The power in 15 minutes

Uncluttering is a lifelong endeavor. Perfection is not the goal, especially in a working home, and time is often a rare commodity in a busy home. Recently, I’ve been working to see how much I can get done in a small amount of time, and how good I can feel about the results. I’ve found that 15 minutes is a perfect amount of time to be productive and not feeling overwhelmed by the time commitment.

I started this experiment by cleaning the closet for half an hour without pause. I went about this logically, as I wanted measurable results. I set a timer on my phone for 30 minutes and got to it.

It went well, but two things happened. First, my interest started to wane around the 20 minute mark. Other tasks — tidying the kitchen or the laundry room — took less than the 30 minutes I set aside, so I either ended early or started a second project that put me over my 30-minute limit.

Next, I dropped it down to 20-minute intervals with a smilier effect. Ultimately, I dropped down to 15 minutes, and it has been exactly what I needed.

I’ve stuck with this number for a few reasons. First, it’s quite easy to work for 15 minutes without getting distracted by something else. Second, I’ve been amazed at how many tasks only take about 15 minutes. I’ve been able to completely organize my desk reducing visual clutter, get laundry folded and put away, organize the kids’ stuff for the next day, and so on.

I also found that 15 minutes is perfect for doing one of my favorite things: a mind dump. I take a pen, a piece of paper, and the time to simply write down everything that’s on my mind — it is so liberating and productive. Even an overwhelming list of to-do items can seem manageable when you’ve got it written down. There’s a sense of being “on top of it” that comes with performing a mind dump, all in 15 minutes.

Find a timer and discover what length of time is good for your for completing most projects. You might find that 10 minutes works for you, or 20. The point is that when you say, “I’m going to work on this and only this for [x] minutes,” you’ll be surprised at what you can get done.

7 Comments for “The power in 15 minutes”

  1. posted by liz on

    15 minutes is a number that I have seen at other organizing sites.

    What helped me was to time the standard tasks only to realize that they don’t take that long to do. Emptying the dishwasher – 3-5 minutes. Emptying the dryer, folding the laundry and putting it away – under 10 minutes. A sweep here or a dusting over there doesn’t take much time. Complaining about it takes longer!

  2. posted by Sabryna on

    I’ve found another thing that works well with using this approach is to take a quick pic of the area(s) I’m working on before and after the 15 minutes. Seeing the difference I can make in this concrete way really helps motivate me to keep on going with this “one bite at a time” approach. Additionally, using a timer–(I like the Time Timer app for my phone–http://www.timetimer.com/)–is helpful in making these 15 minutes happen for me. I need help both in starting and stopping! 🙂

  3. posted by Sabrina Q. on

    Yes, you are correct. 15 minutes is an effective amount of time to get small areas organized without taking up too much of your time. For my organizing clients, I like to make up a list of 15 minute tasks they can choose from as reminders. Thanks for sharing.

  4. posted by Susanne N. on

    Yes, in my experience 15 minutes is absolutely perfect. I learned this several years ago from the FlyLady (www.flylady.net – I think that’s her website). I think you’d enjoy reading some of her ideas. She also talks about a 5 minute pickup in each room, and never going to bed with a dirty kitchen sink. She has tons of great ideas on how to get through a lot very efficiently.

  5. posted by Sue on

    Great article. I’ve also found that if I allow myself 15 minute breaks to browse on pinterest, read emails, or read a chapter in a book, etc., in between cleaning/decluttering sessions, it helps make the clean up much more tolerable. I set the timer for each 15 minute break, and consider it a mini treat or reward for all my hard work. Makes a huge difference in my motivation to keep at the cleaning/decluttering.

  6. posted by MimiR on

    I prefer 30 minutes. I have fairly large zones, and I need 30 minutes to do everything I want to do in a week in each zone, even with a housekeeper. In the morning, I lurch out of bed, get dressed, wash my face, weigh myself, put on basic makeup, do my hair, and make my bed in 20-30 minutes. (Depends on how much of a zombie I am–I move slooooowly when I first get up), and then in the next 30 minutes, I kick the kids out of bed (if they’re sleeping) and hit my daily zone.

