It only takes 15 minutes to do 99% of the things you want to accomplish

To figure out whether or not you really want to meet a goal you’re not meeting, clear fifteen minutes a day in your calendar. Tell yourself one very small thing you can do in that fifteen minutes to move toward meeting that goal. And see if you do it.

Why this tactics works:

1. You can’t meet big goals without breaking them down. A to-do list works best if it’s full of specific, manageable things you can do to move one, small step toward the very big goal. After breaking down the goal into items on a to-do list, you notice that worthy goals require sustained focus over a very long time.

2. Self-discipline is what creates change. And self-discipline snowballs. For example, people who write lists end up using lists, and people who use lists get more done. But also, if you balance a book on your head for ten minutes a day, you are more likely to do pushups for ten minutes a day. Because self-discipline begets self-discipline — even if it’s something silly.

3. People don’t want to accomplish the goals they set and don’t meet. I set aside fifteen minutes every day for a week and did nothing. Each day I told myself to do something different with the fifteen minutes. And each day I did not do the something different. So I decided I’m revealing to myself my true goal: to be depressed.

So I laid on the sofa with the dog for 15 minutes a day. And remember the part I told you about snowballing? Well that snowballed into two hours. That’s about as long as I can be in the mode of sleeping on the sofa in the middle of the day before the kids start to worry I’ve lost my ability to function.

I wonder if other people’s kids would start to wonder much earlier. I wonder if maybe it’s a litmus test of one’s parenting to see how long you can sleep on the sofa in the middle of the day before the kids think something is wrong.

Forget it. There’s no measure to tell if you’re a good parent. Which is why I’m obsessed with meeting goals. I want to accomplish something. I meet goals with my kids but it’s not like then I’m a good parent. Because meeting goals is not even what parenting is about — loving kids is what parenting is about. Not that you don’t know that. But I need to keep writing it to remind myself.

Wait. An aside: if my kids look back on these posts and think I was a bad parent, they should know that I do understand that the purpose of parenting is love. To the future daughter-in-law, twenty years in the future, who is telling my son that his mother fucked him up and she is not coming to Passover anymore because of family dysfunction: this is a record to show I understood what my job was and I did it. And also, wait until you have kids and see how hard it is to express love in a way that is not overbearing.

One of the ways I learned how to see the goal I’m not meeting is by coaching so many people who want help with the goal they are not meeting. Which is, like, almost everyone.

Probably the most common goal not being met is career advancement.  Many people think their careers should be advancing no matter what. But in most cases the person doesn’t really care if their career advances, they just think they should care.

The second most common goal not being met is having a meaningful career. Many people think their career should have meaning. But in most cases the person doesn’t really believe that careers give meaning to life, they think jobs support what is meaningful in life.

The other way I learn how to see the goal I’m not meeting is to look at people who are not meeting the goal I want them to meet. Tonight that is Melissa.

It used to be that she took all the pictures for the blog. Then she moved and I emailed her pictures I take, and she edited them. Or deleted them if she didn’t like them. She was incredibly slow, but she was the best at it. We did that for a long time.

Then I moved to Swarthmore and she stopped doing it. She told me to use all the pictures she edited that I didn’t use. But I do not view this as a tongue-to-tail thing where we are eating the whole cow before we butcher a new one. I view this as a one-pancake-left thing where it doesn’t feel good to eat when you know you’re taking the only one that’s left. People like a choice of pancakes. That’s why restaurants serve a stack.

But the real problem is I don’t want to look at all the pictures of our life at the farm. I get sad every time, and then I never write. So I don’t care that there are a lot of photos I did’t use.

At first I was pissed that Melissa isn’t hearing how upset I’ve been. But the goals I set for Melissa should not be goals if she’s not meeting them. Just like the goals I set for myself should not be goals if I’m not meeting them.

So I am posting all the pictures of our move from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania. I had no idea we would never go back to the farm. I feel ill and anxious every time I look at these pictures. I want the whole day out of the photo queue. So I’m putting it on the blog. I’m taking steps to meet my goal. This is the way I can move forward.

Melissa will tell you these pictures are evidence that she is right and there are plenty of pictures for me to choose from. But I see it as evidence that O’Hare is a patchwork of memorable ceilings that all make me sad.

And what is this picture? Even if you can’t identify this as the floor in Terminal C, you can identify this as the face of a dog that portends ominous doom.

If only I had paid more attention to the dog.

But really what would I have done differently? Probably nothing. I’m not the type to second-guess my decisions. One of the only times that still happens is when I flip through photos to add to my post. Now there are no more photos that makes me sad waiting in the queue. I used them all right here.

It’s my small specific step to move forward. And I’m taking action, because not being sad about what we lost when we moved is a goal that’s important to me. All the other goals; I guess I don’t want them as much I want this.

