Get your motor runnin’, Day 6: Make 10 minutes make a difference


If you’re old enough, you’ve heard the joke already, and if you’re not (or you just haven’t), it’s high time:

Man in NYC #1: Excuse me–how do you get to Carnegie Hall?
Man in NYC #2: Practice. You %$#@*!

Note to young people: in the joke as it was told to me, the second guy–clearly a native New Yorker–did not curse. As a former New Yorker, I can assure you the cursing version is more accurate; New York moves fast, brother, and has no time for fake politeness*.

At any rate of speed, New Yorkers are a great lot for getting things done, because they have to be ingenious about it, the non-wealthy ones, anyway. Time and space are at a premium, so you both learn to make the most of what you’ve got and to appreciate the hell out of it. Many of the good habits I’ve learned, writing fast, cleaning up as I cook, how to eat while walking, when necessary, I picked up during my three years living in New York as a rich-in-opportunity, poor-in-money intern at Ye Olde Madison Avenue Sweatshop.

If email response is any indication, I recently wrote my most popular column ever for The Networker, the monthly newsletter that goes out to LA (and SF and NY) Casting members. The subject? 10 things you can do in 30 minutes each to improve your career. (Well, to market yourself, but that falls under the rubric of improvement, I’d say. I guess it’s human nature to feel overwhelmed by the big, perhaps because when we compare ourselves to the infinite, we see how small we are.

So while I generally eschew all these “100 ways you can skin a cat” posts, I’m relenting this once, because it is, after all something new for me to try, which should help get my own motor running. And because we’re all looking for ways to do more with less time, they’re short, 10 minutes or less each. (And NOT ONE OF THEM is about taking a walk, doing jumping jacks or meditating. So there!)

Basically, these are ideas to break down huge, colossal projects like:

  • find new job
  • get a life
  • find a romantic partner
  • start a blog/learn what this #@%* social media thing is all about
  • etcetera

into manageable chunks. Most of them (surprise, surprise) will work to make you a better communicator, which is a skill that cuts across all kinds of desired goals. It’s one of those fundamental, don’t-skip steps that some of us step-skippers (cough-cough) try to skip anyway.

