Life is all about the little things… because it’s all little things.
Big things are made of a bunch of small things. Let’s start with the minutes in our day.
So what are “the little minutes” anyways?
They’re the few minutes here and there that you forget you have, and you never account for. Because of that, these are the minutes we all end up wasting if we’re not intentional.
The Little Minutes
I’m going to give you five steps to help you take full advantage of the little minutes.
And then we’ll talk about small choices. Because life is made of little minutes and small choices.
So these little minutes. First you have to find them. Here’s how…
Step 1: List Everything You Need to Do
To find the little minutes, you have to track all the minutes. Don’t worry. You don’t have to track them every day forever, but in the beginning you need to get an idea of where your time is going.
Start by making a list of everything you need to get done in your day, such as job-related tasks, and everything you want to get done as far as hobbies and side-hustle tasks go.
It doesn’t have to be as specific as “brush your teeth.” You can simply put “get ready for work.” You’ll figure out if something takes more or less time than you thought it did.
Here’s what your list may look like:
This is an oversimplified version as an example. I would love for life to really be this easily categorized. Your list may be much longer, and that’s totally normal. You’ll probably have several things to do when you get home, and to make best use of this, you’ll want to list your work projects individually as well.
You can track this for as many days as you want, but a week usually gives you a good estimate of how much time you typically spend on daily tasks. Of course, you need to make sure you do this on a typical week, if there is such a thing for you.
Step 2: Guesstimate Your Time
Now that you have your list, how long does each task take?
This is simply an estimate, or a guesstimation, but it’s important to be honest.
Write how long you really think it will take, and if you think of different numbers, always go with the bigger one. It’s better to overestimate here than the opposite.
Here’s what your list may look like now:
These numbers are going to be wrong and that’s fine.
We’ll get the true numbers in the next step.
Step 3: Track Your Time
Now that you have estimated how long everything takes, it’s time to find out the truth.
See if you were right.
Take this paper, spreadsheet or smartphone doc with you, and track your time.
When you get off the subway on the way to work, write down how long the trip took. When you finish a project, write down the time. And so on. After a week of tracking this, you can get a good estimate of the daily things.
Here’s what your list may look like once you’ve done this:
Remember, you’ll need to make a list each day for at least a few days, if not a week, to get an accurate view.
Step 4: Find Your Little Minutes
Now you’ve actually tracked your time. You know approximately how long everything takes.
It’s time to find your little minutes. They’re everywhere, and that’s great, because they’re valuable.
First, you can find the easy minutes you can expect every single day. Remember how you thought that hair appointment was going to take 30 minutes and you sat in the waiting room for another 30 minutes? That wasn’t the first time that had happened. You can expect things like that.
This process is not about strictly tracking each minute, and then doing a formula to figure out exactly where each extra minute is going. It’s simply a guide to show you that you do have extra time, and approximately where it’s at. Here are some examples of the little minutes you have in your day:
- Sitting in waiting rooms
- Riding public transportation
- Waiting to leave home after you’re ready for work
- Time before bed after all your daily tasks are finished
- Time in the morning you didn’t know you had (snooze button time, anyone?)
The little minutes are everywhere, and you didn’t even realize they existed.
How much more reading could you get done if you started reading during the little minutes? Probably a lot.
The most important thing here is to not waste the little minutes! Here’s how to take advantage of them…
Step 5: Don’t Waste the Little Minutes
So now you know you have the little minutes — the extra time, but what do you do with it?
You have options! Here are some ideas for filling the little minutes:
- Carry a book – This is a common one, and for good reason. Always have a book with you, because you don’t always know when the little minutes will appear. Perhaps you thought you had a 2:00 meeting with your boss, but your 2:00 is his or her 2:15. Pull out that book.
- Keep podcasts on your phone – You may have an app for listening to podcasts, but do you keep a few downloaded on your phone? What if you’re in a place with terrible service? I suggest keeping a couple podcasts on your phone for that reason. I know I do.
- Find a productive app – My weapon on choice is Blinkist, a website and app full of the best book summaries I’ve ever read. I read a book summary here and there as a break when I’m working, and I use the Blinkist app to fill the little minutes throughout my day.
- Keep a “little to-do list” – I follow David Allen’s two-minute rule, which is “anything that can be done in less than two minutes, do it immediately,” but there are those five, ten and 15-minute tasks. Keep a list of them, as well as other projects that you can work on for a few minutes at a time. When the little minutes pop up, that to-do list pops out.
Those are just a few ideas. I’m sure you can think of more that fit your life.
It may sound daunting at first to track all of your time, and keep a list of ways to fill the little minutes, but you’ll get used to it. You only have to track your time for a week, or just a few days if you want.
You will develop a habit of doing your go-to thing(s) to fill the little minutes. It will become second nature.
