Spare 15

What do you do with a spare fifteen minutes?

Quite frequently, I’ll…

  • Continue a Whatsapp conversation
  • Skim the news
  • See who’s been coming to DriverlessCroc
  • Catch the next few minutes of whatever podcast or talk on youtube I’m listening to
  • Read someone else’s blog

More rarely, I’ll…

  • Think about a half-formed thought for a blog post
  • Make a foray onto Twitter, Facebook or Instagram
  • Spare a few thoughts for an email or problem I’m working on in my project (aka “work”)

Rarest of all, I’ll…

  • Think of the next thing I need to do at home
  • Plan a fun thing for my kids
  • Put my mind to the next family holiday

But those last three – and things like them – are keepy uppies for the most important things in my life, and the things that will bring me the most satisfaction.

Time to institute a new habit for those spare fifteens.*

* fifteen minutes here, fifteen minutes there, over a week, a month – sooner or later it adds up to real time.

The time and the energy

As in, “I don’t know where you get them.”

I can’t make more time*, and you almost certainly know more than I do about managing your energy. But here are a couple of thoughts about doing stuff – and having fun – that relate to both.

Diminishing costs

You can (and should) ‘create’ time and energy by saving them through eliminating things from your life.

But you can also save time and energy by doing more, or at least by doing the things you already do more often, because doing them often makes them easier. For lots of things this is simply because you get better at them, so they cost you less time, and often less energy. For other things, the habit of doing them reduces the emotional energy needed to get going, or even to decide to get going.

Some examples:

  • If you exercise regularly, it gets easier
  • If you travel all the time, packing bags and getting to the airport becomes automatic
  • If you blog every day, a blog post can take ten minutes to write instead of two hours.
  • If you make films regularly – if, say, it’s your job – you’re probably an order of magnitude faster than an amateur
  • Giving feedback – and having difficult conversations with people about their work – becomes much easier if you do it relatively frequently
  • Cooking is easier if you do it a lot – you think and look for stuff less and spend more time actually cooking

This is partly about having things set up (you know where your tools are and they’re ready to use when you want them), partly about skill and experience (you’re better at the things you do often, so you’re faster), and partly about decisions (you’ve decided more things in advance and can get straight into the work, rather than sitting around and wondering about what font to use or shoes to wear).

Increasing Returns

For many things things, doing them more also increases their value:

  • Sport and exercise is way more fun when you’re fit. All types of exercise – not just the one you do – become more fun. And as you get fitter you discover more energy and fun in the rest of the day.
  • The more you write about something, the more you have to say about it – the quality of your thinking and ability to express it increases too
  • Cooking is more pleasurable when you’re good at it… people compliment you on your cooking, so you enjoy it more, so you do it more…
  • Reading is more interesting, richer, funnier, more useful the more you’ve read
  • The more you contribute to an area of work (or play), the more rewarding your conversations and relationships become, and the more new people, ideas and opportunities come your way

Some of these are just side-effects of things getting easier, but many things benefit from positive feedback loops and network effects: doing things and making stuff leads you to new ideas, techniques and people, and new things become possible… leading to more new possibilities.

Outcome

If doing something becomes easier, relatively cheaper, faster and more convenient to do at the same time that it becomes more enjoyable and more productive, you’re a lot more likely to feel like doing it… so you’ll find ways to do it, and you’ll do it even when tiredness might have stopped you in the past. And then you’ve got momentum, so you’re less likely to stop… so you’re more likely to enjoy the rewards and do it more.

Voila: time and energy.

*Send me a private message if you do

The Daily

If you haven’t, go and read Seth Godin’s posts here and here.

It sounds hard, but daily turns out to be easier than weekly or fortnightly. If you do it daily, you don’t miss.

Daily writing. Daily exercise. Daily prayer or meditation. Daily time with the right people.

Daily accumulates by a magnitude. Low bars and high cycle-speeds will see you on your way far more effectively than the fits and starts of enthusiasm, and one day you’ll find yourself, if not at the top of a mountain, then at least on a small hill with a breeze and a half-decent view.

