Got 15 minutes?

This is a rerun of a previously published post. Reruns are great, right? Especially if you didn’t see it the first time around. I’ll be back tomorrow with a brand-new post.

Whether you’re decluttering your house, trying to go green, save money, get organized, or all of the above, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

The key is baby steps. Divide your goals into small increments, and you can chip away at them until- tada! Before you know it, you’ll have a whole closet organized, or the entire living room decluttered.

15 minute increments are just enough time to make a dent. You can start and complete one thing, or if you’re on a roll, you can keep going. By working in 15 minute chunks of time, you can get a lot done.

In the book About a Boy by Nick Hornby, and then in the movie, the character played by Hugh Grant divided his day into 15 minute blocks. He did this because he lived off his father’s money, didn’t work, and had a lot of free time to fill. I don’t know anyone who can relate to that, but I love the book and the movie, and I like the idea of the 15 minute increments, especially for trying to start projects that seem overwhelming.

So here are some of the things you can tackle in 15 minutes:

1. That stack of mail.
2. Your email inbox.
3. Online bills.
4. Your desktop.
5. Your computer desktop.
6. One drawer, one shelf, or one area in your home.
7. The refrigerator.
8. The pantry.
9. Your car.
10. A handwritten thank you note.

Here’s how it’s working for me: I have an index card on my bulletin board placed right where I see it all the time when I’m on the computer. It simply says “15 minutes” in block letters. I try to stop for 15 minutes once or twice a day, usually to go through mail or whittle down my inbox. Otherwise my time gets eaten up by the never-ending to-do lists, full of must-dos and short and long-term goals.

How do YOU accomplish your organizing and decluttering tasks and goals? Do you think the “15 minute system” could work for you? What tasks would you put on your “15 minute” list? Tell me your thoughts in the Comments section.

P.S. Since I wrote this, I found out that “the Fly Lady” is famous for her 15-minute philosophy. I wasn’t forgetting to give her credit, I just hadn’t heard of her.


  1. calimama@compactbydesign says

    I love the “15 minute” idea! I am always getting lost (for hours it seems) with the great online world. I have a pile of filing that I keep telling myself I’ll get to. It get’s bigger. I keep telling myself. This morning I told myself I couldn’t get online to see what everyone was doing until I had that pile put away.

    It took about 15 minutes! i think I’ll have to implement that and see how much else I can get done.

    And I haven’t seen the movie or read the book but I too love the idea of splitting the day into 15 minute increments. Somehow it just seems like so much more could be accomplished and the day would feel so much longer. Unless you’re in an office all day, then that may not be such a good thing.

  2. Angela says

    Glad you could get your filing done in only 15 minutes! I think I have a bit more than that…

    And yes, it’s probably sad but true that if you work in an office all day, you might not always want the day to feel so much longer…

  3. Kate says

    I usually use ’10 minute’ chunks of time for things I’ve been procrastinating. My thought is that I can do anything for 10 minutes. Even things I don’t really want to do. What I usually find is that once I get started, I enjoy what I’m doing and spend more than 10 minutes on the task.

  4. Jill says

    I always use the 15 minute rule when I need to get things done! I carry a timer with me around from room to room and I will usually do 15 mins in one room and then go to another room for 15 mins then back to the original room for another 15 and so on and so on. This stops me from getting bored and sidetracked!

  5. Angela says

    I psych myself out the same way, about starting any new project- “I’ll just do it for 10 minutes(or in my case, 15)” and then I usually keep going because I tend to get involved in things.
    So you’ve been onto the system for a long time! Although I don’t know if I’d ever get anything done if I went from room to room…

    Thanks for coming by!

  6. sunny says

    I’ve been doing this for years. Love it! An “a-ha!” moment happened when the Flylady’s words ( sunk in. not “you can do anything IN 15 minutes” but “you can do anything FOR 15 minutes”.

    those 15 minutes chunks of time add up after awhile and break projects into manageable segments.

    I spent one YEAR thinking “ugh” about my big storage room of a bedroom closet and piled clothes on my bedroom floor (yes, like a teenager does). Then one week, I spent time tackling the closet in 15 minute segments and it took only that week (or less) to put all things in order and have an adult, tidy closet that is useful.

    When my apt is overwhelming (like it is now)..I’ll be doing 10-minute segment just to bring order to the four rooms.

  7. sunny says

    that’s “segments” plural when I do the 10-minute segments. One bout of 10 minutes would not do the apartment justice.

  8. Angela says

    Hi Sunny-

    Thanks for coming by. I’ll have to check out the Fly Lady.

    Yes, the 10 or 15 minute intervals is definitely working for me. It makes a dent, and then sometimes I get inspired and keep going, like yesterday when I ended up organizing all my closets. yay.

  9. Alea says

    My mom rewards herself for working for 15 mintes by reading a chapter of a book. After the chapter is done then she does another 15 minutes of work. She alternates like this through out the day. I, unfortunately, do not have the self control to stop after one chapter…

  10. Betsy Talbot says

    I did a whole series on decluttering on the blog earlier this year, and each time I spent between 15-30 minutes on a task. I have a short attention span when doing things I don't like (don't we all?), so making it short and focused is the key.

    Remember, I still have to get rid of a house and almost everything in it by 10/01/10, so I'll be utilizing this technique for another 402 days!

  11. WilliamB says

    Your stack of mail must be a lot smaller than mine!

    Mail – desk paper in general – is my sisyphean chore. Sometimes it's almost all done (there's always filing) and sometimes it builds up greatly. I deal with that by making subpiles. Usually the piles are
    – financial
    – medical
    – bills
    – important (ie, things I care about, such as my favorite charity)
    – unimportant (things I don't care about but aren't clearly junk)
    – stuff (such as clippings I want to act on)

    Someday, maybe, I'll always be on top of my mail. But it's been -ahem/cough- years since I've been on my own and it's always been an issue.

  12. Angela says

    Alea- I like your mom's method, but I couldn't do it either! I would get wrapped up in either the chore or the book!

    Betsy- I know, I love your decluttering series! For anyone who hasn't checked it out, there are so many good posts on Betsy's blog all around the issue of decluttering. Lots of great tips, advice, and information. Plus it's inspiring! I remember one day I started on a closet after reading Betsy's post, and I was just going to "make a dent" and I finished the whole closet!

    WilliamB- I meant "make a dent" in the stack of mail, not go through the whole thing. I have the same problem and am really working on how to get this pesky chore to go away. I'm trying to get less of the junk mail in the first place, and then I need to make some of them stop sending me mail. For example, I give a little to several charities, but then they send mail all year round asking for more. I've got to figure out a way to pay once a year, and that's that. No more mail. That is a huge amount. Anyway, I've got three stacks about 10 inches high right now, one is to open, one is to read, and one it to act. That's about as bad as it gets, but it's pretty bad…

  13. WilliamB says

    I've tried telling charities that I donate to, not to send me mail. It never works. I think the only way is to make a fully anonymous donation – one in which the charity doesn't know who gave.

  14. rosa rugosa says

    I like to work from lists, and sometimes I find it useful to list manageable subcomponents of a daunting major task, e.g. major task of clean/declutter cellar, subcomponents: go through videotapes, organize glues/adhesives in a storage box, clear off work bench, etc. We've been at it for a couple of weeks, one baby step at a time, and we're making progress! "Clean cellar" was just too formidable!


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