Project-15: How to Clean up your Life without the Overwhelm

If you want to accomplish a major project or design a new habit that requires practice, today I'm challenging you to create a "Project-15" to get it done without the overwhelm.

After my partner Joe and I combined households, for many years our garage looked like something out of Hoarders. We fit the contents of two homes into one, and the garage (and basement) were filled with all the extra stuff that we didn't really need, but didn't want to get rid of. It was overwhelming, embarrassing, and all the clutter was energy draining. One day, without letting Joe know, I decided to devote 15 minutes a day to clearing it out.

I set a timer, put on some music, started with the most manageable parts of the daunting task - what I called the low hanging fruit - and within a couple of months, the place was clear. Committing just 15 minutes a day to the task kept it from being overwhelming, which was what caused the problem to spin out of control in the first place. 15 minutes was also enough time to accomplish a little  something each day.  I have since taken on various other "Project 15s"  and tackled unappealing mega-tasks like catching up on paperwork, weeding through old files, and cleaning out closets. The basement remains a work-in-progress.

My Challenge to You

Today I'm recommending that you commit to your own "Project 15".  If there's a task that's hanging over you (I call them danglers because they're always there, right over your head, creating stress and using up your energy), a major household or organizational project you feel you need to deal with, or something you've been procrastinating on, that's the kind of project that's perfect for a "Project 15".

Tip #1: Set a timer, and don't allow for distractions. When I was involved in my 15 minutes, I used to tell my son that he could only interrupt me for blood, vomit or fire! Then just hit it. (You may need to take the first day or so and create a plan of attack or you may want to just get at it - it depends on the task. If you just jump in, I recommend you begin with the low hanging fruit if there is any. You'll see some noticeable progress sooner.)

Tip #2: Don’t think about how big the project is, how long it will take, or how much you hate it; that’s how we make unpleasant tasks even worse. The energy we sometimes spend kvetching about what we don't want to do is greater than the energy it would take to just do it! So just chip away at it for 15 minutes a day and you will see results.

Tip #3: I also recommend that you set up a reward system for yourself, either giving yourself some small reward each day for completing your 15 minutes, or a larger reward once a week.  And definitely give yourself a pat on the back each day for whatever you accomplish! Rewarding yourself may sound silly, but it isn't silly - it's functional. Rewards trigger motivating circuits in our brains, so the more we reward ourselves, even with some nice self-praise, the more we'll have the energy and motivation to persist.

If You Can't Find 15 Minutes

Even the busiest of people are often able to carve out 1% of their day. But over the years, as I've recommended 15 minute scheduling to people, either for taking on projects or for developing healthful lifestyle habits, there have been several people who have told me that they don't even have 15 minutes a day to spare. If that's your reaction here, I have a couple of thoughts for you.

First, I feel your frustration; it's easy for others to offer advice when they don't know the reality of your situation, and the last thing you need is to feel even worse about being overwhelmed because you're not doing what you're supposed to do. That is not productive! On the other hand, what I have noticed in some of these cases is that people who are very overwhelmed often spend at least 15 minutes a day dealing with fall-out from their overwhelm; for example, not being able to get out of bed in the morning, procrastinating on the internet, worrying, or zoning out with snacks, drinks and/or Netflix at night.

Take an objective look at your time and see if you might actually be able to find 15 minutes in those "avoidance" activities that you can use for your "Project 15".  If you can't, see if you can carve out 15 minutes twice a week, or 5 or 10 minutes a day. Anything is better than nothing.

And if you're in this last category and you really can't eke out 1% of your day, at some point (not today), it might be useful to see if you can make some time management shifts or other changes that will allow you a bit more breathing and productivity space.

Ok - get to it!