15 Minutes a Day …

…can change your life. No, this is not meant as a trite phrase. I really do mean it. This idea was inspired by a short but sweet TED talk by Matt Cutts called Try Something New for 30 Days. After listening to the talk, I started brainstorming about what 30 day challenges I would like to do.

Here is my short list:

  • Clean room/office for 15 minutes every day
  • Practice my violin for 15 minutes every day
  • Work on learning Spanish for 15 minutes each day
  • Do something to give someone an emotional lift or encouragement
  • Work on a goal for 15 minutes every day, even if just to think about it

The last one – working on a goal, would actually be multiple 30 day challenges. Each one would be a goal I have wanted to do for a long time, but never got around to it, or can’t figure out how to accomplish it.

If you look at my list, most of the items are things I have always wanted to do, but never have done so – things like keeping a clean organized room, learning to play violin decently, learning Spanish, and other big goals. As I write this I am only one week into my first 30 day challenge – cleaning my office. What I have discovered in this first week has astounded me. I also realized that Matt Cutts’ 30 day challenge is just part of a much bigger and more powerful concept. I’ll break this concept into two parts: the power of 30 days and the power of 15 minutes, and then put the two together to show how you can literally change your life and yourself.

The Power of 30 Days

In his talk, Matt Cutts makes these points:

  • It makes your life more memorable by always doing something new every month
  • Increases self confidence from the success from earlier 30 day challenges
  • You can do anything for 30 days. It is a great way to do the things you have been avoiding.
  • New practices are likely to take even after the 30 days have passed

If we distill these points down, we can observe a few principles.

We can make ourselves do anything for a short period of time. It might be 30 days, it might be a week. Therefore, this idea can be used to force ourselves to do things we have always wanted to do, but have been too onerous to do otherwise. Likewise for changes to our lifestyle. For example,I have always wanted to be more organized and less messy, but the task is always too unpleasant to do until everything becomes more than I can stand. By committing to cleaning & organizing for only 30 days, it isn’t difficult to keep that commitment.

We can use the 30 days to form new habits. Conventional wisdom holds that 21 days are needed to form a new habit. I think that 30 days is even better. Do you want to start an exercise program? Try a new lifestyle diet? Be more organized? A 30 day challenge may be just the thing that will help you build that new habit. In this principle, I am departing from Matt’s concept of simply doing memorable things. I favor using the 30 day challenges not to do something new, but to do something to improve my life. Departing from bad habits and forming new ones are some of the biggest ways I can make such changes. While I am committed to cleaning for only 30 days, I plan to continue the practice as a new habit.

Smaller accomplishments will lead to bigger accomplishments. We all suffer from lack of faith in ourselves and what we can do. This lack of faith is often the single greatest limiting factor in success in our lives. I have found the best way to build this faith is by accomplishment. Smaller accomplishments will give us the faith to try more difficult ones. Each time we succeed our faith grows. When we fail, we can rely on our previous accomplishments to give us faith to try again. We we finally succeed, our confidence grows even more than if success had be easier. In my own life, this principle has rung true over and over. Whenever I doubt my abilities, I simply remember times earlier in my life when I overcame obstacles, and this gives me the faith to overcome my current ones.

The Power of 15 Minutes

Since my first 30 day challenge would take only 15 minutes each day, I soon discovered the power of short time periods. I was absolutely amazed at the progress in cleaning my office. Each day’s progress was usually unnoticeable from the previous day. After a few days however, those little clean-ups resulted in big improvements. When I started running out of the simple tasks of just putting things away, I was forced to tackle the more onerous challenges of finding how to put away things with no place. I also found myself cleaning areas that had not seen the light of day for a long time. In just one week’s time, entropy (a scientific term for disorder) was dropping at a phenomenal rate!

Amidst these observations, I realized how much time 15 minutes represented when accumulated over a period of time. In one month’s time, 15 daily minutes is almost 8 hours – a whole workday. Imagine the possibilities of adding an extra day to your month to do the things you would like to do. We can waste far more than fifteen minutes just flapping our jaw, not to mention watching television and other such mindless pursuits. Over the period of a year, 15 minutes a day equates to over 11 extra eight-hour days. That’s enough for a nice long vacation.

