15 minutes at a time

12 March 2017 by Lisa Meloncon

Based on my highly scientific study** of comments on social media, it seems that many of us are still struggling with feeling overwhelmed, having focus problems, and are trying to determine what things we can control.

Lately, I’ve started to re-institute my 15 minute rule so I can get some things done, avoid beating myself up over my productivity, and well, actually getting some things done. This time of the year brings it lots of things to do and for all sorts of reasons, the spring is always a bit busier than the fall.

But I digress…So what is the 15 minute rule?

Great question. It’s something I started years and years ago when I was a consultant. It came about in an informal happy hour with some other consultants and self-employed folks. With so many projects and demands, I was sometimes paralyzed by the magnitude of the projects and the large number of tasks. Kind of sounds familiar, huh?!

To get things moving—anything moving—I started to break down tasks into 15 minutes increments because surely, as I told myself, I could focus for 15 minutes.

Take a look at your to-do list (or spend the first 15 minutes making an updated one!) and then start to find things that you can do in 15 minutes. In higher education, we’ve all heard, and there’s a book with the title, that you can write your dissertation in 15 minutes in a day. It’s the same principle really to overcoming focus problems or feeling overwhelmed problems or fear problems or any of the other issues that can get in the way of you getting things done.

What is so great about 15 minutes is that it seems doable. It feels doable, even at times when everything else doesn’t feel that way. I bet you may have said something like, “You can’t do anything in 15 minutes.” Maybe, but that’s part of the point. When you actually do sit and work for 15 uninterrupted and no distractions minutes, you will be surprised at how much you can do. I typically do a 15 minute task, small break, another 15 minute task, 15 minute break and then repeat. And if you get through a particularly onerous task, I say do something fun for 15 minutes (like a walk outside or eating a dessert or something!).

Here’s a look at some of the tasks I’ve done over the last few days following this rule:

  • commented on user test plans
  • revised and sent out two award letters
  • posted reminder announcements across list servs and social media
  • revised two manuscripts (yup. The 15 minute rule makes dealing with reviewer and editor comments and collaborator comments much easier.)
  • sent a slew of those conversation ending emails (those that need a response but its more than likely they won’t come back)
  • cleaned a large set of data so that it can now be analyzed
  • standardized another set of data so that it can be used
  • got all but the images done on my ATTW presentation

I’ve got a few other things I’d like to get done today and I think I can get them knocked out with another hour round of 15 minutes. And then I’m done for the day.

So give it a try. It works for all sorts of situation, and I hope that maybe you can feel like you have a little more control over your life, while also getting things done.

Good luck.

Wishing you peace, strength, joy, and health.


**total sarcasm

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