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Posts tagged ‘well-being’

10 Ways to Make the Most of 10 Minutes

10 Ways to Make the Most of 10 MinutesIt’s a rare but beautiful thing: An unexpected gap opens in your otherwise overbooked day. You realize — with disbelief — that you’re actually “free” for a short window. No one’s hair is on fire and there isn’t anything urgent to take care of right now. Maybe the baby who never sleeps finally closes her eyes or your spouse takes the kids out on an errand or you’re between conference calls. Whatever it is, you realize that the next little bit of time is not yet spoken for. The window is too short to dig into a project, but you do have time for something. What do you do?

For many of us, one thing rises reflexively to the top of the list of possibilities: Facebook. (Or whatever social media you happen to prefer.) We fritter away our 10, 20, or 30 minutes scrolling through the minutia and photographic exploits of people we may or may not a) know, b) like, or c) find interesting. Or maybe we hit our regular news sites or entertainment blogs. So long as we’re online, we’re engaged.

Then our window closes — the baby wakes up, the client calls, it’s time to head out — and those minutes are gone. Are we the better for how we spent them?

Don’t get me wrong: Downtime is important. Ten minutes of doing nothing has its value;  social media and other internet temptations can, at times, serve as recreation. But more often than not, the interwebs become a crutch that we depend on because we’re in a short period of transition. We don’t know what else to do — or we do know what to do, but we’re procrastinating because we’re over- or under-whelmed by whatever we’re supposed to be working on. And just when we might benefit most from a screen-free breather, we’re particularly addicted to the glow.

Whether you’re using up minutes that aren’t otherwise spoken for or you’re avoiding a task you’d rather not do, use those 10 minutes to your advantage. Here are 10 “unplugged” ways to do just that.

  1. Meditate. Whether or not you already meditate regularly, a 10-minute break is a great opportunity to sit. Research demonstrates the substantial health benefits of meditation: it reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, increases focus, and reduces sensitivity to pain. Not sure how to meditate? Here’s an accessible introduction from Zen Habits.
  2. Write a poem. Short-form poetry is a lot of fun, and it only takes a few minutes to pen a haiku, tanka, or cinquain. Even if you’re unfamiliar with writing poetry, it’s deeply satisfying to solve the poetic puzzle of fitting your ideas into a time-honored structure.
  3. “Treat” read. You know that stack of magazines and journals that you never get to? Perhaps the New York Times Book Review that you set aside for “later,” or that tempting collection of One Story issues? Maybe an alumni magazine you want to peruse? That’s what I call “treat” reading — something that meets these three criteria: it’s short, unplugged, and somewhat indulgent.
  4. Exercise. Do 10 minutes of yoga, jump rope, or — if you have them — run up and down a flight of stairs (assuming you’re healthy enough to do so). A 10-minute burst of exercise boosts your concentration, mood, and physical well-being.
  5. Journal. Grab your journal — even if you’re a regular practitioner of Morning Pages — and gift yourself with a brief clearing session. Write out what you’re doing, what you’re not doing, what’s working, what’s not working. Keep your hand moving. Speaking from experience, 10 minutes of intense journaling can be an amazing stress reliever.
  6. Share the love. Dig out one of those blank cards or bits of stationary that are lurking in a drawer somewhere and write a brief note to someone you care about. It might be a thank-you note, a thinking-of-you note, or just a few lines that amount to “I’m so glad to know you.” Address your envelope, put a stamp on it, and mail the card next time you’re out. This act of gratitude has benefits for you as well as your recipient.
  7. Plot creatively. Grab a few index cards. Using one card per idea, outline a handful of important scenes that need to happen in your novel; the concept, colors, or basis for the painting that’s been kicking around in your head; a few possibilities for future blog posts. If you prefer visuals to words, use the blank side of your index cards to sketch or doodle.
  8. Prepare. Use a short interval to do some groundwork for a project: Gesso a canvas, sharpen your colored pencils, clean off your worktable or desk. If you don’t have any tasks in this category, spend your window filing bills or dealing with that “not sure what to do with this” stack of papers. It’s not sexy, but it sure feels good when it’s finished.
  9. Clip. Gather up a few old magazines (I keep a collection in my art room for this purpose) and flip through those glossy pages in search of collage materials. You don’t need to look for anything specific, just pull or clip the words and images that appeal to you. Save these clippings in a box for later collage work — and file anything else that sparks a story or project idea.
  10. Step outside. Use your brief break to get some fresh air. Go stand outside and marvel at whatever you see, feel, and hear. Raining? Enjoy the sound of rain hitting your umbrella. Snowing? Stand outside and be with it. Can’t go out because the kids are sleeping/watching TV/leaving you alone for a few seconds? Go stand by a window and breathe deeply. We all need to connect with nature, even if it’s just a few long-distance minutes with one straggly tree on the other side of a busy street.

