How to Get Big Things Done in Small Windows of Time - Christine Kane

You’ve wanted to write a book forever – but each year goes by it doesn’t get written.

You’ve promised yourself you’d get rid of all the crap in the basement – and months have passed leaving you grateful you didn’t share your intention with anyone.

You’ve been meaning to set up a merchant account, read that book, start a blog, celebrate your 40th birthday party (eight years ago), learn how to knit, practice yoga.

And you keep waiting for that big long sabbatical on a white horse to show up at your door so you can do all of these things you don’t have time to do.

The truth is, even if it did show up, you’d probably panic and spend even more time on Facebook than you do already.

That’s because until we learn how to leverage our small windows of time, we won’t be all that great at using our big imaginary unending sabbaticals.  However, the dream of days upon days of uninterrupted time with no appointments and no to-dos makes a very good excuse to not do what we say is the most important thing to us.

So, you can nod your head and continue to be disappointed in yourself.

Or you can take just THREE TINY STEPS and start getting your big things done in small windows of time.

Try this:

1 – Define your Priorities by Creating a Master List

When you begin ANYTHING, start with definition.

And when you don’t define, then you don’t really know what you want to do. And when you don’t know really what to do, your small windows of time become meaningless. Easy to blow off.

Your first step is to make a list of what it is that you keep telling yourself you want to complete. Do you want to learn to draw? Begin a writing practice?  Clear the clutter from your attic?  Take time to meditate?

Write it all down so you define what’s important to you.  This is your Master List.

2 – Pick one thing from your Master List and break it down into small pieces.

Pick one item on that list that feels the most exciting and/or do-able to you. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just choose one.

Ask yourself how to break this item down into small pieces.  What elements could be completed in 20 minutes here, 30 minutes there?  A quick bit of research?  Choosing one limited area of the attic?  Challenging yourself to write the first draft of an article in 30 minutes just for fun? A 10 minute centering meditation?

Write down those action steps.

3 – Do it and make it a habit.

Let’s say it’s noon.  You have a lunch appointment at 12:30. That’s a good 25 minutes. You could “hop on line,” go to Facebook, check emails and blow that 25 minutes in a matter of seconds.

Or you can set your timer and challenge yourself to make even a tiny little bit of progress on the priority you wrote down.

This is the challenge. Even though it seems small, it can be big.

Here’s why:

You’re asking yourself to shift a well-worn habit. That’s all. You’re choosing to honor a priority, rather than splatter your attention.  Learn to stay conscious for your small windows – and when you have bigger windows show up, you won’t be as daunted!

Extra Credit:

If you really want to get something done, give it a deadline.

Promise someone it’ll be on their doorstep. Plan a party in your attic for all your snobbiest friends who will judge you if you don’t have it cleaned out.  External motivation is very effective. (It’s why mastermind groups and coaching work so well!)

I challenged myself to write this article in a small window of time.  My day is mostly done. It’s almost dinner time. I’m waiting for my husband to arrive home from work.  I wanted to write a blog post.

And a cool woman named Amanda wrote me on Facebook to ask me how she – a busy young mom – could use her small windows of time to get some of her most important priorities done.  This post is my response.

And I’m putting my theory to the test.

As I’m writing this sentence, my husband is walking in the door.  It will take me another few minutes to check for errors – and post it on my site.

This took me exactly 25 minutes to write.  No, it’s not a book. But it’s a start.

So think about it:

If you showed up for your small windows of time, what meaningful outcomes could you create?

  • Farnoosh

    I LOVE the writing voice and approach you take here, Christine. It’s those small windows of time that add up. I wrote my first Kindle book in under 3 weeks. It’s about 19,000 words and I had it edited and revised a dozen times during that same period because I was determined. I wanted to write a book. I am not as disciplined all the time but I will remember your words here. THANK YOU!!!!

  • Alease Michelle

    In a small window of time – I could leave a comment on someone blog, I could send a email to a friend or to my favorite blogger, I could check off what I completed on my to do list, I could write out my daily goals- I could go on.

    Time is important – and I am nortorious for wasting my small windows of time. But again- you are right- the time I spend on facebook or checking my email for the 4th time that day – could accomplish one thing off my master list. – * leaving more comments on my favorite blogs was one thing I wanted to accomplish.
    Thanks- Alease

  • Laurie Knight

    Thanks for the great post Christine. I appreciated the comments from the mothers too, as it really put into perspective how I as a single woman with no children am probably spending too much time with my ego and that voice that reminds me of what might go wrong. I allow myself way too much time to over-think. Not OK! We all need to just do it and clear clutter no matter what our circumstance. Lisa is right… all we have is NOW! I love it!!

  • Eden

    Thanks for posting this: It’s COMMON SENSE, it’s VERY DOABLE, it’s FUN….your post will help me to get over my tiny PROCRASTINATION humps!!! Breaking down my priorities!!! Ahhh….bliss!

  • Amanda Harvey

    Great post and I love that you did it in such a short time. As a mother of three, I find quick and concentrated efforts can often be the best way to get things done. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  • Grete

    Hi Christine, this post was very helpful to me. Thanks

  • Lee Clements

    Thanks Christine. I agree with Lisa in her post and it expresses my sentiments exactly about how we waste the little windows of time we have. I am a great time waster, a lot of my time is deciding what to do next and then getting everything together for that task, then that little window of time is gone. I am like Lisa and say that it is not enough time to get anything done but really when I look at it anything would be better than twiddling my thumbs wasting that opportunity. I like the way you can break it down to doing something in 25 minutes. I love the timer practice. I realise have to be more accountable to myself when I have these windows and do nothing with them. I also get easily distracted. Now I am going to write a priority list and then stick to it so that whenever that time presents itself I know exactly what I am up to.
    Thanks again for your continued inspiration

  • Petula

    This is a fabulous post. I have several large projects that I feel like I never have time to complete. Making a master list and then the small pieces listed out should be helpful. My “problem” is remembering where the list is and sticking to it. That’s where creating habit comes in, huh? 🙂 This post is really encouraging – thanks for the inspiration.

