Coffee in My Garden – The Power of 5 Minutes

Garden Beastie in the morning gray

Garden Beastie in the morning gray

It was threatening rain this morning. Beanie the parrot and I were outside. I had just finished cleaning her cage, fed the squirrels and birds, finished my daily reading and morning pages. I was starting on my second cup of coffee and my usual Friday morning post when the rain launched its aerial assault.

So instead of writing, this morning was spent running errands in the rain with my Marine. We enjoyed being out together and catching up on the past three years (he did get home a couple of times but they were always whirlwind visits split among our large family and his many friends, not to mention severe jet lag from traveling halfway around the world – we only had time to hit the highlights before he had to fly back.) We are enjoying not having to rush. Every other sentence these days starts with “Did I ever tell you about…?” and we take our time telling our stories.

I got a good start at laundry and straightening up the house (to be followed up tomorrow with rooms I didn’t get to today), cooked my famous chicken veggie rice soup, spent some much-needed time with my flute, piano, and violin and now the rain has stopped (hurrah!) so the parrot, two of our cats, the littlest chihuahua, and I are enjoying what’s left of the day in what’s left of the sun. We Floridians are solar powered. We don’t do rainy days very well.

I’ve been asked several times during the past few weeks “How do you get so much done?”

Here’s my secret: I only spend five minutes on each project.

I have many interests, many responsibilities, and a lot to pack in during any given twenty-four hour period. I am a marathoner by nature – if I had my way, when I open a book in my rare hammock time, I’d like nothing more than to read straight through until it’s finished. When I write, I’m the same way. But I don’t have that kind of time. (I’m hoping for it when I retire, but that’s a long way from where I am now.)

For a long time I was frustrated. If I was writing, there was no time to sing, to play my instruments, no time to draw. When I do a show, that pretty much takes up all the outside of work time I have. I’m at rehearsal or I’m running lines or I’m studying the script, researching the show, the playwright, who played my role, how they played it, what I can learn from them, what I can do differently.

I had to come up with some way of balancing it all. So I began to get creative.

I used to be self-conscious about singing in the car. When we lived at the beach and I spent most of my time driving down deserted beach highways, I sang all the time. Now we live in the city, my driving is done on crowded streets and an interstate highway during rush hour and if you sing, people look at you funny. So I stopped. Then I realized I was wasting thirty minutes of valuable vocal exercise and repertoire time (an hour if it’s a day that I pick up my daughter and take her home). These days I keep my vocal warmup CDs (thank you Roger Love and Carl Olsen) in the car, do vocalises on the way in to work, work on my karaoke repertoire or study whoever I’ve chosen as my Singer of the Week (this week it’s Linda Ronstadt) on the way home. I no longer glance around to see who’s watching. Occasionally I forget. The other day at a stoplight I realized I was next to a carload of snarky teenagers and they were vastly entertained. I was embarrassed, but not enough to give up my rehearsal time. It’s all I have and I can’t afford to waste it.

I also tend to overschedule. I tried alternating activities by week, but all that did was annoy me. When the children were small and I was working as the Air Force Chapel Choir director and teaching music during the day, I developed the habit of cleaning in five minute increments, going from room by room in between trying to keep up with two toddlers and thirty music students. I had to train my marathon self to use short bursts of focused activity. It wasn’t easy, but it paid off.

These days, I can take care of the house in more concentrated periods of time, but the things I love to do were getting lost in the daily grind. I needed balance in my life. So I resurrected the Five Minute Rule.

I’m an early riser (a habit I developed for preservation of my sanity when I first became a mother.) My mother was an early riser (her habit came from being raised on a farm and having to cook for the family and farmhands every morning).

Me: Mom, why do you always get up so early?
Mom: It’s the only time I can get peace and quiet.

I found I needed the peace and quiet too. If I took just a few minutes to read, write, pray, and think about where I was going and what I needed to do that day (and ask for the strength to do it all), I could withstand pretty much whatever the day threw at me. If I didn’t, it was chaos. Over the years those few minutes have expanded to an hour or so in the morning before I leave for work.

I find it difficult (and boring) to only read one book at a time. I usually have four or more in progress. For quite a while now I’ve been reading a Bible chapter a day first thing when I get up in the morning (I’m up to Lamentations – we think we have problems – try reading what they were dealing with!). Now that I’m getting back into writing again, I spend five minutes with one of my writing books (right now it’s How I Got Published). The next five minutes I spend studying success principles (currently it’s Wayne Dyer’s Excuses Begone!). Then I spend five minutes with something funny (normally it’s Erma Bombeck, but I’ve read through all of my Erma books so right now it’s Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris). Another five minutes in whatever my current interest is (history, politics, astronomy, archaeology, poetry, art, are some favorites). Weekends are “read what you want for as long as you want” days. I grab something from my “read me” stack and if I’m lucky, I may even finish it by Sunday night. Sundays are church and chill on the couch with Hubby days. Sometimes we have a family outing.

For my writing I spend five minutes a day on my current project (a screenplay) but I also have a one-page minimum. Some days I get lucky and the timer goes off just as I finish the page. Sometimes it’s a struggle after the timer goes off, but I finish the page. I can always fix it later. For my regular blog posts (Coffee in My Garden, Weekly Photo Challenges, Sunday Morning Sing Along) I indulge myself and take as long as I want.

For my music, I do five minutes of piano technique, five minutes of repertoire. I do the same for flute and violin. I miss the days when music was my job and I had hours to spend on it every day, but it’s amazing what can be done in just five minutes. At the very least it keeps the rust off. The trick is to be consistent. Sometimes I run out of time or energy during the week, so I build in catch-up time on weekends. I like a weekly planner so I always know exactly where I am on each project at any given time. For the past few months I’ve started leaving my weekends free. This can be dangerous. I didn’t participate in the 48 Hour Film Festival this year because I’ve become accustomed to wide-open, stress-free weekends and I didn’t want to give that up.

This week I renewed my commitment to draw for five minutes a day. I was doing that earlier this year, then stopped because frankly, my pictures are pretty horrible right now. That’s because I quit drawing years ago and until lately hadn’t been giving art any time or attention. No wonder I’m not good at it! So my rule now is just to doodle for five minutes. No pressure. No comparing myself with artists who actually know what they’re doing. No fretting or fuming because my pictures are not worthy of being hung in the Louvre today (tomorrow, who knows?) My Five Minute Rule for my art is Just Have Fun. In color, in pen, in pencil, in black and white – the only thing that matters is that I put in the time and have a picture of something (squiggles, abstract, paint spatter, lopsided picture of a cat) at the end to show for it.

If you find yourself feeling frustrated or out of balance, try using the Five Minute Rule in your life. If there’s something on your list that you just haven’t been getting to but your soul or heart needs for your well-being, harness the power of five minutes. If there’s something daunting you need to do but have been putting off, the Five Minute Rule works for that, too. Sometimes all you need is a jump start to get you going. Even if five minutes is all the time you have, five minutes beats zero minutes.

So pick a project, set your timer, and go!