Here, then, are my…

30 Ways to Start Initiating Big Change in 10 Minutes (or Less)

  1. Park your ass in the chair, pull out your resume, rewrite the Objective or Summary so it’s interesting. (Think movie synopsis, story for a SMART 8-year-old, catching up an old friend on what you’ve been doing, etc.)
  2. Re-record your voice mail message so that it is shorter, friendlier and more charming. (Smile while doing it; it really does help.)
  3. The Improve My Relationships Hack. Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a few weeks, but not someone you haven’t spoken to in a few months. Tell them at the outset of the call that you can only talk for 10 minutes, but you want to spend it telling them how much you like them, and why. Or tell them you’d thought of calling them when you saw x the other day, but you forgot, and now you are. But do the 10 minutes thing up front. (You can schedule another time to talk later if you want.)
  4. The Be Here Now Hack. Set a timer, then go play with the dog for 10 minutes. You’re setting the timer because chances are you will not want to stop after 10 minutes (I never do, unless I’m winded), and your dog certainly won’t. Only your dog will be fine with this; they’re great at living in the moment, are dogs.
  5. Go to your hard drive. Find your pictures folder. Create a subfolder called “Happy”. Pull out as many photos from your main folder that make you smile as you can in 10 minutes. Put them in the folder named “Happy” and save that folder as your screensaver. You can do this in 10-minute chunks if you’re slow or an overthinker, like me. (Cursed Virgo tendencies, they give, and they take away.) Again, set a timer. Big rabbit hole potential with this one.
  6. Pull out your favorite book, open at random and read one page.
  7. Pull out ANY piece of hard-copy reading material and read it one paragraph out loud. Now read it out loud as if you were telling someone a secret. Now read it out loud as if you were furious at someone.
  8. Put on a favorite song, one you know most of the words to. Sing out loud with it. Twice, once, just full out, to yourself, and once as though you’re singing it to someone you love. (They don’t have to be there. Or use the dog.)
  9. Take a piece of paper and draw yourself. Even if it sucks. Try repeating this every day.
  10. Write an email to someone you admire telling them why. You don’t have to send it, although you certainly can. Later. Not these 10 minutes.
  11. Take three deep breaths. (Okay, this is CLOSE to meditating, I’ll admit. But it takes way less time and is also very effective and awesome.)
  12. Ladies! Clean out your purses! (Mens! Clean out your man purse or wallet!)
  13. Go through a magazine you’ve been meaning to read, rip out the articles you actually think you might read, and throw the rest in the recycle bin. (Alternatively, go around your workspace or home collecting stray magazines and corral them in one place. Do the 10-minute scan later.)
  14. Clean out old files, paper or electronic, for 10 minutes. (Timer thing.)
  15. If you’re a GTD-er, spend 10 minutes with your Someday-Maybe list. Pick one thing you want to still do and figure out how you could move toward that thing in 10 minutes. (Hint: think practice if it’s something you want to get better at, or research if it’s something you know nothing about.)
  16. Go leave a comment on someone else’s blog. A good one, that adds something, not a “Great post!”, dig-me kinda comment.
  17. If you haven’t the night before, write out the list of things you need to do today with the time estimated for each. Check your real time against your estimated time and revise accordingly, moving forward. (I am so still working on this one.)
  18. Clean your computer monitor or your eyeglasses.
  19. Go pee. (Okay, this one won’t make sense to some of you, but for others, you’re going to be all “WOW. I feel SO much better!”)
  20. Write out, by hand, your favorite quotation. (If you don’t have one, and you should have many, I think, Google “quotations + happiness” for starters.) Do this every day for a month. I still have a journal of these I started way, way back in college. It’s hilarious in some ways, but kind of inspiring in others; we really are what we spend our time thinking about and doing.
  21. Think of an object. Write a haiku about it.
  22. Think of a country. Write a limerick about it.
  23. Select a book you’ve been meaning to read but have been blowing off. Preferably of a helpful, edifying nature but not TOO smartypants. Preferably one you don’t mind getting a little messed up. Put a bookmark in the front of it. Bring it to your bathroom. Leave it there, and remove any magazines on your way out (or ones that belong to you, if you’re sharing.) From now until it’s done or you’ve decided that it actually sucks and you’re not going to read it and you’re ready to pass it on to the used bookstore (or Goodwill, depending on how beat to sh*t it is), that’s what you’re reading in the bathroom.
  24. Repeat #22, only make sure this book is inspiring. Put it next to your bed. That’s what you’re reading before bed until it’s done or you’re done with it.
  25. Make a folder in your bookmarks toolbar called “daily.” In it, put all your time-wasters: email, Facebook, Twitter; you know your poison. Pick a time once or twice per day. That’s when you go to that folder, period.
  26. Make a list of your favorite books as a kid. (I hope to god you have something on this list. If not, feel free to use mine, Bread and Jam for Frances, or any of the Frances books.) The next time you are at the bookstore, buy one of these books. (Or if you’re broke, the next time you’re at the used bookstore or the library.) When you start beating yourself up, pull out the book and read for 10 minutes.
  27. If you don’t already, get and install the StumbleUpon toolbar for your Firefox browser. NOT SO THAT YOU CAN SURF. You will use this to “thumbs up” great things you read. NOT CAT VIDEOS OR MEAN GOSSIP. (Well, okay, some cat videos.) And guess what: each thing you “thumbs up” or Stumble, I want you to write a brief review of why people should read this. If the little box doesn’t pop up automatically, go into your toolbar and click on the speech bubble thingy. Do not be a lazy-ass surfer: add to the greater good; make yourself smarter in the process.
  28. If you have never heard of StumbleUpon, take 10 minutes and read this, or Google it.
  29. If you’re still using Internet Explorer, take 10 minutes and read about what Firefox is. Then take another 10 sometime and install it. Seriously. You’re going to be left behind if you don’t.
  30. Leave a comment on this post. You don’t have to take 10 minutes; in fact, I’d rather you just write. It can be some great tip; it can be something you’ve tried implementing before that sucks. It can be some fear about starting that you’re releasing. Be imperfect. Share yourself. Use your words.

Ready? Go…


*On the other hand, New Yorkers are some of the most genuinely kind people I’ve met, not to mention generous, tolerant and open-minded. City people get a bad rap, but I’ve found most of them to be pretty creamy in the middle, once you scratch the hard-candy shell.

Image by tanakawho via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Awesome & Thank you! Already working on a few & I have my daughter playing along. We’re singing songs (very loudly), composing an email to her 4th grade teacher, making our “happy” folder, not sure I can do the purse thing but will try and now off to make hot cocoa!

    Gotta say, while visiting NYC, I learned to appreciate my frontyard/backyard and my big bathrooms.

    Looking forward to the rest Ms. C!

  2. Three things here:

    1. Re #12: if you’re a man and you have a man purse, you should spend the 10 minutes reducing its contents so that they fit into a wallet, or else put them in a messenger bag or a laptop case or something. And then spend an additional 10 minutes, maybe at the end of the day, maybe with some hard liquor in hand, contemplating how it was that you ever, even temporarily, came to use a man purse.

    2. Re #22:

    There once was a lad went to Scotland,
    To St. Andrews where there isn’t a lot-o’-land.
    He’d come there from Texas
    With his bride of fair sex-as,
    And then they returned back to hot-land.

