Get your motor runnin', Day 6: Make 10 minutes make a difference

eggtimer If you're old enough, you've heard the joke already, and if you're not (or you just haven't), it's high time:

Man in NYC #1: Excuse me--how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Man in NYC #2: Practice. You %$#@*!

Note to young people: in the joke as it was told to me, the second guy--clearly a native New Yorker--did not curse. As a former New Yorker, I can assure you the cursing version is more accurate; New York moves fast, brother, and has no time for fake politeness*.

At any rate of speed, New Yorkers are a great lot for getting things done, because they have to be ingenious about it, the non-wealthy ones, anyway. Time and space are at a premium, so you both learn to make the most of what you've got and to appreciate the hell out of it. Many of the good habits I've learned, writing fast, cleaning up as I cook, how to eat while walking, when necessary, I picked up during my three years living in New York as a rich-in-opportunity, poor-in-money intern at Ye Olde Madison Avenue Sweatshop.

If email response is any indication, I recently wrote my most popular column ever for The Networker, the monthly newsletter that goes out to LA (and SF and NY) Casting members. The subject? 10 things you can do in 30 minutes each to improve your career. (Well, to market yourself, but that falls under the rubric of improvement, I'd say. I guess it's human nature to feel overwhelmed by the big, perhaps because when we compare ourselves to the infinite, we see how small we are.

So while I generally eschew all these "100 ways you can skin a cat" posts, I'm relenting this once, because it is, after all something new for me to try, which should help get my own motor running. And because we're all looking for ways to do more with less time, they're short, 10 minutes or less each. (And NOT ONE OF THEM is about taking a walk, doing jumping jacks or meditating. So there!)

Basically, these are ideas to break down huge, colossal projects like:

  • find new job
  • get a life
  • find a romantic partner
  • start a blog/learn what this #@%* social media thing is all about
  • etcetera

into manageable chunks. Most of them (surprise, surprise) will work to make you a better communicator, which is a skill that cuts across all kinds of desired goals. It's one of those fundamental, don't-skip steps that some of us step-skippers (cough-cough) try to skip anyway.

Here, then, are my...

