Sometimes I make up mind games that I play with myself to rebalance my priorities for work and home. Every once in awhile I use the 30 minutes a day trick espoused by organizational experts and create a temporary new life rule for myself. Here is my daily choice: I can spend 30 minutes a day organizing or cleaning something at home, volunteer for an hour somewhere (working late does not count!), exercise for at least 30 minutes, or meditate. Every day.  For 30 days. Or more. Or less. My game, my rules.

Because it’s so easy to walk away from a resolution – new year or not – I allow myself this variety. I know that I can waste at an hour and a half on TV some nights so this rule is something I know is manageable. Also, because I tend to spend too much time at work, having this rule in place makes me very conscious of the extra time I spend at the end of the day at work cleaning up emails or returning phone calls. The more time I spend at work, the less time I have to relax at home after I commit to my 30 minutes.

30 Minutes – Decision Time

During the week, after I get home from work and eat dinner, I make my decision. What am I going to do with my 30 minutes? Making this decision is similar to the decision not to hit the snooze button or stay in the shower forever. So sometimes, just to get started, I have to physically do something – open a closet door, put on my walking shoes, open a file drawer – take an action. In order to stay on task, I have to literally set a timer for 30 minutes and force myself to stay at it until the timer goes off. I usually hit the wall at about 20 minutes but push through until the buzzer. And then I stop. If there is more work to do in an area, I come back to it the next day or another day.

Organize – Taking Care of My Surroundings

One night I made a commitment to organizing my “gift closet.” This closet is not only where I store gifts for future giving but where I store gifts other people have given me that I don’t know what to do with. So I started cleaning, weeding, tossing. This closet took five full 30-minute sessions to get it where I wanted it to be. Once I crossed the emotional barrier of making choices about what I really want to have in that closet, ridding my home of things I don’t use became more of a norm. All decisions about what to keep, store, throw away, not buy became easier once this basic work was done.

This can be fun. I apply this 30 minute concept to other areas of my home that need tending: junk drawers, countertops, sock drawers. I tried a short-cut version of the Life Changing Magic of Tidying up and did just one sock drawer to see what the fuss was all about. I could see the value – I now have one sock drawer that makes perfect sense – but I don’t want to be a slave to a process. One benefit of this exercise is that it does make me feel particularly zen to have an area of my life cleansed of detritus. This shedding of stuff detoxifies my spirit as well as my home. I feel lighter.

Exercise – Taking Care of My Body

When I get sick to death of cleaning out closets and drawers, I have the option of taking myself for a walk or setting the timer for 30 minutes of exercise. I am seldom able to stick with a regular exercise routine, so when I play the 30 minute game I get my body moving which of course makes the rest of my life better too. If I get bored of walks, I go to the fitness center. For me, this approach works best because I can make a choice. If the weather is crummy, I can clean a closet. If it’s nice out, I can get outside. Sometimes I treat myself like I’m a 2-year old: Donna, you can take a walk or clean out a file drawer. Which is it?

Volunteer – Taking Care of My Spirit

I learned a long time ago that volunteering is good for more than my community. It’s good for my spirit. Like with exercise, I haven’t been able to sustain a regular routine of volunteering. Many times in my life I have volunteered – sometimes over several years for the same cause – so I know I’m capable of the commitment. I just need a nudge. So I add volunteering to the list of activities that satisfy my 30 minute requirement. Because of the nature of the activity, and because I’m making up the rules, a one hour minimum makes more sense as a time period when it comes to volunteering. Helping a friend counts. Volunteering with a friend is even better.

Be – Taking Care of my Heart

For many years now, I’ve been working on what used to be one of the hardest tasks for me – sit still and just be. Setting the timer for 30 minutes of time to sit and be still repairs my heart in different ways than 30 minutes of exercise does. I can try a particular practice I’ve learned or I can just sit still and clear my mind. When I do this meditation outdoors I get the most benefit.

It’s so easy for me to get caught in a cycle of thinking that somehow I am serving the greater good by over-working. Committing to setting a timer for 30 minutes a day for 30 days can help me refocus my energies towards my home, my community, my friends and myself. And that makes me happy.

Recommended Reading:

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — A True Story/Dan Harris (2014)

This book is for anyone who enjoys a good laugh and a good story about transformation. Harris’ breezy style belies some darker content. Harris goes through some self-inflicted hard times. His encounter with a hummingbird at a meditation retreat makes the whole book worth the read. If Dan Harris can learn how to meditate, anyone can.

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun/Gretchen Rubin (2009)

I started being a Gretchen Rubin fan when I read this book. Her insights, humor and vulnerability are mixed with practical advice and engaging stories from her life. I also like that though written 5 years apart, both authors are aiming for the same thing: doing small acts to make themselves just a little happier.