    (Humor me, please.)

    3. Are you FOR SURE we weren’t separated at birth? Two data points:

    I’m just sayin’.

  3. Angie – You are a good mama! Teach them babies young, I say!

    Tim – Definitely not. I’m just learning this stuff and I’ve got a good 10 years on you, I’m guessing.

  4. I hate that I have to run out the door five minutes ago at this stage. I just want to go through the list a second (maybe third) time. This basically means I’m contravening #16 but, well, great post! (Should I promise to come back and be more helpful later on today?)

  5. I’m a great proponent (and a so-so practitioner) of writing – ANYTHING, and often! I’m not a trained writer, but the very exercise of writing provides so many benefits, primarily, articulating thought. If you’re already an articulate person, then use writing as a commitment device, to declare (then follow up on) your commitments. if you’re already a declarative personality and complete everything you start [then you probably aren’t reading this post], then use writing to secretly release your other personas, who are probably surprisingly creative. If those other personas are neurotic, let them talk in clumsy, incoherent sentence fragments. Don’t show the writing to anyone; let them live their curious little lives in a notebook in the drawer. See? You’ve released and even acknowledged them, without turning over your life to them. Over time you can decide if you want to invite them to the party.

  6. adds:
    write three thank you cards today (make one to yourself, if you can muster it!); be specific, what are you thankful for? How did it help you?
    favorite childhood book (of adulthood): A is for Aloha

    rock out on your guitar today, Colleen!


  7. The first time my dad went to NY – oh probably the ’40’s – this happened (he’s told this story a hundred times):
    “Dapper Gentleman” is leaning against a wall with a newspaper.
    Dad: Can you tell me how to get to 40th Street?
    Dapper Gentleman: What? I look like a fucking tourguide?

    You can try it with your family or friends.
    “Hey, change the channel.”
    “What? I look like a…”

    Okay, I’m buying a timer and putting it in my office.

  8. Reading this kick-*ss list, I suddenly had a huge AHA! moment…I have a DEEP aversion to WRITING THINGS DOWN. I mean like deep-seated, psychic trauma kind of aversion. It just really hit me hard that writing things down = carving in stone. It’s why I can’t bring myself to put a single mark in any of my books…(“What if those aren’t the quotes I feel like highlighting TOMORROW?”) (Can you say fear of commitment, boys and girls?) Guess I need to go buy a timer and start writing sh*t down… :)

  9. Well I was just this morning wailing about how the length and breadth of my ToDo list is making my head spin, and that all I can figure to do about it is to break things down into small bits. And then here you go with breakin’ it down.

    Yep, I know, you’re approaching this from the make-a-difference angle, but you successfully remind me that 10 minutes here and there can really add up. Heck, I could do everything on your list today–just 5 hours worth; looking at that from the other end is: Look how much I can get done in 5 hours!

    See how much more slowly my head is spinning now?! Thank you kindly.

  10. I’ve printed out this list and posted it by my computer. So many of these are take-care-of-you ideas, in addition to being increase-your-productivity ideas.

    And I, too, love the Frances books! My fave was “A Bargain for Frances.” And this is going to sound weird, but I actually have it on a shelf above my desk with about two dozen other books I loved as a kid, e.g. A Wrinkle in Time, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, anything by Lois Duncan.

    When I decided late last year that I needed to remember why I wanted to be a writer in the first place, I got out all my old childhood books and began to read them again, hoping to reconnect with my voice, with me. When I’m feeling intimidated or a little lost, I look up at those books and remember what it was like to really read for pleasure.

    Tx for the list!

  11. Awesome list!
    #19 made total sense to me and I’m thinking about trying out #9 as a project for myself this year. Thanks for the inspiration! I’ve tried the Stumbleupon thing before and found it just caused me to waste more time. Though perhaps I should try stumbling and actually reviewing the sites instead of just thumbing them up or down.

  12. Had to laugh when I got to #19…

    Also love the photo screensaver idea.

    My best (less than) 10 minute tip is…if it’s something you can take care of in less than 2 minutes. You should just do it right then.

    I swear it’s the only reason toilet paper gets put onto the holder, the bed gets made, or half the stuff if our house ever gets put away.

  13. Yay!!! Look at everyone, playing along. And so nicely!

    Fionnula – No promises! Just forward motion. That’s the only promise needed.

    Bruce – Amen. Another reason I’m forever recommending the Artist’s Way. She totally gets the need for writing writing writing, no matter that no one (including you, after the first time) is seeing it.

    Dyana – My finger pads are starting to hurt, so it’s working. Good reminder on the thanks, Queen o’ Threes.

    Tim – I’m totally stealing that story. Awesome.