Just imagine what this 15 minutes a day represents. Things you have always wanted to do, but could never find the time. You know the old sayings – “slow and steady wins the race” and “the tortoise is faster than the hare”. They really are true. You can do a lot of things in only fifteen minutes a day. In my case, my office continues to be cleaner and more organized. Soon, I will even go through my backlog of magazines and catalogs. Before long, it won’t take more than just a few minutes to keep it clean. What will I do with my 15 minutes then? I can do the same thing with my shop, yard, etc. By the time everything is finally organized, I will have firmly established a new habit of organization. Since being organized leads to much greater productivity – no wasted time searching for stuff, not only will I get my original 15 minute investment back, but gain much more time than that.

Going Further

What if you did more than just one extra 15 minute task each day. Ask yourself – “what if I spent an hour each day working on my goals?” For example, 15 minutes each: learning a new language, cleaning/organizing, learning a musical instrument, and working on a big goal like becoming a published author. In just a year, you would likely know one or even two new languages, your house or office would be clean and organized, you would be able to play your new instrument reasonably well, and might even be a published author. Only in your dreams would you normally think of being able to accomplish all these things in your entire lifetime. Yet in just an hour a day, fifteen minutes devoted to each task, you could do them all in just one year. To see how even more powerful this simple idea (that anyone can do) is, imagine what you could do in the next year, the year after that, and the year after that.

Before realizing the power of 15 minutes, I had unwittingly done it in learning to read New Testament Greek. It had been a goal of mine for 30 years, yet in all that time I never got farther than chapter 6 of my Greek study book. Then, one day two years ago, I got the idea of just reading the Greek portion of an Interlinear New Testament every morning for 15 minutes. (An Interlinear New Testament is a New Testament Bible that is written in Greek with the English translation written just below). Little by little, almost imperceptibly, I improved my understanding of the language. After only one year, I was able to read the text as long as I knew most of the words. I only have trouble in those places where my vocabulary is lacking.

My point in telling this story, is that learning Greek was a lifetime goal I had tried many times to accomplish, but failed. When I finally applied the fifteen minute approach, I accomplished it in just a year.  The same thing can be done with other difficult lifetime goals. Stop reading for a few moments and jot down some of your lifetime goals. Don’t limit yourself. Write down the things you would most like to accomplish in your life. Don’t worry about costs or difficulties. Just focus on what you want to do or be if somehow you could.

If you are having troubles jogging your mind, here are some possible examples of dreams many of us have:

  • Learning a new language
  • Becoming a published author
  • Traveling to a foreign country
  • Owning a yacht
  • Learning to play an instrument
  • Learning some skill or sport
  • Starting a business
  • Becoming successful in a business
  • Performing or speaking in public
  • Getting an education or degree
  • Getting or changing careers

Now write down your own goals and dreams. I’ll wait…

Realizing Your Dreams

If your dream is to acquire a new skill or accomplish a task that is repetitive such as organizing or writing, set yourself a manageable chunk of time like 15 or 30 minutes, and commit to working on it for 30 days. Then after the 30 days, evaluate yourself, your goals and your progress. If it is worthwhile continuing, then go on doing it. Don’t stop just because the 30 days is up. If the task at hand is pleasant enough, then don’t even bother with the 30 days. Just start doing it. Just don’t bite off more than you can chew. Limit yourself to 30 minutes or less, and commit to the long term (or 30 days). There may be days where there is little progress, but one morning you will wake up realizing how much you have done. When I was studying NT Greek, I never noticed any big changes, but little by little I found myself understanding more and more of what I read.

If your dream cannot be broken down into repetitive chunks, you can still apply the same 15 minute approach and realize the same results. You just have to attack the problem differently. Here is what you do. Set aside and commit to spending 15 minutes a day on your goal. In that time period, work on that goal. You may not even know where to begin. That is okay. In that case, spend the 15 minutes figuring out the next step you can take. Having a plan is not necessary. While plans can be very helpful, sometimes you just can’t see that far ahead.

