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January 31, 2013

January is over? Really? (monthly wrap-up)

Weren't we just here talking about new years and resolutions and foil star stickers and stuff?

At the beginning of January I launched into my yearlong science experiment to find out if small daily changes can have the same impact in life that I get from Grand Gestures. Grand Gestures are my thing, people -- move out west! go to Paris tonight! quit my job! start an empire! I've always been a fan of the Herculean effort. If I'm going to do something I'm going to focus all my time and energy and money on that one thing and march like Sherman to the sea until I'm done (but usually at the last minute, or unexpectedly, or on a whim).

The advantage of this personality predilection is that I have a very interesting life. The downside is that no one can march all the way to the sea and back every day. When I'm in I'm all in, but when I'm out my life is on pause. In 2013, I want to try something different and use each day as a miniature goal farm and see if at the end of the year it grows something good.

My tasks for January were fairly simple. In addition to my daily schedule I created a set of specific daily goals for the month and I scored them using the high-tech "foil star sticker on paper" method. The overall theme of the month was raising my energy.

I'm happy to report it was a banner month in the star sticker department!

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Did I get a star every day for every task? Nope. Did I end up abandoning one task altogether mid-month? Yup. Did I fail completely at writing on this here website every day? Indeed. Still, the month was a success because each star represents 100% more accomplishment on these specific tasks than none at all.

That was the whole purpose of my January goals -- to get into the habit of doing a few things regularly. It's no Grand Gesture, but the cumulative impact in the areas I stuck with was clear. Most unexpectedly, I had a huge eye-opener in January. I suddenly realized how much I can accomplish by working toward one task for 20 minutes each day consistently. Twenty minutes, that's it. I never really thought that such a small effort could have almost immediately big results.

The place it showed up for me was at home. I love to have a clean, orderly home but in my world housecleaning a large task that is to be accomplished once a week with vigorous intensity. Maybe it's a holdover from my weird childhood or something. Every Saturday or Sunday morning you could find me burning hours a day just cleaning, vacuuming, tidying, dusting and doing laundry. My definition of clean may not be the same as yours and I can be rather over-attentive in this area, but even I hate burning a whole precious weekend day on cloroxing.

The end result of my clean-crazy has not been entirely pleasing: the day is gone, I'm exhausted, and the weekend is half over. But it fits with my personality, I guess, pulling out the Grand Gesture of Cleanliness once a week like it or not.

In January I committed to doing 20 minutes a day of focused tidying up or decluttering (in addition to my normal daily stuff like dishes and making the bed.) By the second Saturday of January my weekend housecleaning time was cut in HALF. By mid-January I saw fewer piles of mail or books or shoes or, well, anything. Everything was in its place. Last weekend the house appeared to be keeping itself clean. How was this possible in just 20 minutes a day?

I'll tell you how: Over the course of January I devoted an additional unbroken 20-minute block to my home upkeep, totaling 10.3333 hours for the month. If a task couldn't be completed in the 20-minute timeframe, I did something completely unheard of for me -- I started the task anyway and just finished the next day (!!!!) The difference has been ASTONISHING.

This one simple truth has changed my life.

From now on I'm going to apply this strategy to all sorts of projects. By the time I am 60 I might play the guitar or speak fluent French or get all my music organized on my hard drive or knit a sweater. I may actually rule the world. Consider yourself warned.

When you come from the land of Grand Gestures the idea of a small gesture doesn't seem very appealing. It's kind of boring. It doesn't seem worth the effort. ("Why bother with just twenty minutes? I can't get it all done. It will take me at least an hour, a day, a weekend. I'll do it some other time." Sound familiar?)

This past month has been proof to me that one small effort repeated consistently can have truly transformative results.

January was a definite success.

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Posted by laurie at January 31, 2013 6:14 AM