“If you want to be more productive, you need to become master of your minutes" - Crystal Paine
(I wrote this in 2016 as an ebook and just reread it. I feel like you guys are going to like this one)
I have found myself having this conversation a lot recently. It goes something like this.
‘What do you do?’
Me: ‘I’m a composer for films, trailers and advertising’
‘Composer? That’s cool, how did you get into that?’
Me: ‘Well I studied it at uni, and when I left I just kept doing it in my spare time, mostly for free and as time passed more and more opportunities came my way.’
‘You know I would have loved to be a [screenwriter / author / artist / dancer / fill in the blank] but you know how it is, life gets in the way’
At this point in the conversation I get very excited as I leap into “career advice/business coach mode” and tell them that they CAN still do it. It is not too late. It’s NEVER too late. Life doesn’t have to get in the way, as it’s their life to live etc. I then proceed to give them my “secret” to success.
The nice thing is that, after I reveal my “secret” I almost always see a renewed excitement in their eyes like they are waking up to their own potential.
It was after one of these chats that I got the idea to write this post. To be able to give more people that same advice about pursuing what it is they want in life, with a particular focus on following their passion and making a living doing something that makes them feel alive with purpose.
You know the things that bring you happiness in life, right?
So why aren’t you making time for them everyday?
What will you get out of this post?
This post is written to help you realise that to achieve the things you want and to do the things you love, all you need to focus on are very small, achievable goals that you can comfortably do everyday without feeling pressured to write your opus or produce a masterpiece.
I will show you an extremely simple and easy to follow 5 step system that will give you the most essential ingredients to success in work and in life.
If you follow this simple strategy then before you realise it you will have refocused your life towards the things that you want. You will be spending time doing the things you love. You will be pursuing new goals that give your life more purpose. And you may even find yourself having this conversation:
‘What do you do?’
‘Well, I am an [Author / musician / artist / designer / fill in the blank]’
‘Wow that’s amazing - how did you get into that?’
‘Well I read this little post...’
Follow your dreams in five steps
For you to be able to do and achieve the things you want in an easy to follow, simple to do, even-easier-to-stick-to-way I have devised a five step system.
- Determine Success
- Know your Constant
- Use your Minutes
- Create a Habit
STEP 1 -What is your version of success?
It is really important when going for any goal, however big or small, that you have a defined picture of what the successful outcome is going to be. If you don’t then how will you know that you have achieved success?
Imagine walking into the kitchen with the intention of cooking something amazing but not knowing exactly what you are going to cook. You wouldn’t have an outcome to focus your actions on, you wouldn’t have a clear step-by-step recipe to follow, you wouldn’t know when to do anything and you wouldn’t have an idea of when you were finished or what to expect if you did manage to finish something. If you’re like me you’d end up eating peanut butter on toast or pasta and pesto, which albeit delicious are not the amazing fine dine dining experience you initially wanted to create.
But having a specific outcome gives you all of these things:
- A clear and defined result / goal
- A ‘recipe’ of all the things you will need to get there
- An action plan
- A clear idea of how long things will take - timings
Define what success means to you so that you can plan how you are going to get there. So if you plan what meal you want, get the right ingredients and follow the recipe then you’re likely to end with the yummy meal that you wanted.
Now take a moment to state your success goal. It could be to ‘write a book’ or ‘write and market my screenplay’ or ‘finish a graphic novel’ or ‘run a marathon’ (this doesn’t have to be a career goal).
Give yourself a clear and simple outcome for success.
A very specific outcome.
Define what it would look like to you if you were to be a ‘success’. Would it be to have 500 people buy your young adult vampire fiction novel, or that 1000 people join your email list by downloading a free video on how to do scrapbooking, or recording a 10 track solo piano album. The more specific the better.
STEP 2 - What is it that makes you happy? / What is your ‘Constant’?
Firstly, what is a constant?
It is the thing that you can do now that you will still be doing when you reach your defined outcome - it will not change, it will remain constant. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples:
The constant is writing. When a person wants to be an author they would write a book, post, article etc. When they are a successful author they would still be writing.
The constant is painting (or whatever medium they choose to work in). When a person wants to be an artist, they paint, and when they are successful, they paint more. They will still be painting.
The constant is writing music. When a person wants to become a composer they write music, when they become successful, they will still write music.
- Marathon Runner
The constant is running. When a person becomes a marathon runner they will run marathons, they will still run marathons even when they start winning.
It may seem very obvious but this is THE BIGGEST MISTAKE many people make. They do not focus on their constant. They know what they want to become (actor, photographer, designer) but they do not spend their time focusing on that one thing that will get them there. They do not write, act, take pictures - whatever that constant is, they are not doing it!
Overwhelm, fear, insecurity, not feeling good enough, feeling like an imposter, procrastinating, not having the “right tools”, not having the “best tools”, not having the time, not having the energy, not having the money, not knowing where to start etc.