You’ll be amazed at the results you see from a few minutes here and there.
So what about the small choices?
You’ve always put cream and sugar in your coffee, but today is different.
You went to put that second spoonful of sugar, and you stopped halfway through.
You only put one and a half today. You’re not sure why, and you’re not sure if it matters.
It matters more than you would ever know. That half of a spoonful could change your life, if you let it.
Habits are built by small choices. Small choices, practiced daily, turn into huge choices over time.
When it’s a negative habit, we just brush it off as a bad habit that doesn’t matter much, although we know what it will do to us over time. When it’s a positive habit, we call it self-discipline. And that’s what we’re going to talk about.
How do you start a new habit? With a small decision to change. A small decision that turns into a large result.
You decide you want to be a runner, so you run around the block. You want to be a daily reader, so today you read one page. You want to start a new writing habit, so today you write 100 words, or just ten words. You start small, knowing it’s going to snowball into a life-changing habit.
So yes, small choices matter. But they don’t just matter, they’re everything. And it’s important to remember that.
When you’re running and you decide to run to one more mailbox, after you planned on stopping, that decision matters. You just made a huge step towards becoming a successful runner, if you continue on that path. How many mailboxes would you run to over the course of a month, if you were constantly “just doing one more?”
It matters. It all matters. More than you know, or at least, more than you used to know. But honestly, you know each one of those decisions matter. That’s why it bothers you when you planned on doing 10 reps and you only do nine.
You know how it will compound. If you do nine today, it will be much easier mentally to do eight tomorrow. It’s a downward spiral that happens faster than we think. Every time.
Bad Small Choices, Good Small Choices
Don’t fall for the “I might as well go all out mindset.” This is referred to in the world of habit creation as the “what the hell effect.” I didn’t name it that. That’s just what it’s called.
You know what I mean. You’re on a diet, and it’s going great. Until one day, you meet a friend at a Chinese buffet. You think:
“I’m going to cheat, so I might as well go all out. I’ll have a Coke. And…I’ll pack out my plate with fried food, before going back for a second plate of rice and noodles. Yeah, I’ll have some soup too. And I can’t forget the desert bar.”
30 minutes later, you feel like you’re going to die.
Sometimes we need that. Sometimes we need to go all out. But the key word is “sometimes.”
You shouldn’t go all out every time you cheat on your diet. You shouldn’t do absolutely no exercise every time you miss your hour-long workout. You shouldn’t wait until tomorrow to resume your daily reading habit, even if tomorrow is Monday. Read today.
Those small choices are important.
Why Small Choices Are Everything
And it seems like every study says the same thing. Habits start small, you need a cue and you need a reward.
The Study published a tool for creating new habits. Here’s their checklist:
- Decide on a goal that you would like to achieve for your health.
- Choose a simple action that will get you towards your goal which you can do on a daily basis.
- Plan when and where you will do your chosen action. Be consistent: choose a time and place that you encounter every day of the week.
- Every time you encounter that time and place, do the action.
- It will get easier with time, and within 10 weeks you should find you are doing it automatically without even having to think about it.
- Congratulations, you’ve made a healthy habit!
My goal (e.g. ‘to eat more fruit and vegetables’) ____________________________________
My plan (e.g. ‘after I have lunch at home I will have a piece of fruit’)
(When and where) ___________________________ I will ___________________________
The key phrase is “choose a simple action.” If you start too big, you fail. If you start small, it’s easier and you have nothing to lose.
This model is extremely effective. The problem is, we would rather read about how to do it, instead of just taking the first small step. I’ve been guilty of this and so have you.
It All Matters
Every choice matters in some way. And that’s good! Now you can feel good about each one. Likewise, every minute of the day matters. You don’t want to stress yourself out making sure every minute is a productive one, but you should know where your time is going.
When you go for that donut, and decide you don’t need it, you just had a small win, and you know that’s huge! When you track your mornings and find extra time, success!
Small wins are all you need for huge success. You just have to have enough of them.
Every decision you make has some sort of implication on your life. Remember that when you’re happy and when you’re stressed. Remember that on the weekdays and the weekends. Remember that morning and night.
It makes “micro quotas” and “macro goals.” That means using small habits to create huge results.
Everything you do matters. Take the word “just” out of your vocabulary, unless you use it for good. It’s not “just” one more spoonful of sugar. It’s not “just” one more piece of pizza. It’s not “just” one day without completing your habit. It’s not “just” 10 minutes before you need to leave for work.
But it is “just” one more mailbox. It’s “just” one more page. It’s “just” 100 more words to write.
Flip your thinking. Stop making excuses for why you can do the bad, and start doing the good.
Further Book Reading
- Gardner, B., Lally, P., & Wardle, J. (2012). Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 62(605), 664–666. https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp12X659466