The fifteen-minute guide to greatness

No, this post won't take you fifteen minutes to read (I don't think), nor is it some guideline to whatever is your particular kind of greatness.  Rather, it was my shining moment of introspection that is helping me along in my goal to be happier.

Last weekend I set myself an ambitious task to collect and print out new pictures of pretty much everyone we love to put them on the fridge for my son to enjoy since we live too far away from most of them to see regularly.  {He is learning tons of names and his face lights up when he recognizes someone up there!  Just wait until Thanksgiving!}  Anyway, I spent pretty much every nonparenting, nonsleeping minute working on these pictures, and by Sunday evening they were up and they were lovely.  I was proud as I checked it off my (neverending) Task list...

...until I looked around at the rest of the house.  I saw dishes in the sink, a full laundry hamper, files still out from my Great Refiling Project, a pile of emails in my inbox.  ARGH.  Nothing else had been accomplished.

Monday morning rolled around, and I got going with my new Effective Habits list.  It is a list of things that I typically forget to do or put off doing.  I have it set up so that I don't spend more than fifteen minutes doing any one thing on it.  It includes items like "sort and reply to emails" or "put things where they belong."  I set a timer on my computer and do as much of those things as I can until the fifteen minutes are up.  I give myself a little smiley on the box in my Word table just for finishing fifteen minutes even if the task needs to be continued the next day.  I crave metaphorical (or actual) gold stars, so I think the smiley faces are the key to my Effective Habits success.  Then I move on to the next thing on the daily list (I have monthly and yearly versions built into the system now, too - another thing I was mocked for by aforementioned teacher friend, but I think it's great!). 

And it turns out that I was much happier on Monday evening.  I hadn't finished any one task in its entirety like I had the photos, but overall I felt a greater sense of accomplishment.  This was a huge Aha! moment for me, as I have always been the sort of person who doesn't like to start a task I can't finish right then.  This sort of behavior is what leads to the Disaster Zone my garage has become.  But now that I have my fifteen-minute guide to greatness, I think I can tackle pretty much anything.  It just might take me a while to finish, but that's true of any parent of a toddler, isn't it? 

And now my fifteen minutes of blogging are officially up.


  1. I like this and have been (unintentionally) doing something similar. It is hard to concentrate on study when I keep thinking about odds and ends I want to do around the house. I have given myself an hour each morning to get things done, and whatever isn't completed must wait until the next day. It makes me feel better about leaving unfinished chores and focusing on school. The unexpected benefit is that I have gotten quite efficient at getting through a major part of the list each day! Quite shocked that things can be 'set to rights' so fast and with even 4 minutes left, I still move to the next task, usually completing it. On occasion, I will give myself permission to extend 30 minutes (huge dog + long fur = extra mud on rainy days). I will start setting up the more-manageable 15-minute increments for other things on my to-do list.

  2. I love playing "beat the clock" ... I thrive on knowing that I only have minutes to do a task ... the pressure of it! However, I haven't been able to "let go" enough to feel satisfied with leaving things undone when the timer dings ... perhaps your post will be the reminder/inspiration to put me on that track :)~ D

  3. A number of people have mentioned (here or on emails) not being able to leave things undone when the timer goes off. I don't literally leave the broom in the middle of the half-swept kitchen floor, either! What I find is that when the timer goes off, I get to a good stopping point. {Incidentally, this is what I say to my students when Silent Reading time is over - get to a good stopping point. Who can really stop mid-sentence? I can't.}

    Most tasks can be broken down into enough smaller pieces that you can get to the end of one of those subtasks. Sometimes I go a minute or two or five over, but I don't let myself spend the whole day on one task unless it truly is the number one and only priority, needed the very next day, etc.

    I guess the key for me is to be satisfied with a different definition of "finished."

  4. hmm, a different definition of "finished" is a good place to start (or end?)

  5. Whew, I'm glad you said that you can "get to a good stopping point", because I've been trying a "15 seconds to greatness" project and I just never seem to fin