This list could go on for some time but I am going to cut it short and bundle it all into one thing - where you place your focus.
People do not do the thing that they want to do because of misplaced focus - misplaced attention. They are focusing their energy on other things (the wrong things?).
The man who wants to be a writer is putting his focus on the fact that there are many other “better” writers out there so what could he possibly offer the literary world.
The woman who wants to be an artist is putting her focus on not getting her “big break” so feeling like it’s all a waste of time. Spending less and less time actually painting.
The woman who wants to be a musician is putting her focus on not having “the best guitar” so is waiting till she has the right equipment before investing her time in it.
The man who wants to be a vlogger is putting his focus on there being too many things to do so not making any decision at all. Not producing any content.
The couple who want to start a bakery are not baking because they are binge watching Netflix.
I am not belittling these situations. I am not over simplifying them either. I have experienced all of the above worries and concerns and bad habits but I did something extremely important.
I refocused my attention on my constant.
What is your constant? (e.g. drawing, running, writing, composing, painting etc.)
STEP 3 - Maximise Your Minutes
Have you ever noticed that when you are given a tight deadline you almost always manage to pull it out of the bag and get all the work done (albeit in a rather stressful way)? This is why I love tight deadlines - it seems to enable me to produce more work than I would have thought possible.
On the other hand.
Have you noticed that when you are given ample time to complete some work you still manage to drag it out and make the work take much longer to complete than it should have done? Again, why I love tight deadlines, because if I have long deadlines it amazes me how much more work I seem to create for myself.
Both of these situations can be explained by Parkinson’s Law. Cyril Parkinson spent many year of his life in the British Civil Service. In this time he made many observations about the uncontrolled growth of bureaucracies, Parkinson’s Law is the most widely known of them. It has seen many variations but originally appeared as the opening line in an article for the Economist in 1955:
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”
With this law in mind. The way to maximise your minutes is to give yourself smaller, tighter deadlines. With shorter deadlines you will be able to focus more easily. You will give yourself regular boosts of confidence because they are easy to meet. You will end up producing far more work than you could have imagined because of the compounding effect of small actions over time.
Here enters the method!
The 10 Minute Method
Our brain can’t tell the difference between a real and imagined thought. So a set goal where you have imagined you have achieved it, written it out and imagined achieving it and actually achieving the goal will feel and seem the same because of the way our brain works.
If you focus on a set goal i.e. a very big goal that seems unachievable, then your brain will think that you haven’t achieved it and you will get all the negative feelings associated with not meeting a deadline. So focusing on small, almost insignificant goals will reduce this stress.
Goals that are very small in scope and timescale give us a little added treat - a shot of dopamine. A ‘feel good’ hormone released by our nerve cells. This is our reward system saying, “well done for completing that goal, here’s some good feelings”. Ahhhhh.
By setting tiny goals you are not only avoiding the stress of ‘simulated failure’ but also getting a hit of good feelings when you complete them.
That is why you aim for 10 minutes. A tiny and easily achievable goal!
Set your timer for 10 minutes and focus solely on doing your constant. Not marketing (unless that’s your jam of course), not scrolling Facebook posts, not bingeing on TV, not thinking about what you said to your co-worker, not how much of a **** your boss has been lately - follow one course until success. The success in this case is 10 minutes of [your constant].
Follow the 10 minute rule - do 10 minutes.
Once you have got to the end of the 10 minutes, more often than not you will not want to stop, you will want to carry on. The 10 minutes is the metaphorical equivalent of the smell of freshly baked bread, or frying bacon, or frying garlic - the smell makes you want to eat. The 10 minutes makes you hungry for more of the same. It is so simple it is outrageous.
The writer Seth Godin famously says that he only ever sits down with the goal of writing a single paragraph.
The 10 minutes (or Godin’s paragraph) fulfil that part of us that want to achieve small goals so you will get a hit of dopamine for completing that goal and you will also then carry on producing more than you initially expected.
It also takes the pressure off yourself because you are only going into it with the goal of doing 10 minutes. Win win!
‘Why 10 minutes and not 5?’
I have found that 10 minutes is the perfect amount of time to allow you to ‘get into the mood’ as it were. The first five minutes allow you to regain your focus on the task at hand and warm up a little. The following 5 minutes is where you enter what I call ‘the flow’ - Inspiration, focus and enjoyment join together and you are fully engaged.
Then the timer alerts you to the fact that the 10 minutes is over and you will think “What, Already? Ah who cares I’ll just do a little more”. It feels kind of like when you open a bag of crisps with the intention of only having one but before you know it you are tipping the crumbs from the empty bag into your mouth.
My timer went off about 5 paragraphs ago...
Set a timer for 10 minutes and do your constant for those 10 minutes.
