk user for close to ten years now. This has gotten rid of my lower back pain, helped considerably with RSI that was developing in both of my wrists, and gotten me up out of a chair for 8 hours a day, with much more energy and creativity in my work. More on the benefits here, here and here. I love my standing desk.
While my standing desk solved some problems for me, it wasn’t really making things easier for me to meet my two important goals. That’s when I came across the idea of a treadmill desk.
Note: I’m going to describe this thing in detail because I’ve had several requests for how I created this. If that’s not interesting to you, skip down to the next header.
I’d seen online ads for beautiful rigs with build in controls and a desk surface that moves up and down. Too much money! So, I tried something simpler. I went to Craigslist and found a treadmill. Treadmills are great to buy on Craiglist. Why? Brand new they are incredibly expensive, but lots of people buy treadmills and then in a few months give up on them. Eventually, wanting to recover the enormous amount of floorspace they take up, they dump them for cheap on Craigslist.
I found a great Pro-Form 735CS for $250 online. It has a large very sturdy deck (something you need if you’re a big person or walking every single day), quite a wide range of incline and speed, and — most importantly for my plans — arms.
Then I went to Lowes and bought a 3/4” board, 16” x 36”, two full sheets of foam insulation, aluminum tape, and a cinch-strap. This cost me about $30.
I cut the sheet insulation to the size of the board with an exacto knife, so I had several sheets. (I could have used wood for this, but wanted a cheaper solution that I could easily cut and customize at home.)
Then I stacked the insulation sheets under the board and set the whole stack on the arms of my treadmill. I put my laptop on it and tried typing. It took adjusting the number of sheets to get the typing angle just right. For best ergonimics, your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle when typing.
Once I had the right height, I bound the sheets together with the aluminum tape so that the “desk-top” became a single piece. The arms on my treadmill angle slightly downward toward you, leaving my desk surface angled as well.
Here the sheet foam insulation came in handy. It was trivial to carve out two wedges that I could insert between the desk-top and the arms. Once I had the angle right, I taped the whole thing together and attached it to my treadmill with the cinch-strap around the arms.
Now I have a solid desk surface, at the right height and angle, and all the treadmill controls remain exposed and accessible. Total cost: $280.00.
My Level-Path, Goal-Meeting, Writing-and-Exercise Desk
The treadmill desk has become an indespensible part of my work-flow. I have these two goals: Write a minimum of 500 words a day and exercise. The treadmill desk has married the two together. I get up in the morning, brew a cup of tea and get on the treadmill.
I started out at 2 MPH, and now I can type, mouse, and mentally focus at speeds up to 3.5 MPH, and I’ve started increasing the incline. I try to walk 5 miles every day, but there are often days when I will walk 7 or 8 because I can just keep working while I walk.
Presently with life circumstances, children, and early morning appointments, I don’t hit my goal every day. But I’m doing at least 4 days a week. Never in my life have I exercised so consistantly, or spent intentional time working on my writing goals.
A treadmill desk may not be the right solution for you. But the principle behind my desk is a powerful one. Where can you make a small amount of investment in your life in such a way that you “smooth the path” toward your goals? Don’t try to exert more effort. Don’t beat yourself up when you miss your goal. Instead, look for ways to make those steps easier. You’ll find yourself moving toward your goals almost automatically.
- This proverb is focused on living a righteous life, in alignment with God’s heart, but the wisdom in these few lines is powerful for anyone trying to move their life forward in almost any way. Keep your vision in mind. Guard your heart. Don’t waste your words on perversity, corruption or distraction. Keep your focus. Make your path level. Don’t swerve from that path. Don’t be evil. These are as good a guide for living as you’ll find anywhere. ▲