What are your favorite ways to make the most of 10 minutes?


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No Laughing Matter


In her terrific book The Joy Diet: 10 Practices for a Happier Life, life coach and well-being guru Martha Beck instructs readers to laugh on a daily basis. And not just a couple of guffaws; Beck prescribes a minimum of thirty laughs a day. Clicked off on a pocket counter, if necessary.

So, maybe I won’t ever be ready to join a laughter club, but I have to confess — I’m not laughing anywhere close to thirty times a day. It’s time to up the ante on the funny. And what do I find funny? My children’s antics. Monty Python. Anything John Cleese. Will Ferrell. Seinfeld, of course. The Daily Show. Stephen Colbert. William Shatner. Zach Galifianakis. Jack Black. Sometimes stand-up comedy can get me: Chris Rock, George Carlin, Lewis Black, Eddie Izzard. The Princess Bride. Airplane. Napoleon Dynamite. Writers often make me laugh out loud: Anne Lamott, Shirley Jackson, Armistead Maupin. Old (as in, from decades ago) Garfield comics. Without fail, every time I watch J-T and Andy Samberg’s Dick in a Box and Motherlover I can’t help myself. I should really watch those two every day.

In whatever form it comes, I definitely need to start laughing more. How about you? What makes you laugh?

Creating in the Middle of Things

How many years pass while we wait for the “right” time to do something? Even after decades of adulthood, many of us still believe that one day — in the not too distant future — somehow, eventually, ideal circumstances will arrive at our doorstep. We’ll wake up one morning and say “Yes! It’s finally here! That day I’ve been waiting for, when my to-do list is all crossed off, my in-box is empty, the house is spotless, the kids are occupied elsewhere, and the time has come to do X!” If this day ever does come, it probably doesn’t amount to more than once or twice in an entire year. So why are we still waiting?

Eric Maisel, creativity guru (and one of my former teachers at the Creativity Coaching Association), is a proponent of “creating in the middle of things.” This framework is perhaps the only way to stop perpetually deferring ourselves with an imaginary carrot.

I have learned in recent years that I am ALWAYS in the middle of things. There is nothing BUT the middle of things. As someone who continually heaps mounds of responsibilities and projects onto her plate, if I wait for the seas to part and reveal some magical “opportunity” for me to create, I’ll die waiting.

I’ve finally learned to stop saying “I just need to get through this week/month/season.” In the well-worn words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” So long as I see daily life as some kind of obstacle between me and what I really want to be doing, I’m living in a very dark and unsatisfying place. How many moments have I wasted by trying to “just get through it” while staying focused on some mirage of future calm like a brilliantly wrapped gift, eternally beyond my reach? The present moment can’t be the obstacle. That’s insanity — and many of us seem to be afflicted.

I encourage myself, and you, to fully embrace the concept of creating in the middle of things — because for most of us, that’s the only way to create. Even my clients who have no children and no work obligations still find themselves with an overfull calendar and difficulty “making” time to create. In fact, one client who has no children or job says she can’t get her creative work done because her pets distract her too much. Regardless of our circumstances, we are always in the middle of something, aren’t we? It doesn’t matter what our details are.