STEP 4 - Form the habit
It is common thought that to form a habit you need 21 days. For good measure I suggest that you maintain your 10 minutes each day for 28 days (4 weeks) straight and just give it a try.
This is where the 10 minutes really comes into its own. Because you are not having to make any huge time commitment it makes it far easier to make the habit stick - who can’t spare 10 minutes in their day?
If I am honest, you are probably thinking that even 10 minutes might be a squeeze. I know I have definitely thought that from time to time. So before you get cracking you need to decide when in the day is best for you to take 10 minutes aside and do the thing that you love.
I am a morning person so I like to do my music first thing in the morning but I am also aware that I have another burst of creativity in the late afternoon so this tends to be the time when I set aside my 10 minutes to do my simple task.
It was using this method included in this post that I wrote my book, ‘Journal to the Centre of Yourself’. I set aside 10 minutes each day until it was finished. I made sure I did it when I could focus and I did not quit until it was done.
This is why you want to form the habit because you will then find it harder to drop. Yes there may be the odd day here or there where you forget (after the 28 days) but that is ok because you have already made it a habit. Much like brushing your teeth, you may forget from time to time but the general trend is for you to do it everyday.
That is the aim here, habitualising the 10 minute rule - to make doing the thing you love a part of your life, a part of your life and another ingredient in your improved happiness.
Set the intention that you are going to do 10 minutes each day for 28 days. This intention is a way for you to ensure that you give yourself the things you deserve.
Remind yourself why you are doing this - because you are missing something in your life, because you used to love doing something that now lies by the wayside in your life.
Even better, imagine that you have already done 10 minutes daily for the past 4 weeks and you have absolutely loved doing it!
STEP 5 - F.O.C.U.S
Follow. One. Course. Until. Success.
Cheesey but effective.
Those people I have spoken to about wanting to be writers/actors/vloggers etc. all share the same problem - they have not followed one course until success.
They knew what success meant to them - awesome. They found their constant - great. BUT (and this is a huge but) they did not focus on their constant.
The vlogger only made four videos and then his focus moved onto not getting views on YouTube so the habit was not formed.
The writer who started to write his book and his focus moved onto other things like his day job, his new baby and just getting through each day so he never finished his book.
The artist made many pieces of work but her focus moved onto not having the “best” ideas so she began to paint less.
You must maintain focus. The best way to keep focus is to choose one thing (your constant) and keep doing it. Do it everyday.
The best piece of advice I have ever received was from my University tutor who told me this;
“You must write [music] everyday. It is a muscle that needs to be used and worked”
That is what I did and I maintained my focus on that one thing - I would write music everyday. That was my non-negotiable. The thing I had to achieve each day, everything else could wait. I followed one course until success. I reached my idea of success. I focused on writing music and now that is what I do each day.
Tips to help you FOCUS:
- Make sure you have a clear work space
- No phone
- No Facebook or internet
- Have all the tools you need to hand
- Use a set time each day
Say this affirmation often each day,
"I am focused, and I achieve the things I want each and everyday"
Examples of this 5 step process in action:
To clarify exactly what this process looks like in practice I have written out some examples. Remember the idea of success does not need to be huge, it can be very simple. The constant is the thing that you love to do and that will remain the same even when you have reached your goal. All you need is 10 minutes and a timer. Set the intention to form and solidify the habit in 28 days and then follow that course until you have reached success.
- Success = My idea of success is to produce a portfolio of work that I can submit to publishers for freelance illustration work
- Constant = The thing that makes me happy is drawing
- Minutes = I will set my timer and draw for 10 minutes
- Habit = I will do 10 minutes drawing everyday for 4 weeks (28 days) in the morning before I go to work. I will get my drawing equipment out the night before so it is ready.
- Focus = I have a place where I have all my drawing equipment to hand and no distractions. I will keep this up until I have reached my goal
- Success = My idea of success is to write and self publish my first book
- Constant = The thing that makes me happy is writing
- Minutes = I will set my timer and write for 10 minutes
- Habit = I will do 10 minutes writing everyday for 4 weeks (28 days) in the evening
- Focus = I have a clear and quiet place that I can write that will help me to focus. I will keep this up until I have reached my goal
- Success = My idea of success is to be able to play my favourite song on the piano
- Constant = The thing that makes me happy is playing the piano
- Minutes = I will set my timer and practise the piano for 10 minutes
- Habit = I will do 10 minutes practise on the piano everyday when I get in from work
- Focus = I have a keyboard to practise on with headphones too. I will practise until I can play my favourite song
- Success = My idea of success is to take more pictures for my own pleasure and become a better photographer
- Constant = The thing that makes me happy is capturing beauty with a camera
- Minutes = I will set my timer for 10 minutes and take pictures in my chosen location on my lunch breaks
- Habit = I will go out each day for 10 minutes and take pictures
- Focus = I have written a list of things that I would like to take photos of and where I can find them
To increase fitness:
- Success = My idea of success is to exercise more to increase my fitness
- Constant = The thing that makes me happy is running
- Minutes = I will set my timer and run for 10 minutes
- Habit = I will do 10 minutes running/walking everyday for 4 weeks (28 days) before I go to work
- Focus = I have a pair of running shoes, shorts and t-shirt and some podcasts to listen to. I will run each day until I have increased my fitness and made it a habit
Now it is time for you to form your 5 step plan. To make it as easy as possible I have given you a neat little template:
[the thing that makes you happy]
- Success = [define what your idea of success would be]
- Constant = [the thing that makes you happy]
- Minutes = [timer set to 10 minutes]
- Habit = [do 10 minutes everyday for 28 days]
- Focus = [declare that you will follow this course until you have reached success]
Everyone loves a short-cut!
