What Can I Do With 10 Minutes?

What can I do when I do not have long stretches of time to give deep attention to a task?

Assumed Audience: Myself, mostly; but also anyone else who struggles with limited time and attention.

Epistemic Status: Off the cuff, jotted down in a ten-minute span. Theoretical, in that the whole point is trying to set myself a new approach.

Almost a month ago, my wife fractured a bone in her right foot. The result is that I don’t have many long stretches of time to do things which I have historically felt require those long stretches to make progress. I have most of the household chores to do, all of the dropping-off and picking-up of children to do, and so on. Activities like writing and composing — especially composing — have always seemed to me to be hard to make significant progress on in limited time slots. But I also care very much about actually doing those things.

Accordingly, a few theses offered here mostly as a note to myself in the future, a stake in the ground that I should not use the excuse of these small moments being too small to just vapidly wander Twitter instead.

  1. Getting faster at those activities help, and one of the best ways to do that is to practice doing them.

  2. Sometimes, specifically: to practice doing them under time constraints! To wit: I am writing this post in a ten-minute span between finishing the dishes and needing to go back and pick up my children again, precisely as an exercise in reminding myself that ten minutes is, in fact, sufficient to the task if I scope the task well or if I simply choose to bite off one small part of it.

  3. Small amounts of progress still count as progress. Sketching out the germ of a musical idea or managing to jot down a few hundred words is the kind of thing that really does add up over time.

These things are hard for me to remember. I know that I sometimes do manage to make good progress on composing in 30-minute slots (and this is not the first time I have tried to remind myself as much). I know that I can sit down and get something written off the cuff like this in ten minutes, and that what results will not be great, but will be good enough in many cases. And yet I forget that.

So, here’s to trying to do two things:

  • publishing more small blog posts like this: things truly off the cuff

  • making whatever progress I can on bigger projects: a little new material, a little ideation, a little revision

At some point, on large projects, those small consistent efforts will indeed have to be joined up with sustained periods of concentrated attention to get them finished, it is true. The necessity of the latter does not negate the value of the former, though.

Onward.