If we have an overflowing, double-booked planner on one hand, and a paradigm of “I can only create if I have five hours of guaranteed solitude on deck” on the other, then we either need to get very serious about going to a cave every day, or we need to figure out how to change our parameters about what’s possible.

There are strategies that help. Always having a notepad on hand while out of the house. Knowing what the “next step” is in any given project so that we’re ready to jump right in. (See Emma-Jane’s wisdom at left for visual artists.) Staying connected to creative networks to bolster of creative sense of self. Keeping an ongoing list of all the projects we’d like to work on so that inspiration is always a glance away. If we have children, learning how to create WITH them (either alongside them or in collaboration). Allowing ourselves to make the most of creative practice even if we end up deviating from that “next step” plan. And most importantly, always keeping our eyes open for slivers of opportunity.

In Eric Maisel’s words: “If we intend to create we really should be checking in with ourselves several times a day (not a few times a week or a few times a month) with the question, ‘How about now?’ Sometimes we will answer no and sometimes we will answer yes, but if we answer yes only a quarter of the time and we are checking in with ourselves four times a day, then we will create every day. We should check in with ourselves as soon as we wake up, in case THAT is a good time, as soon as we get home from wherever, in case THAT is a good time, when an empty hour suddenly looms up in front of us, in case THAT is a good time, after dinner and before television, in case THAT is a good time, and so on.”

Are you checking with yourself?

“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.”
~Napoleon Hill

This piece was reprinted from the last issue of the Creative Times, our monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe!

Filling the Well with Well-Being

Mothers take care of other people. It’s what we do. And we don’t get sick days. You’re so tired you can barely move, but you still have to scrape yourself off the floor and go change that poopy diaper or drive your teenager to ice hockey practice at some ungodly hour.

With so many non-negotiable tasks at hand, it’s easy to slip into an abyss without even realizing you’re in free-fall. Everything seems fine on the surface: you’re taking care of home and family, getting your work done, and nothing unusually stressful is going on — and yet something isn’t right. You’re vaguely aware that you aren’t spending much — if any — time being creative, except you’re too busy to think about it. But you start getting irritated with your spouse and children. Even the dog starts bothering you with her constant shedding and slobbery ways. Your beautiful home morphs into a giant pair of shackles, and you’re suddenly only the laundress, cook, scullery maid, assistant, chauffer, accountant, and charwoman — and likely also earning a paycheck. No one appreciates what you do, or the fact that between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. you have about five minutes of downtime. You get resentful, sometimes even angry, which may mean you stop talking and perhaps drop each loaded dinner plate onto the table a little less graciously than you’d intended.

When you spend your life careening from one responsibility to the next — even if you enjoy those responsibilities — it’s easy to lose sight of yourself and start resenting the people you live with, which doesn’t work for anyone. Consider the aphorism “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” If you’re feeling grim, all the little sponges in your house are going to pick up on that vibe, even if they don’t verbalize it.

When you’re already doing so much that you can’t imagine doing more, how can you find time to reconnect with yourself? Start small and simple. Reconnecting may or may not involve “art,” per se. Chose something that makes you feel good. The feeling of ease is what restores your center. This spills over into your creative process.

When are you at your happiest? Interestingly, some mothers aren’t able to answer this seemingly straightforward question. Can you? Grab an index card or a notebook and write down everything you can think of that makes you feel good. Is there a way to integrate some of those conditions or activities into daily life? What can you do every day to help ensure that the present moment feels like the gift that it really is? Are there three small things you can commit to doing every day that might impact your sense of well-being? This is really about developing a few new habits, rather than about heaping more “shoulds” onto the pile. (Goodness knows, the last thing we need is more shoulds.) With a bit of intention and some new routines, you may find yourself living more fully — in art and motherhood — than you ever thought possible.

What works for you?

This piece was reprinted from the last issue of the Creative Times, our monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe!

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