One of the biggest problems I’ve run into since I decided to have more control over my own life is getting overwhelmed by everything it takes to live that way. Often it seems that it’s much easier just to go with the flow like I used to.
Once you start taking control, your responsibility for yourself grows amazingly fast. And sometimes, the goals seem more than you can do: get out of debt… get healthy… make your life stable regardless of the weather or illness, and so on.
It doesn’t even have to be the big things that feel that way. When life is coming at you fast–maybe you’re dealing with job loss, illness, or other wrenches in your works– little things can be overwhelming too. Cleaning the bedroom, doing finances, or making a meal that doesn’t come from a cereal box can be challenging to even start, never mind creating & executing a plan to pay off your mortgage, or trying to get from “couch” to “hike a mountain”, or figuring out how to raise well adjusted children. If cleaning off your dresser looks too big sometimes, imagine what taking control of your life might feel like.
Now, although I’m sure there are people who don’t have this problem, I doubt I’m in the minority on this. So, let me share with you a simple thing that has made all the difference:
The Five Minute Strategy.
There’s a lady named Marla Cilley, who goes by the Internet name “FlyLady”. (I think this is a fishing reference. Or maybe she’s really hot. I forget.) Her site’s focus is on housekeeping, and she’s a fairly big deal in the ‘home executive’ world. She even has her own Wikipedia page.
Let me quote from that ‘pedia entry something that my wife and I learned several years ago: “Cilley recommends using a timer to work for only 15 minutes at a time. The short time commitment helps stop procrastination, and reduces opportunities to get sidetracked or bored.” In other words, if your house is a mess, and you set a timer for 15 minutes and commit just to work until it goes off, it’s amazing how much you accomplish.
We have used that a lot. And, to be honest, there were times in our lives when 15 minutes seemed to be too much. Life was difficult, we had no energy, and we were in many ways treading water. Even 15 minutes seemed overwhelming.
And lo, the Five Minute Strategy was adopted.
What we’ve discovered is that no matter how gargantuan some task may seem, you can get started and accomplish some small part of it in five minutes. You can even go down to one minute if really needed and increase it later, but five is normally manageable.
While five minutes may seem pointless compared to the overall task, you’ve given yourself permission to start, and stop. In your mind, there’s some conversation like this:
“After all, it’s only for five minutes–how hard could that be? Then I’m allowed to stop. That’s not so bad, I can handle that.”
Starting the task goes from overwhelming to doable in less time than it takes to make a sandwich. It’s incredible how something so limited can make such a huge difference in your mind. And where your mind goes, your ability follows.
The Five Minute Strategy takes me from feeling paralyzed and exhausted, to energized and ready to tackle more.
Here’s how it works. First, identify some small part of a NASA-complexity project that you want to accomplish. Lets say, this:
Next, set a timer for five minutes. If needed, remind yourself: “I can do almost anything for five minutes.”
Then, start the timer. Work on it for five minutes. When the timer goes off, stop. Seriously: STOP. Even if you’re in the middle of washing a dish or something – put it down, dry your hands, and walk away.
The strategy can all fall apart if you don’t stop when the timer goes off. Why? The whole point is to make a small discrete chunk out of something huge. If the ending time is fuzzy, then the chunk melts back into the whole, and you’ve lost the advantage.
Once you get good at five minutes, you can move it up to ten, and then 15. You can also do multiple sets of 5s/10s/15s with breaks in between. You’ll be amazed at how much you get done doing four sets of 15 minutes some evening, with five minute breaks in between.
And that’s really what it’s all about. Start small, actually get started, make some progress, and build up some feeling of success to apply to the next time. Rinse and repeat.
Which brings us to the next part of the ‘Dealing With Overwhelm’ series: Five Minute Consistency. I will work on getting it out this week. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!