At around 8:10 a.m. this morning, I picked up the kettle bell I keep in my office. I did a series of exercises, and then held a plank pose for about 60 seconds. I was done with all this by 8:25 a.m., at which point I hollered for my two middle children to start getting their shoes on so we could go to the bus stop.
I did this same routine several days last week as well. I have said many times in the past that I wanted to do more strength training, but I haven’t. This nascent habit, however, seems like it might have the potential to stick.
Why? I think the answer suggests some insights that might be helpful for other people trying to use time well and make progress on their long term goals.
The first insight: Sometimes, structurally, we wind up with small chunks of time in our schedules that are hard to use well. Around 8:10 a.m. most weekday mornings that I am home, I have just returned from the middle school carpool run or I am finishing making sure that the other kids have eaten breakfast. With the shoes-coats-backpacks elementary school bus fun starting at 8:25 a.m., this leaves 15 minutes to do…something. It’s too short to do the deep work projects I tend to start at 8:35 a.m., but it’s not nothing either. I have usually just answered emails, but this is an unsatisfying solution, as there are plenty of other spots in my schedule for inbox cleaning.
This chunk of time has been my particular bugaboo, but I’m guessing many schedules have something similar. It could be 30 minutes during a sports practice, or between two recurring meetings. These aren’t the random chunks of time (“time confetti”) that pop up while waiting for a phone call to start, or while waiting for the bus. These are regularly occurring chunks that can be planned for, even if they aren’t easy to use.
Another insight: small things done repeatedly add up over time. Dripping water hollows the stone, as the saying goes. Writing 250 words a day will produce a book in less than a year (my word count to this point on this post is already about 350 words!) Fifteen minutes of vocal exercises or 15 minutes of deliberate instrument practice will move the needle on performance. You won’t be fluent in a new language by studying it 15 minutes a day, but you’ll be a lot closer! You could definitely reach out to one new person a day in 15 minutes and build a thriving network. Or you could use that time to renew an old tie and bring quite a bit of happiness into your life.
The final insight: Habits are often more about cues than time. To do something that isn’t automatic, it helps to have a specific time or prompt. It also helps to make it easy.
This is why I think my new strength training habit might stick. I have given it a very specific home in my schedule when I wasn’t doing much else of note. It’s not every day, but it’s going to be enough days to matter. Keeping the kettle bell (and resistance bands) in my office helps remind me to do it. I don’t have to do much — I can’t, if I’m dealing with the bus stuff — but I have enough time to do something.
It might be worth thinking about. What repeated small chunk of time to do you have in your schedule? What long term goal of yours could be achieved through small, frequent steps? What would it take to use your recurring chunk of time for these steps? I’d love to hear what you come up with!
In other news: Juliet’s School of Possibilities, my time management fable, launches in less than two weeks! You can pre-order and get your pre-order perks (including Laura’s Little Book of Life Hacks) through the links on this page.