30 Ways to Start Initiating Big Change in 10 Minutes (or Less)

  1. Park your ass in the chair, pull out your resume, rewrite the Objective or Summary so it's interesting. (Think movie synopsis, story for a SMART 8-year-old, catching up an old friend on what you've been doing, etc.)
  2. Re-record your voice mail message so that it is shorter, friendlier and more charming. (Smile while doing it; it really does help.)
  3. The Improve My Relationships Hack. Call a friend you haven't spoken to in a few weeks, but not someone you haven't spoken to in a few months. Tell them at the outset of the call that you can only talk for 10 minutes, but you want to spend it telling them how much you like them, and why. Or tell them you'd thought of calling them when you saw x the other day, but you forgot, and now you are. But do the 10 minutes thing up front. (You can schedule another time to talk later if you want.)
  4. The Be Here Now Hack. Set a timer, then go play with the dog for 10 minutes. You're setting the timer because chances are you will not want to stop after 10 minutes (I never do, unless I'm winded), and your dog certainly won't. Only your dog will be fine with this; they're great at living in the moment, are dogs.
  5. Go to your hard drive. Find your pictures folder. Create a subfolder called "Happy". Pull out as many photos from your main folder that make you smile as you can in 10 minutes. Put them in the folder named "Happy" and save that folder as your screensaver. You can do this in 10-minute chunks if you're slow or an overthinker, like me. (Cursed Virgo tendencies, they give, and they take away.) Again, set a timer. Big rabbit hole potential with this one.
  6. Pull out your favorite book, open at random and read one page.
  7. Pull out ANY piece of hard-copy reading material and read it one paragraph out loud. Now read it out loud as if you were telling someone a secret. Now read it out loud as if you were furious at someone.
  8. Put on a favorite song, one you know most of the words to. Sing out loud with it. Twice, once, just full out, to yourself, and once as though you're singing it to someone you love. (They don't have to be there. Or use the dog.)
  9. Take a piece of paper and draw yourself. Even if it sucks. Try repeating this every day.
  10. Write an email to someone you admire telling them why. You don't have to send it, although you certainly can. Later. Not these 10 minutes.
  11. Take three deep breaths. (Okay, this is CLOSE to meditating, I'll admit. But it takes way less time and is also very effective and awesome.)
  12. Ladies! Clean out your purses! (Mens! Clean out your man purse or wallet!)
  13. Go through a magazine you've been meaning to read, rip out the articles you actually think you might read, and throw the rest in the recycle bin. (Alternatively, go around your workspace or home collecting stray magazines and corral them in one place. Do the 10-minute scan later.)
  14. Clean out old files, paper or electronic, for 10 minutes. (Timer thing.)
  15. If you're a GTD-er, spend 10 minutes with your Someday-Maybe list. Pick one thing you want to still do and figure out how you could move toward that thing in 10 minutes. (Hint: think practice if it's something you want to get better at, or research if it's something you know nothing about.)
  16. Go leave a comment on someone else's blog. A good one, that adds something, not a "Great post!", dig-me kinda comment.
  17. If you haven't the night before, write out the list of things you need to do today with the time estimated for each. Check your real time against your estimated time and revise accordingly, moving forward. (I am so still working on this one.)
  18. Clean your computer monitor or your eyeglasses.
  19. Go pee. (Okay, this one won't make sense to some of you, but for others, you're going to be all "WOW. I feel SO much better!")
  20. Write out, by hand, your favorite quotation. (If you don't have one, and you should have many, I think, Google "quotations + happiness" for starters.) Do this every day for a month. I still have a journal of these I started way, way back in college. It's hilarious in some ways, but kind of inspiring in others; we really are what we spend our time thinking about and doing.
  21. Think of an object. Write a haiku about it.
  22. Think of a country. Write a limerick about it.
  23. Select a book you've been meaning to read but have been blowing off. Preferably of a helpful, edifying nature but not TOO smartypants. Preferably one you don't mind getting a little messed up. Put a bookmark in the front of it. Bring it to your bathroom. Leave it there, and remove any magazines on your way out (or ones that belong to you, if you're sharing.) From now until it's done or you've decided that it actually sucks and you're not going to read it and you're ready to pass it on to the used bookstore (or Goodwill, depending on how beat to sh*t it is), that's what you're reading in the bathroom.
  24. Repeat #22, only make sure this book is inspiring. Put it next to your bed. That's what you're reading before bed until it's done or you're done with it.
  25. Make a folder in your bookmarks toolbar called "daily." In it, put all your time-wasters: email, Facebook, Twitter; you know your poison. Pick a time once or twice per day. That's when you go to that folder, period.
  26. Make a list of your favorite books as a kid. (I hope to god you have something on this list. If not, feel free to use mine, Bread and Jam for Frances, or any of the Frances books.) The next time you are at the bookstore, buy one of these books. (Or if you're broke, the next time you're at the used bookstore or the library.) When you start beating yourself up, pull out the book and read for 10 minutes.
  27. If you don't already, get and install the StumbleUpon toolbar for your Firefox browser. NOT SO THAT YOU CAN SURF. You will use this to "thumbs up" great things you read. NOT CAT VIDEOS OR MEAN GOSSIP. (Well, okay, some cat videos.) And guess what: each thing you "thumbs up" or Stumble, I want you to write a brief review of why people should read this. If the little box doesn't pop up automatically, go into your toolbar and click on the speech bubble thingy. Do not be a lazy-ass surfer: add to the greater good; make yourself smarter in the process.
  28. If you have never heard of StumbleUpon, take 10 minutes and read this, or Google it.
  29. If you're still using Internet Explorer, take 10 minutes and read about what Firefox is. Then take another 10 sometime and install it. Seriously. You're going to be left behind if you don't.
  30. Leave a comment on this post. You don't have to take 10 minutes; in fact, I'd rather you just write. It can be some great tip; it can be something you've tried implementing before that sucks. It can be some fear about starting that you're releasing. Be imperfect. Share yourself. Use your words.

Ready? Go...

xxx c

*On the other hand, New Yorkers are some of the most genuinely kind people I've met, not to mention generous, tolerant and open-minded. City people get a bad rap, but I've found most of them to be pretty creamy in the middle, once you scratch the hard-candy shell.

Image by tanakawho via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.