You just can’t seem to begin.
The house is a mess. You have a pile of paperwork to go through. You want to start a new exercise regime. You don’t feel like writing today. You have a pile of niggling jobs that need finishing: a button to sew back on, some emails to answer, the laundry to sort, some information you need to get, paperwork to deal with.
This isn’t a long, profound post. It’s just a simple tip that I use when I’m distracted and finding it hard to focus or get going. It’s so simple, in fact, that it’s almost insulting. But it works.
Set a timer for 15 minutes, and just do it.
It’s amazing how much you can tidy away, how much cleaner a room can look, after just 15 minutes. (Especially if you play some music while you’re doing it.)
That insurmountable pile of papers/photos/clutter that you need to sort? It can vanish in a week or so, if you tackle it for just 15 minutes, without fail, every day.
Exercise is never fun, at first. But even on a busy day, you can find time to walk or run for just 15 minutes. Or find a short workout online.
You can pick up some weights, cycle, do some stretches. Do it regularly, and pretty soon, you’ll start to look forward to it. Or at least be able to see how much better you feel, afterwards.
This is just as true with creative work.
If you want to write regularly, just set your timer for 15 minutes, and do it. Even if it’s nonsense. Even if you write, “I don’t know what to write” again and again. Maybe the ideas will start flowing. Maybe they won’t. But tomorrow, it will be a little easier to go back to the page and try again.
This applies to any field. Make a quick sketch. Play a riff – any riff – and see if you can build it into a song. Set your timer and scribble down as many ideas as you can in your 15 minutes. Make something, badly. Sooner or later, you’ll get back into flow and you’ll make it well.
There will always be more niggling jobs.
Buttons get loose, your email in-box fills, one laundry-load is quickly followed by the next. But you can free up an absurd amount of bandwidth just by setting a timer and getting them done.
At the end of the 15 minutes, it’s up to you if you want to stop, or carry on. The important thing is to show up regularly, and do these sprints as often as you need to.
It’s only 15 minutes.
But over a year, a decade, a life.. it can make a world of difference.