So something I haven’t readily confessed to you up to this point is that I get easily distracted.
I start a task with enthusiasm, often a houseworky type one but before long the whiff of something more interesting or creative and/or pressing has me wandering off and starting on something else before I’m finished the first thing. Anyone else?
It happens as well when I have so many things to do I’m not sure what to do first – so I start in on five things frantically and end up with a whole lot of things started but nothing finished – I’ll have the clothes washed but not hung out, a post half written, dishwasher half packed or unpacked, clothes maybe folded but not put away, everything pulled out of a cupboard but not put back in and the clean sheets on the bed but not the pillowslips or doona. In real time and real life it looks like one heck of a shamozzle and so not the end result I’m looking for in my day.
The other scenario is, I’ll get totally involved in something I love doing – (usually not a houseworky type one) – something crafty or creative, writing, gardening, taking photos, rearranging a room or a combination of all the above – and end up doing none of whatever else I need to do that day. Now that’s Ok if your husband and kids don’t care about eating dinner or wearing clean clothes and – if I was a totally bohemian free spirit who just enjoyed going where the mood led and who didn’t mind a mess – we’d be all good.
Here’s the problem though. I like things done. I like thing squared away and neat and clean far more than I do messy and thrown about. I like the counters cleaned down and the clothes where they should be – in the machine if their dirty, on the line if their wet and put away in drawers when their dry. I like the wide open spaces and peace of clean uncluttered rooms.
I just can’t always seem to manage it.
I get constantly caught somewhere in between the creative “lets rearrange the furniture and paint something” side of me and the “lets get everything neat and organised” side of me.
So thats where my 20 minute a day theory on getting things done comes in. You may have heard me mention it here on the blog a few times now – it’s a favourite.
A girl who’s easy distracted has gotta have some sort of secret weapon up her sleeve to keep her life a bit organised and this is the one that works for me.
I set the timer on my iphone and do ONE thing only for just twenty minutes. Clean the kitchen, fold clothes, read/return emails, write, garden, dust, clean the shower, tidy a room, clear out a drawer, change things around, make phone calls, etc etc
It keeps me calm, it keeps me focused, it stops me doing 65000 unnecessary laps of this house in one day, it’s how I get things done.
I don’t do it all day, all the time – usually 4 to 5 x 20 minutes stints a day, mostly in the morning, is enough to keep this home civilised and functioning the way I like it and keeps me making progress with the creative things I love to do.
The First Twenty Minutes
The photos below were taken maybe two years ago. It was the first time I really discovered the power of doing one thing full on for twenty minutes. This is the side of the house where no one ever goes and where I shove things I don’t want to look at. Mostly it gets forgotten about but there was no ignoring this sad state of affairs – even the dogs didn’t want to go around there. It was such a shocker I took a photo and had a joke with Ken that if I wasn’t out in twenty minutes, to come in after me. (Word of warning – wear gloves, covered footwear and protective glasses for jobs like these. I came across Red Back Spiders, Blue Tongue Lizards and a few other scary things). I set the timer, I think because I really didn’t want to do it and decided that 20 minutes was all I was up for and then it was Ken’s turn.
It only needed 20 minutes. I was totally amazed at what got done.
So the idea kind of took off.
One Thing Only
So if I’m giving 20 minutes to the kitchen – (usually my first 20 minute stint after I take the kids to school) – I am just getting it back to civilised. Cleaning off the counters (because my kitchen counter collects everything) clearing the sink, packing the dishwasher and sweeping the floor. In this time I won’t be cleaning out the fridge or cleaning the stove or reorganising the pantry or making a shopping list. When those kind of extras need to be done they need their own twenty minutes.
I’ve found it works really well when you need to have a quick tidy up around the house and it works really well when you’ve got an almighty mess like I had this morning – I’m blaming school holidays and Netflix on this one.
Now I’m well aware that most people wouldn’t get themselves into this sort of mess in the first place and I’d much prefer to show you nicely styled after shots rather than everything all over the place but this is the reality of life some/most days and I’m hoping for any one a little like me – – – who struggles with staying focused and on task or who gets side lined by creative pursuits but then hates the mess your left in afterwards – that this might be a help.
So this is what I’ve found.
In 20 minutes.
- You get soooo much more done than you think you will
- It lasts longer than you think it will – I often check the timer because I’m sure the 20 minutes must be up and usually find I still have 2 or 3 minutes to go.
