Fifteen Minutes of ...


One day when i was in fourth grade, my parents sat me down at the dining room table. Their faces were very concerned and it all seemed very serious; I thought I was in trouble. Not really, they just wanted to have a talk, about a subject that to 9-year-old me was a bit nebulous. They told me i was bazigoosh, a word that translates directly to game-ear in Persian, but basically means I'm a slacker, easily distracted, a procrastinator, too fun-loving for my own good. To counter this this horrible plight, the loving parents suggested I spend less time with Traci and Ashleigh, with their freewheeling divorcee moms and Guess! jeans, and hang out more with Alicia Ngo, all striped cotton dresses and straight A's.

As we all can predict, this did not work. I mean, Alicia did have every single My Little Pony (not to mention the stable and the hair salon!), but Traci had pool parties with boys and Ashleigh wore her Keds with no shoelaces! How could I possibly resist? Time passed, and while Alicia probably is running for office, i have a copy of Do It Now! on my bookshelf that I, sigh, still plan to read someday.

It's a fight to get through the distractions that taunt and tease at every turn. Obviously, being a bazigoosh is my past and present, and probably my future. But I have a secret weapon that narrows the gap between me and the Alicia Ngos of the world: the timer. The simple kitchen timer can be the difference between a day of productivity and one of slacking. It goes two ways: set a timer to limit your time on diversions, or set one to guarantee you'll do at least a solid chunk of whatever it is you're putting off. Any old timer will do, including the one built in your microwave or oven, but for those of you on Macs, you can download an egg timer widget for your dashboard.

I learned this trick from a great site called FlyLady, where the eponymous webmaster gives tips, support, and really an entire system for taking control of your life and moving forward (granted, it's geared predominantly toward stay-at-home-moms, but amidst the acronyms and cutesy prose there is a lot of wisdom here for anyone). Just like your mom cut your peanut butter sandwich into perfect squares for you, FlyLady breaks down personal progress into bite-size chunks. So, one of her mantras is, "You can do anything for fifteen minutes." It's really quite a revelation. Go set a timer for fifteen minutes, then do nothing but, say, clean one room in your house for that time. And when the timer goes off, stop cleaning. You will be amazed at how much you accomplish.

If you're up for another fifteen at that point, restart the timer and go to it. But if you need a break, say to mindlessly surf the web for a bit, restart the timer and go to it! Figure out ahead of time how much time you'll need to recharge yourself, and set the timer. When it goes off, get up.

It's simple, but shockingly effective. It's easy to fit an extra fifteen minutes into your routine, and once you've got that into place, even the most easily distracted can tackle big projects. Giving you plenty of time to play Barbies all afternoon with Traci, Ashleigh, and a clear conscience.

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Andrea Karim's picture

I officially nominate bazigoosh as the coolest word that has ever been uttered on Wise Bread.

Tannaz Sassooni's picture

well.. no -- i have a digital timer.  but the ticking does put a jeopardy-theme-like
fire under you, so it could be good (for the productive times, not for the relaxy times).  even if it makes you a little jumpy, i stand by it -- it's worth it.  i'm telling you, the timer method is pretty amazing.

Will Chen's picture

I also get a lot of use out of this free timer (suitable for Windows XP).  I have tried using it to become more productive.  15 minutes might be a bit long for someone as easily distracted as I am.  So I've started low (10 minutes) and it's been working out pretty well.  I also use it to take naps at work.  =)

Guest's picture


You all are getting way to fancy. The timer I use is a $4.99 jobby at Walmart, it counts up and down. Has a 10 and a 5 minute warning. This is an awesome way to work when you are on a strict time budget! And it has nothing to do with a computer, so I can easily carry it around and use it in other places.


Will Chen's picture

Sold!  You're right, it is much better to have something you can carry around.   I'll give it a try, thanks Dave! 

Guest's picture

I love this tip.  I have a variant - I have found that setting the alarm on my mobile to go off 5 minutes before I have to leave the house / office/ wherever allows me to get on with whatever I might have to do in the meantime without worrying about messing up my day by being late.  I have got all sorts of thigs done in those bits of time that would otherwise have been lost - vacuuming, washing up and mindlessly surfing the web for example...

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