Do you know what it is that you enjoy doing but aren't actually spending any time doing?
As you are sitting reading this post - I know you have some time to kill so close this tab and go and do that one thing that you have been putting off. You know the one...
“I always wanted to be a …”
“I used to love doing…”
“I get so jealous when I hear about people making a living from…”
“I wish I could…”
This is your life.
The time in your day is controlled by you.
What you do with your time is your choice.
All you have to do is choose to make 10 minutes for yourself.
10 MINUTES to pursue your dreams.
10 MINUTES to achieve a goal.
10 MINUTES to do what you want.
10 MINUTES - less time than it takes pasta to cook (except fresh pasta of course).
Take baby steps...
If 10 minutes is too much, start with then just do 5 minutes. BUT DO IT EVERYDAY. Once you have formed the habit then you can up the amount of time you spend on your task.
Remember that you can always set your starting goal really low. For someone who wants to write more it could be to just write one sentence. By lowering the threshold for achieving your goal you will make it more likely that you will succeed.
It’s not about making huge leaps sporadically, it is about making baby steps everyday. Focus on the small goals. The 10 minute rule.
Stop sitting around. TAKE ACTION - 10 minutes a day! If you don’t follow your own dreams, no one will.
Have a little...Patience
I have left this part till last as it deserves its own chapter.
If you don’t have patience then even this easy to follow strategy will not yield results.
A nice way to see everything you do is to compare it to growing a plant from seed (I love this analogy):
You don’t just pop the seed in the soil, water it and the next day have an established apple tree in front of you. It takes time, small and consistent care/effort and most of all, patience.
Each day that you spend 10 minutes working on your passion towards a goal is the equivalent to watering your plant. You may not see huge changes, in fact you may not see any for some time but that does not mean that they are not happening. They are. Just remain consistent.
Having children is much like this analogy - at first they can barely do anything except cry, sleep and poop, which admittedly they do a lot. As time passes they spend small amounts of time each day learning and trying, testing and exploring. Before you know it that cute, helpless little baby is in front of you explaining the complicated narrative of a story they have just read. Children are amazing. They can teach us a lot.
Take a little time each day to explore, test, try, fail, touch, see, listen, learn and have fun. Be like a child. They may not be known for it, but they show huge amounts of patience and focus in their early years. That is what you must do too. You are learning, growing and expanding. This takes time and consistency.
Be patient. Remind yourself often to be patient. If you get frustrated remind yourself to be patient. If you feel like you are not seeing results, be patient. If you feel a lack of motivation, be patient.
I do appreciate that in this day and age (how old do I sound?) we all expect everything to happen right now and get annoyed when they don’t because we are so used to things being given to us immediately (music/films/food/money it all gets delivered to us incredibly quickly).
When you are working towards a goal that matters to you, do not expect instant gratification because you will get disappointed and give up. Expect it to take time because it will. If the idea of it taking a while puts you off then maybe you should rethink why you are doing it.
All things that are truly worthwhile in life take time and consistent effort. You doing something you love and working towards a goal should be no different. Have patience and enjoy yourself.
If you find yourself losing patience, then take your focus away from your end goal (your idea of success) and put it on doing only 10 minutes.
The 10 minutes should be your focus. Each time you do those 10 minutes congratulate yourself, one more small win in the bank - you could even use some form of reward to keep yourself motivated.
“After I have done my 10 minutes I will have a coffee” for example.
About The Author
Richard Pryn is a composer, blogger, podcaster, author, and well, he just loves creating everything and anything.
He lives in England with his wife Deborah, their three kids Imogen, Noah and Phoebe, and their cat Stewie. Rich likes his crisps vinegary, his socks new, and his coffee daily.
You can sign up to Rich’s weekly newsletter ‘The Quiet Whisper’ all about creating space for creativity, inspiration, things that feed your soul, and a little bit of quiet.