Posted in What I'm Learning, Work & Life

Five Minutes

What do you do when you have five unoccupied minutes?

You know, those time slots when you’re waiting for noodles to cook or for a child to finish something so you can progress onward together. When you need to leave soon, but if you leave right this minute you’ll be earlier than you want to be. So, you are trying to just kill time.

I have five minute slots throughout my day. The work timer I use (Tomighty’s Pomodoro) has three sets of times: a 25-minute work slot, a 5-minute break, and a 15-minute break. When I first started using the timer, I interpreted “break” to mean completely fluff. Walk away and do something – I don’t know – brainless. Just pass five (or fifteen) minutes not doing work.

I don’t like brainless, and my breaks were annoying instead of restful. That led to a habit of ignoring the timer and just continuing with what I was doing right through the break, then diving into a new 25-minute work session. Kind of defeats the point.

So, I’m trying something new.

I definitely need the time constraints. I’ve shared before how I work better when I know I need to stick to __________ for 25 minutes. So, what about doing the same for the 5 and 15 minute slots?

I’ve already shared how one 15-minute slot per day is going to reading. I’ve also directed both 5- and 15-minutes slots to completing a section in DuoLingo or reading about one part of speech in the German grammar book we’re using to fill in the gaps left by the immersion style training of Rosetta Stone. I run up and down the stairs to the garage a few times in a 5-minute slot or do a quick workout session with the kids in 15 minutes. I prep one part of lunch, take a bathroom break, chase one of the kids around, or give a hug. All of these things are little ways I am learning to make my “breaks” both restful and productive. Even when I do something productive, my break feels so much more restful when I don’t want the break on a mindless roam through Facebook (which is why I’m pulling back from Facebook this year!) or just keep working because I don’t want to be mindless.

Amid all of the things I’m trying as I work to grow more productive, I’m still struggling with writing time. How can I get a rhythm and flow to writing that fits even as life fills up again? I’ve always felt like I needed a large block of time to really “get into” my writing. Half an hour. An hour. Even more. That just feels impossible. And, in all honesty, it is impossible in my current phase of life. I’m not a night owl who can write into the night after everyone is in bed, surviving on just a few hours of sleep. I don’t function that way. Yet my days are full. What’s the answer?

A month or two ago, I realized just how much I could get written in a 25-minute work slot if I put my mind to it. But, just recently the question occurred to me: what about 15 minutes? What can I do in that amount of time? Maybe I can’t get a truly coherent post or chapter section written, but I can brainstorm. I can furiously type up a general idea that I can go back and refine later. Or, I can spend fifteen minutes editing something I have already written. I can play with design.

If that’s what I can do in 15 minutes, what can I do in 5 minutes? Could I create a skeleton of what’s in my head, just typing whatever outline comes to my mind before the timer goes “ding”? Can I create a graphic? Get an edited post scheduled? Create chapter organization in Scrivener? Come up with titles?

I’ve become increasingly amazed by how many 5 minute segments I tend to waste during the day. And, I’ve been even more amazed by how much I can accomplish in those brief segments. I have succeeded in changing that on many levels, but now I think it just might be part of the writing solution. So, that’s what I’m trying: answering the question, “What can I write in five minutes?”

So, what about you? What can you do in 5 minutes?

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What Works for Me

Listening & Obeying

Last week, I introduced the idea of being intentional about my time blocks. But, I’m somewhat saddened by the fact that it took me a while to figure out that the time blocks are not the key component. Time blocks are a great tool, but they do not automatically solve the problem of what to spend my time doing. That is where my relationship with the Lord comes into play. Shocking, I know.

Tools for Listening

God knows what He wants to do through me each day. In my floundering, I neglect – and sometimes refuse – to be a fully surrendered vessel to Him. I believe He uses me anyway, because that is a large component of who He is. He can and does work through those whose hearts are completely hostile to Him (the Bible is replete with examples), so I know He can use me even when I’m not focused. But, oh how much better it is to actively let Him guide each day!

The abstract concept of obedience becomes this in real life practicality: seek and accept God’s guidance for every time block. If I prayerfully ask Him to point me to the task for each time block, He can use it as He wishes.

Restricting God?

Some will say this restricts Him to the clock. The opposite is actually true, at least in my situation. The timer reminds me to stop and seek Him frequently instead of plunging through my day with a meager prayer for guidance in the morning but no real listening to that guidance throughout the day. If I finish a task seven minutes into my time block, I must seek Him for the best way to finish the block. Or, it might be that the 25 minute timer ends, only for Him to say that I need to continue what I’m doing. Or walk away for a few minutes only to come back and continue. Or even to pursue something that takes me away from the time blocks altogether!

The point is not to confine Him, but instead to focus me. I’m not always diligent to use my time blocks, and even when I am, I am not always diligent to seek His plan for each block – or His guidance away from them. But, I cannot begin to express the sense of peace and productivity I feel at the end of a day when I am obedient and diligent to do both!

Room for Growth

In all of this, I realize something that makes my heart ache. I have been a Christian for over three decades, yet I am still so very weak in the discipline of listening to the Holy Spirit’s guidance for every single act of my day. Perhaps that’s why I need the time blocks. Maybe a year from now my story will be very different. But for now, this is where I am. I am determined to be intentional. Not every now and then. Not only when the stress builds and the incomplete list is phenomenally overwhelming. But daily. When the productivity flows on its own and when it falters. When I’m in a good mood and in a bad. When I feel well and energized and when I am barely functioning. Intentional surrender.

I love what this has looked like so far, and I am excited to see where God takes me in the coming year!

What About You?

Finally, I’d love to hear from you. How does the Lord help you intentionally work in obedience through each day?

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What Works for Me

Intentionality

Earlier this year, I wrote about utilizing time blocks to help with my productivity. As I have progressed through the year, I have waffled in the discipline of utilizing those time blocks. But I have also learned something about myself and my productivity from the times I have been diligent to use the time blocks well.

Still Can’t Do It All

When I first determined to set timers, it was so I could progress through my to-do list better. I wanted to get everything done. I wanted to be able to answer the “How do you do it all?” question with, “Well, I use these nifty little time blocks, and…” Instead, I am still stuck with my old answer: I don’t do it all. Some things just get left undone.
My first inclination is to believe that I have failed because I still do not get it all done. I am a completer. A finisher. Incomplete projects leave me frustrated, and sometimes I want to put everything else aside so I can just finish one thing.

Unfortunately, life is a never-ending flow of the incomplete. I will never be done this side of heaven. Accepting that reality has been half of my battle. I have had to become okay with the fact that few things in my life can be completed. The to-do list will never be cleared.

That thought is enough to make me want to throw up my hands, give up the time blocks idea as just another failed attempt at making progress, and decide that I’m just going to be under stress for the rest of my life. But, honestly, that sounds awful. In fact, it sounds downright disobedient to the Savior or commanded me to “be anxious for nothing” (Phil 4:6, NASB).

So, what is the alternative?

I’m learning that intentionality is the real solution, and the time blocks are my best tool to get there.

You see, without time blocks, I flounder all day, putting too much time into this task and too little into another. Wasting a great deal of time staring off into space. Getting distracted. And, ultimately, letting the clock boss me around.

With time blocks, though, I have a focus. Before I start my 25-minute productivity timer, I evaluate what needs to be focused on in that time block. Not what needs to be completed. Just where I need to put my focus. (Just as an example, I might not complete this post in my 25-minute slot, but I’m not doing anything else until I’m either done or my timer dings!)

There is a spiritual side to this too, but that would take another 500+ words to walk through! So, come back next week and we’ll explore part two!