    Monday’s zone is the entry, the entry closet, and the two halls/landings on the lower and upper floors (split-level house). Tuesday is the pantry and kitchen. Wednesday is the basement and my main work office (in the basement). Thursday is most of the lower level–playroom/secondary office, bedroom. Friday is the living room and the other bedrooms. Saturday is the bathrooms and laundry room. And then Sunday is the garage and outdoors.

    I do a different thing each time I have a focus area. I start with general pickup (or directing pickup of some areas), and if that’s done quickly, I can then do a small organization effort–say, on the bedrooms day, a drawer that’s gotten a bit cluttery, or pull the out-grown clothes from one kid’s room, or help them clear a dresser that’s gotten a bit out of control, or pull clothes that have been in storage for them to wear. If it’s the bathrooms and the laundry, I might sweep the laundry room and wipe down the machines and take out the laundry trash, or I might go through a couple of drawers or a medicine cabinet, or I might wipe down the chair rail and dust up int he corners of the room.

    I try to end in 25 minutes, if I can, to start my tea kettle before work actually begins. There are usually plenty of projects, unfortunately, that need my time!

    With 30 minutes in each zone a week plus 10 minutes in the kitchen every evening and a general 10-minute pickup around the house, everything stays stashed/stowed and organized.

    Weekly and rotational seasonal cleaning, if I did it, would be another 45 minutes a day, and the daily kitchen stuff is a solid 20 minutes more, too–sweeping the floor there and in the entry, cleaning the counters, dealing with dishes, etc. Laundry would be about an hour and a half a week. Those my housekeeper/mother’s helper does because I determined that hiring someone was cheaper than paying for childcare + weekly housekeeping around here.

  7. posted by MimiR on

    I should add, because I sound like a neat freak here, that I have 3 kids, they’re home all day due to homeschool and online school (and so having to sweep the entry daily as they bang in and out), and the youngest is a toddler (hence having to sweep the kitchen daily).

    My house is still in recovery from basically being neglected for a year. My “dump room” during that time was the should-be-playroom, which got to waist-high with stuff I chucked in there. My husband came from a packrat house (For example, he’d never cleaned a toilet when we married. He only threw out empty containers when he moved, which worked for him because he was a grad student and was nowhere more than 9 months at a stretch.), and I was neck-deep in a start-up, so I had no time and we couldn’t afford any help at the time.

    After getting help and being able to cut back to just 80 hours a week of work (now working to cut back to 60!), I went through everything and did some massive, massive purging alongside the organizing. We’ve donated something like 40 bags and boxes of things this year. I needed a simpler life even with the help, I discovered–once I realized that my mother’s helper couldn’t handle everything I’d done just inside, let alone outside, let alone home improvement projects, in 30 hours a week, I realized that there was just way too much work to be done in the house. I still am far from a minimalist, but I donated every single thing that I was holding onto simply because it was “perfectly good,” I had the kids cut their toys by a solid third, I sent away piles of books I could either get in ebook format or that I wasn’t going to re-read, and I simplified a few other systems that were a bit unwieldy. Homeschooling stuff that I’m not going to use also got ditched.

    I think my hangup was the “other people” comparison. Compared to the average kid, mine didn’t have “too many toys,” but compared to what’s easy for them to handle, they did. Compared to the average person, I have a modest clothing closet, yet I had a good 15 items that shouldn’t have been there. Compared to the average person, I wasn’t hanging onto a lot of “perfectly good” stuff, but it was still messing with my enjoyment of my house. (Compared to the average person, I STILL have a ton of books, but I don’t mind that! LOL.) Yes, we still have a lot more in the house than we will in 15 years because of the kids’ ages, but now it’s all manageable.

    Most rooms are now 100% done, but there are still little corners of things to be dealt with here and there in some. So those are some of the projects that fill up my daily time allotment. I also have some curtains that still need to be hung and other minor things after finally getting new furniture for the house. And there are things that require ongoing touchups–like deliberately straightening a drawer here and there or getting a kid to **completely** clean off his/her dresser and desk and only put back what really belongs.

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