- 20 minutes can be squeezed in just about anywhere at any time.
- You work faster and more focused than you would without the timer, so you get more done.
- It gives you a reachable end point to your task – when you get to stop, look back at what you’ve accomplished and enjoy the result.
- Getting one thing done in 20 minutes is so much more satisfying than getting 10 things half done in two hours.
- Big jobs (that often get put off indefinitely because they seem undoable and overwhelming) get broken down into small manageable bite size pieces. More on that below.
Often we think we’ll need an hour at least to get a task done – the fridge, the stove top, a desk top!! – so we put off doing it because we don’t have that spare hour. But I have found that nine times out of ten you can get it over the line in 20. I’d rather get something done the best I can in 20 minutes than never getting it done waiting for that elusive hour to show up. And after 20 minutes if you have the time and really want to do a bit more – then set the timer again and do another twenty. I always stop at that because who wants to be cleaning and/or organising for more than forty minutes straight anyway. The whole idea is balance – you get something done and move on.
In my office area, in 20 minutes I was able to clean off and sort out papers on the desk top. I didn’t try to clean out the desk drawers or reinvent my filing system – even though I probably needed to do both.
I could have left it there, its a big improvement on what it was but because I had time, I did a second 20 minutes – I was able to finish cleaning and filing as well as do some rearranging and a bit of prettying up. I had time to swap out the chair for another one but not time to iron the new cloth I put under the key pad.
Two x 20 minutes and I think we can all agree the space is vastly improved.
Tackling Big Projects
As mentioned above its also a great way to make a big project more manageable and doable.
I’m with this guy.
The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks and then starting on the first. Mark Twain
Two things often happen when it comes to big jobs around the house – you either avoid getting started because you know it’s gonna take a great big chunk out of your day/week that your not sure you can spare OR you launch in, pull everything out or apart and two hours later your totally overwhelmed, sobbing into your tea or something stronger and it takes the best part of the next week to get it all back together again
For bigger cleaning jobs like the garage or a full room overhaul or even things like cleaning out the pantry or a linen cupboard – I would rather do 20 minutes each day for a week – say one shelf or one small area a day – rather than pull everything out, all over the place in one go and then having the unwieldy task of putting it all back together. I’ve been there and done that and it can be a nightmare.
For me small steps taken often get you so much further and with less collateral damage then huge dramatic leaps and bounds that are, in my book equivalent to lobbing in a hand grenade.
Creative/decorating projects can get the same treatment. Lets take for example, the gallery wall you’ve been meaning to get to for a couple of years. 20 minutes a day, one or two pictures hung each time and within a week or two you have the wall of memories and inspiration you have been wanting.
The garden is another great example of how you can chip away at a big job in small doses. As much as I love gardening it has a way of totally getting away on me if I leave it alone for any amount of time, which I pretty much did over the summer. It’s not something I ever seem to have a whole day to devote to on a regular basis. What I do have though is 20 minutes here and there and I’m always surprised at what can get done in that time. Heres how it went.
This is some of my garden a couple of weeks ago.
Shocker I know – so I decided to start in the far back corner of the garden which I “romantically” call my secret garden. (Not so much at the moment but it has potential). It’s where I have a small fire pit, a hotch potch of seats, and a large potted ficus tree. I’ve used a large square of rebar (concrete reinforcing steel mesh) vertically in front of the back fence and planted a white blossoming potato vine to climb over it. It climbs wildly during the summer covering the fence and anything else nearby. It can be a pretty and cosy area when its looked after but as I said – it’s got away on me a bit.
So over the course of 5 days I spent 20 minutes each day on it – just one x 20 minutes per day because pulling out weeds is exhausting. I’ll warn you none of the photos are any too glamourous. They don’t show a finished beautiful product – they just show small progresses being achieved with 20 minutes a day focused attention.
Day 4 .
So altogether it only took an hour and forty minutes to bring my “secret garden” back from the brink. I still have the rest of the garden to contend with but now as the cooler weather comes we have this area to relax in and enjoy.
So thats my twenty minute a day theory on everything. Not deep, not complicated but it works. So why not give it a go, just set your timer and see what good things you get done. Would love to hear.
Thanks so much for reading. For a little weekly inspiration you can check out my latest Women Connect post here.