The most important thing is to get started. A moving ship can be steered, albeit slowly. A ship sitting still goes nowhere. Even just thinking about the problem at hand every day will do wonders. Our minds are marvelous instruments. They will tirelessly work on solving whatever problem we give them. Just like a computer, they will work 24 hours a day on a solution. You only need to set yours to work on it. How? By spending those 15 minutes putting the problem before you mind. You will be absolutely astounded at what you can achieve by this simple exercise. You must attack the problem in earnest however. Being willy-nilly about it will get you nowhere. If it is your dream, however, that should not be a problem.

Also, do not spend the time trying to formulate a grandiose plan. Instead spend the time working on the goal or devising the next step. For example, one of my goals is to become a public speaker. I have long wanted to do so, but have not had the knowledge on how. I have picked up some ideas over the years that I now plan to apply. As I list them, I will generalize them so you can apply the same ideas to your goals.

Become a published author. That is one way I have heard that get a person speaking engagements. We can generalize this idea in this way: no one wants to hear a speaker who doesn’t know anything. When one knows enough to publish a work, then everyone knows what they have to say and how well they can say it. In the same manner, your goal probably also requires expertise and dues to be paid so to speak. Work to gain the expertise and credentials needed for your goal.

Ask a public speaker how he gets his engagements. Once my wife heard a man speak at a homeschooling meeting. He was just a regular fellow, not a bigwig, but he was a published author and was planning to become a missionary  When she told me about him, I got his phone number and invited him to breakfast at a restaurant. Since I was buying his meal, I was able to pick his brain about becoming a missionary, getting published, etc.

I’ll relate another story. Many years ago, I was working on writing some engineering software, and I was entering uncharted waters. A guest speaker from Germany, who was an expert in the area I needed knowledge in, was speaking at my local engineering meeting. Normally I never attended these events. When I heard he was coming to town, I offered my services to take him to his hotel after the meeting. That gave me the opportunity to pick his brain, and he was very willing to help me. His advice was invaluable in meeting my goal.

You can do the same thing in your pursuits. Find an expert, a guru, someone doing what you want to do, and ask them to lunch, offer to pay to consult with them, offer to drive them around, or do whatever you need to do to get time with them. Make it worth their while. Don’t be just a taker. Give as well. Most people want to help others, but you must make it worthwhile at the same time. Don’t be a leach. Do you homework so they won’t waste their time on the basics. You want and need their expertise. Get the basics from the Internet or elsewhere.

Speak where welcome. Getting invited to large events and being paid large fees doesn’t happen overnight. You have to pay your dues. Speak wherever you can find an audience. It may be your local interest club. It may be a soup kitchen. Likewise, in whatever dream you have, you have to start small. You can often find you can give away your services. Even that may be tough. You may have to start with even more humble beginnings. Do volunteer work. Grab any opportunities you get. If you can’t find any, then spend your 15 minutes a day figuring out to get even one. Then go do it.

Find others with the same goal. In the realm of public speaking, there is an organization called Toastmasters. They are basically a public speaking club. You get the chance to speak in front of the club, and to hear other members speak as well. You take turns during the meetings and help each other to become better speakers. In your particular goal, there is probably a similar type group. Today with the Internet, it is even easier to find others with the same interest, no matter how esoteric. Search for them, they are out there somewhere, and meet with others like-minded. You can help each other, and gain the much needed contacts for furthering your goal as well. Before there was social-networking, it was just called networking. It really does work.

Conclusion

I am excited about the possibilities of these methods. I can already visualize accomplishing in just a few years things I have only longed for until now. I am excited for you to do the same. Be sure start slowly though. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. I am starting my 15 minutes projects as 30 day challenges. I expect to continue them longer than that, but that is what I am starting with. I am also only starting one new project each month. That way I won’t be overwhelmed. I suggest the same for you. I expect to easily handle 4 projects at a time for a total of one hour a day, but I plan to work up to that level. Even just a little progress at the beginning will set you up for greater things in the future. Don’t make the mistake of taking on too much, only to have everything fail at once. Remember, slow but sure wins the race. I’ll see you at the finish line.

Please share your experiences with us in the comments.

Additional Resources

http://www.fluentin3months.c

15 Minutes a Day … by Provide Your Own is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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