The level of your systems

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

James Clear – Atomic Habits

If you want things to be easier tomorrow, it really helps to have strong systems in place. Most of the important things that you do go a lot better if you have a system for making sure that they happen:

  • a regular commitment to eat something delicious with family or friends
  • a standing order for the amount you’ve decided to invest every month… and save for maintenance of your house/car/wardrobe… and pay for life insurance (see Barefoot)
  • something that will make sure you exercise
  • a habit that will help you to learn
  • something fun that you’ll get a kick out of doing

You get the idea. Even creative work (perhaps especially creative work) benefits when you make regular time and space for it. What happens in the space might be different every time, but if there’s no space, nothing will happen.

Even if you really can’t stand to make a system for creativity, having systems for other things in your life will make spontaneity possible far more often.

Atomic Habits is a good place to start – check out his interview with James Clear on the Read to Lead Podcast.

You snooze you lose

… is a fact of life.

  • It means if you’re not alert, you’ll miss out.
  • It doesn’t mean that it’s okay to snatch something out of someone’s hand just because they’re not looking, or that we shouldn’t set something aside for someone who’s running late.
  • It means that if you’re not in the game, you can’t score.
  • It doesn’t mean that we all have to play the same game, or keep score in the same way (or at all), or that other people’s score should be important to you.

You snooze, you lose…

Except, of course, when a nap’s just what you need.

Old year’s resolutions

  • What can you tick off already? Good work on those.
  • What do you need to quit – stop doing, stop trying to do, draw a line under, declare an amnesty for yourself, admit that it won’t get done, and let die with the old year?
  • Perhaps most crucially, what are the little things – acts of kindness that you’ve been thinking it might be nice to do, short emails to friends, decisions, bookings, commitments – that you can do, and get into the habit of doing, starting from right now? Today, the day before you make new year’s resolutions, everything you do is a bonus, a gift of the momentum that a frontlog brings that will make tomorrow better or easier for your future self – the self who’s arriving tomorrow.

The last ten minutes…

…before you leave the house is not the time to start moving faster.

Strange things happen to time in the last ten, and the minutes go twice as fast.

Thrash early.

Start acting with last minute urgency with twenty minutes** to go and you’ll glide out of the door gracefully, and right on time.***

*See also: Thrash Now– and this

** Double this if you’ve got kids

***I’m leaving the house in 19 minutes****

**** It’s inadvisable to include having a shower in your list of ‘last ten’ activities

The end in mind

This post was lost in the Crocapocalypse – I’m reposting it with its original date.

Steven R. Covey’s first habit of highly effective people is to begin with the end in mind.

Where do you want to go?

What do you want to build?

It’s another way of asking: what’s your vision?

We can’t escape surprises, the contingent, serendipity, and we shouldn’t want to.

But thinking about ends is important.

As Covey says, it doesn’t matter how fast or well you climb the ladder if it’s leaning against the wrong wall.

If you’re not building something, you’ll probably end up with nothing.

Seeds

Try thinking about your words and actions as seeds. 

One way to do this is to start at the end. Ask yourself “What kind of plant do I want to grow?” And try to plant the right seed in the right soil for it to flourish.

The other way round is to think about means: “If I do this, what is it the seed of? What kind of plant will grow from it, and where?”

This applies to almost everything – relationships, health, habits of thought, what we read, how we spend our time, who we spend it with, what we pursue, places we go, the motivations we allow ourselves to follow.

What seeds do you plant most often?

What could you plant more of?

What might you need to uproot?

Who are you planting for?

What’s left behind when you’re gone?

As we build our lives, organisations, communities – as we build a society – what plants will flourish best together, bringing life?

I love the parable of the man who plants a mustard seed, which “though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”*

You can’t see the future, but you have a pretty good idea of what sort of garden you want to live in, and a pretty good idea of what seeds you’ll need to plant. Sow those.

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*No, I don’t think that mustard is the smallest seed or the largest plant either.