Geetanjali Mukherjee

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ten Minutes a Day (and a Challenge)

This morning, after days of feeling guilty about not doing any exercise and basically feeling like cr*p, I decided to spend one minute doing some yoga. Now I am not a yoga expert, I have attended, over the course of a couple of years, maybe 15-20 classes. Depending on my current fitness level, I can do most beginner poses with ease, but pack too many of them into a one-hour session, and I will be looking desperately at the clock, willing it to move faster. 

I’m giving you this background to establish my credentials as not fit and not great at yoga, and in fact this morning, all I could remember was about 4 1/2 poses, that I executed clumsily. Even that minute or 90 seconds of yoga instantly eliminated my aches and pains and feeling of stiffness, and I felt loads better. And instead of feeling guilty about not doing anything, I started to look forward to the next time I would do yoga. 

Now I know that ten minutes a day isn’t going to make me the most fit person around, but it is a great start. And it is much easier to convince yourself to do ten minutes of something, even when you’re busy or tired or uninspired. 

I read recently in Tools of Titans (Tim Ferriss) about a meditation teacher who recommends that you take just one mindful breath a day. It’s the same concept. Anyone can take one breath. Its not that hard. 

So why am I writing about yoga and mindfulness instead of creativity? Because I think the same principle can be applied to being more creative. I know many people who say they would like to write a book, or do something creative that requires a large commitment of time. On hearing that I have written books, people invariably say, I would love to write a book, if only I had the time. It is true that I have been fortunate enough to have had large chunks of time that I could devote to writing. But that wasn’t the case for my initial books and it wasn’t the case for my most recent one. 

In fact, I finished my most recent book several months behind schedule and it got derailed several times. I raced to finish it while I was juggling a new job in a completely new industry, settling into a new (old) city and dealing with health issues. The way I finally finished it - a few minutes of writing a day. 

I often had only 10-15 minutes of time after my long commute home, and many days I would tell myself - “I’m too tired”, or “I will get to it tomorrow”. I thought I wasn’t inspired, or that I needed to not be falling asleep with exhaustion in order to write. And the days went by, the end of the year got closer, and I was no nearer to finishing. 

I was starting to panic, because I had imposed a deadline of publishing the book within 2017. It had already been delayed enough, and I didn’t want to delay it any further.

So I started working on it for 10 minutes at a time. Some days I spent 10-15 minutes editing an essay on my morning commute. I carried my work and personal laptop, and found I could edit a few paragraphs each way. On other days I came home and spent 15 minutes editing before dinner.

Progress was slow - most of the time I despaired that I was any closer to finishing, because I was only working on a few paragraphs at a time. But one at a time I finished editing 8, then 9, then 11 essays. I had 3 essays left and about 10 days before I would have to submit the book to be in time for publishing in December. I figured I could handle it, and get the work in in time.

And then I realized I had two important work projects due on Monday, and I would have to work over the weekend to get it done in time. And I had planned to complete the essays that weekend as well. 

I panicked, then determined that I would work on all of the projects. I got my work assignments and the essays edited. In 15 minute increments. In between my work projects, I edited the essays, putting in 15 minutes on them before going back to my work assignments. Over the course of that weekend, I made substantial headway on my projects, which ultimately got handed in on time. And I completed my book. 

I realize that everyone’s life circumstances are different, and sometimes it just isn’t possible to squeeze anything else in. This experience however made me realize that I don’t know how much more I am capable of accomplishing until I am pushed, until I have no choice but to challenge my assumptions of what I can and can’t do.

And that’s why I have set a big challenge for myself for 2018 - to write much more than I have so far, and to really stretch my capacity. If I can achieve it, it would be amazing and an example of how much we really can stretch. If I can’t, I probably would still get more done than I have previously, and learn a lot from the attempt. So I win no matter what. 

If you’re reading this at the end of December / beginning of January (or at any time really), I encourage you to set a challenge for yourself that seems like a big stretch, something that makes you feel excited and nervous in equal measure. Share your goal or keep it to yourself, but don’t hold back. After all, you will win either way. 

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