  • Chrissy

    Something I did just think of also is that since becoming a mom of 3 (who are now 6, 5 and 4 years old) I found that I accomplished MORE: I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR MY EGO. Oddly, the lack of time to myself caused me not have LESS time to engage my ego, or maybe it was easier to just dismiss because I didn’t have time to do anything but work on my work for one hour before they woke up. I cherished my time like never before! Annie Lamont described her writing process once as outchasing that voice in your head that says “no” “back” “delete” “what will he/she/they say?” We all face the same challenges in creating anything – the ego pulls back trying to keep you from believing anything you do is great. I was so inundated with my tedious tasks like laundry, cleaning (forever cleaning) and playing with my demanding kids, that I found that part of my brain – the part that used to agitate me, derail me, halt all my work on a creative project for months all through my 20s did all that damage BECAUSE I had too much time alone – Now with my kids around all day, I started working properly: just the right amount of confidence and drive to get it all out on the screen (because I knew any minute I’d have 3 very loud kids demanding all of my attention) mixed in with the right amount of attitude around the ego thoughts – to which I said, “Don’t even think you’re going to slow me down! I don’t have time for your negative bs during this time of my life! You strong armed in my 20s but I don’t have time for your games in my 30s!” (Yes I talk to my ego – mostly to shhhh it) I wrote a book during the 4-6 am hours (morning produces better, clearer, high quality thinking for me) over a 3 month span. Besides the “I don’t have time for my ego” mindset I also typed out positive affirmations like “There is enough time” and put it on my desk. There was, miraculously, always enough time! AND oddly, I found myself a better mom too. I was calmer, more present and more engaged with my little ones because I knew I was taking care of my dream, and would again show up to do it at 4 am the next day.

  • Chrissy

    PS. I do hope someday I can get to one of your retreats!

  • Chrissy

    I love your writing Christine! You truly are talented in shifting mindsets in small windows of time 🙂 Chrissy

  • Create My Mind Movie

    This is a great list and I can see how effective it would be! I can’t remember where I heard this from, I’m pretty sure it was a very successful business man and he mentioned that the best way to get the most things done, was after creating a prioritized list, to pick the first one of that list and complete as much as he could in 10 minutes!

    I have tried this out and I find it so very effective!!! So would be a great addition to all the tips you have here =)

  • Christina

    THANK YOU FOR THIS POST! Since becoming a stay-at-home-mother I’ve been bemoaning my lack of time to get anything finished. But I actually have quite a bit of time, just not big chunks of it. This post helpfully called me out on my whiny B.S., and I’ve got a master list set up and running to peck away at during my daughter’s naps and independent play times.

    Off to get awesome things done! XO!

  • Lisa Wilder

    Great post, Christine. Love it!

    We’re forever complaining that we don’t have enough time to get it all done and then when we do have small windows of time we tell ourselves it’s not enough to get anything done. And then we wonder why we’re not more productive. lol…

    The reality is…there’s only one time when we can get anything done….NOW. And I’ve yet to discover a project or task that I can’t break down into five minute mini-tasks.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  • Kylie

    I definitely try to make use of my free moments. However, I sometimes find myself standing there in the middle of the room, sure I have something to do but unable to think of what it is. I like your idea of a master list that I can break down into mini-steps. I also like the idea of keeping that list in a special spot so I remember where it is — I’ll need to do that.

  • Charlotte Rains Dixon

    Creating a master list and breaking it down into chunks is great. I just wrote a blog post about how sometimes writers have little bits of time but we don’t use them because we’re not quite sure what to write once the time opens up. With a bit of advance preparation, this isn’t a problem! I’m also going to try the timer idea.

  • Clara

    Well, Christine, I’m reading this at the end of a splattered day! And I actually had hours available to me today that seem to have slipped right through my fingers. I want to scream or cry, but instead I’m setting my timer for 45 minutes to focus on three UYB actions before I start dinner! Thanks.

  • Miss Ash

    I get nowhere without lists. I should start making them again.

  • Lisa Muller

    This is FABULOUS, Christine. I can use my small bits of time for something constructive. I often “wonder” my week away. I “wonder” what should I do right now. I “wonder” how much time do I have until the kids come home. I “wonder” if it is worth starting anything that I can’t finish right away. This is certainly not a “wonder”ful feeling at the end of the day when little gets accomplished. So you have given me a plan. I am getting my paper out right now to make my Master List. I’m done wondering! I’m taking action! Thanks for getting me back on track.

  • Kim Cossette

    Great post Christine. I particularly like the idea of a Master List. You’d think that I could remember the things I “want” to do … but, not so much! By writing everything down (and I mean everything!) I can stop worrying about trying to remember.

  • Helen Palmer

    Christine, fantastic post, thanks and so true! I love this sentence particularly:

    “And you keep waiting for that big long sabbatical on a white horse to show up at your door so you can do all of these things you don’t have time to do”

  • Sue

    Awesome. Soooooo true. All the excuses and waiting until we’re not busy. I’d write more now, but I better go use this small window of time I have before 9:30!! THANKS for this. Needed it today!!!

  • Laura

    Hey, but you’re taking away my excuse for not getting it done! This “set the timer” way is excellent, to me it works best for those things I’m not sure I want to or can do or will enjoy doing but deep inside I know I really want to. Also works for kids practicing the violin. Set the timer! Have a super day!