    Marilyn – I’m with you on the book thing. You & I are from the era where those who reared us still thought of books as precious and scarce resources. But write! In pencil, if you must. You’re gonna deprive people of shit and yourself of progress b/c of an old phobia? Feh!

    Leila – We all of us forget. I forget. Why do you think I have this blog?

    Diane – That’s a great Frances book, you’re right. Although my fave line ever came from the “bedtime” one, where her dad talks about everyone having a job. Brilliant exchange of dialogue. (And I just gave away my copy of Wrinkle to a young lady who needed to read it!)

    Jennifer – Thanks! Yes, please do try Stumble for the ADDING, CREATING feature, not the mindless consuming feature, before giving it up. Great discipline. You can start with this post. HUZZAH!

    Abbie – I know, right? That 2-minute rule is a good one. I ignore it constantly, which means it’s probably a great one for me to look at.

  14. You’ve shared a lot of ideas here. I completely second Firefox. I kept IE just in case, but haven’t used it since getting Firefox.

    As for comments on how I’m going to get my motor runnin’, it is already runnin’, because I had my first audition of the year yesterday and that audition was fantastic. Since I didn’t do much networking through the mail during December, today I’m going to get started on follow up postcards letting industry know about the classes I was in last month. I’m looking forward to a workshop I signed up for that is happening soon.

    This is going to be a very successful year.

  15. Pamela – It’s a good idea to hang on to a copy of IE just in case, like you said. Some farkakte companies still insist on making things work best in IE (“best” being a highly relative term).

    Good for you on all the new year networking stuff! Keep it up, report back!

  16. Of course, you know the folder is there, so you can still go to all the time-wasting sites. But hopefully, it’ll slow you down. It does me, when I use it :-)

  17. #6 is really jumping out at me. I think that may be the biggest message here. People — print out the whole list and put on your calendar to read it at least once a month. Whatever grabs you is what you’re meant to do now. Thanks, Colleen!

  18. This is my first stop at your site–found you through a Gretchen Rubin post. . . and I love what I see!! Thanks for all the inspiring ideas–and for encouraging us to leave feedback. Maybe one of my ten-minute goals should be to actually comment on blogs I tend to frequent! (oops!)

    My favourite Frances book was also A Bargain for Frances. I had the companion 45 too–with a little “ding” when it was time to turn the pages. My all-time fave, though, is still Harriet the Spy. I read it every few years, but still can’t watch the movie. . . just in case the magic disappears.
    My ten-minute weekly goal: to mail something to someone I care about. Anything. Postcards. But I can see already that some weeks will have a few ten-minute segments. . . one to collect the object, one to wrap & address it, one to add it to the post-office trip.

  19. Sunny – You know, I think *I* might print it out. Easier than having to dredge up stuff from my brain. (And until the Cultured Code folk get tags on Things for the iPhone, lo-tech is the way to go.)

    LoriAnn – So many Frances fans! I love that we’re all finding each other late in life. And I can’t bring myself to watch the Harriet the Spy movie, either. Too precious to risk.

    Thanks for the kind words!

  20. Wow! This was/is awesome — it inspires *and* provides real, useable tools for us procrastinators. Fantastic post! Thank you.

  21. I’ve just recently started following your blog, and it’s posts like this that keep me coming back.

    For the music-obsessed (like me), one of my favorite 10-minute type projects is to go into iTunes and spend just a little bit of time creating/editing playlists. My iPod is my lifeline, and my moods change all the time. So, proper playlists are super important to me! Just spending a little bit of time making sure I have the right music for the right task makes a lot of difference to me!

  22. e. – You’re welcome. That’s all it is, really–a list of tips for tricking yourself out of procrastinating. Thanks for putting it that way.

    Jaime – Thank you! And I LOOOOOVE that 10-minute project. Such a smart idea. I do the same thing with playlists; I’m going to add it to my 10-minute to-dos.

  23. I have done #13 many times. I get magazines from the free bin at the library, and stick magazines that I get in the bin when I’m through. They’re always picked up.

    I would say:

    Try to handmake something you use, like the thank you cards (make it simple to keep in ten minutes).

    Put supplies where you need them (like scissors and tape with giftwrap). This will change irritation at not having them.

    I like to browse through things that inspire me, like my favorites on Flickr, stuff, or my photos folder, to get a jump start on creativity.

    Thanks for the tips – will do some today!!

  24. Pingback: Basil Exposition
  25. I learned #13 from a coworker back in my ad ho days. We were flying back from some client meeting somewhere and she had all these stapled articles from the New Yorker. (Whereas I had a giant honkin’ stack of New Yorkers from which I usually grabbed the top three when heading out on a trip.) She said her hubby read and tore out stuff for her he thought she might like. Some people might say that’s fucking up your New Yorker; I call it LOVE.

    Thanks for the creativity starter. That’s another good toolbar folder/delicious tag to create.

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