31 replies
  1. MBL
    MBL says:

    I haven’t finished the post yet, but I am hung up on “future daughter-in-law.” I’m hoping that you edit that asap. (Or is the assumption that only women would hold that kind of a grudge…)

    Okay, off to finish reading.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thank you for looking out for my son!! I thought about this issue. My son would tell me to just use the “they” form of the word. As in kids whose preferred pronoun is they.

      I would tell him I don’t know the word.

      He’d say “Make it up! Everyone will understand what you mean.”

      Which is all to say that I’m open-minded enough to see a good opportunity to dethrone gender-obsessive pronouns. But I’m too scared to lead it. Or too old. Or too ignorant. I am too something for sure, because I never turn down a chance to lead something I like.”

      I had this whole conversation in my head, while I was writing, and I decided ithat for my generation using him and her interchangeably is the solution. Hm. But maybe I should have used son-in-law because the assumption is daughter.

      Wait. The real truth: I think I’ll get along better with the son-in-law than the daughter-in-law. Daughter-in-laws are so hard…. but there I go again, with gender stereotyping.

      It’s a long road of re-education for me.


      • MBL
        MBL says:

        You know, if you are serious about it, I would recommend spending fifteen minutes per day looking for gender normative… :D

        I am the same age as you and I would have written “To the future son or daughter-in-law, twenty years in the future, who is telling my son that his mother fucked him up and is not coming to Passover…” Not perfect, but a suggestion. Or maybe “To the future son/daughter-in-law, twenty years in the future, who is telling my son that his mother fucked him up and they’re not coming to Passover…”

        I am overjoyed that online forums that my 12 year old daughter is on all have options for things like preferred pronoun and a plethora of identification choices for characters that they create. I really love the fact that these options are normalized. She and I agree that using “they” as singular is awkward for us to do, but not trying isn’t an option. The more that prejudiced people are exposed to tolerance, the more opportunities they will have to practice empathy. I think so many are stunned by the “newness” of it that they haven’t ever given any thought to it. But exposure normalizes it and they become more accepting of its validity. I hope.

        To progress and equality!!!

      • INTJ Professor
        INTJ Professor says:

        I fell down the rabbit-hole of editing for gender neutral:

        “Wait. An aside: if my kids look back on these posts and think I was a bad parent, they should know that I do understand that the purpose of parenting is love. To their partners, twenty years in the future, who are telling my sons that their mother fucked up and coming to Passover is not happening because of family dysfunction… ”

        Context: I am old enough to have lived through the shift from “he” supposedly meaning “all humans” to “he or she” to be “inclusive.” So now it turns out that gender is fluid, not a binary…

        Please excuse the rewrite. Terrific post, as usual.

      • Jennifer
        Jennifer says:

        I haven’t read all the comments posted here, but in case no one has stated this, you can just say “pronouns.” To say “preferred pronouns” implies a choice, a preference but not a requirement, which is not the case for nearly everyone — cis, non-binary, trans, or otherwise. They’re all just a person’s pronouns.

  2. Jean Nickerson
    Jean Nickerson says:

    We all think our parents do a lousy job of raising us until we have kids of our own. I always remember the line from Terms of Endearment when Debra Winger is dying and she says “As hard as you think it’ll be to be a parent, you end up wishing it was that easy.”

    You do the best you can, LOVE them, support their passions and hope you get more peanuts than shells. That’s the thing about being a good mother, we worry about how we’ll be remembered in our future children’s minds. It’s because we don’t compartmentalize our lives the way men usually do. The fact that you even worry about that as a potential outcome means that you care and are doing the best you can!

    • Mel
      Mel says:

      It’s interesting, people say this quite often that we all think our parents did a lousy job until we have kids. I recognized how lucky I was to have amazing parents well before I had children and now that I do have children I recognize and appreciate them
      even more.

  3. May
    May says:

    One step at a time, Penelope! It’s good to read about you always trying to move forward even if it’s after 2 hours of a depression nap. And you probably do need to slow down long enough to contemplate and introspect instead of always trying to meet a goal. Maybe just spend more time envisionng what you want the goal to be. Maybe the bigger the better. Simple goals just don’t suit an ENTJ spirit, do they?

    I always think of the line that “all parents fail or traumatize their children in some profound way that it wholly unpredictable” whether big things or small things like letting them see a spider and now y have a grown child with arachnaphobia or spider fetish–who knows–but as long as your children know and feel that they were loved through it all, it makes up for a lot.

    Take more pictures! Learn photo editing, compete with Melissa! Maybe you’re better than her at it anyway!

    • May
      May says:

      btw here’s a secret to getting intjs who like you to do things for you:
      attempt to do it so incompetently that they feel responsibility to step in and do it for you

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Not all goals are equal. Hence different priorities are assigned to them. And what makes a goal a worthy goal? I will submit a worthy goal is one that has had much thought attributed to it, has been around for a significant amount of time, can be broken down into a number of steps, and while should be treated as a commitment should also be occasionally reviewed and modified as necessary. Our brains and bodies cannot be like light switches that only can be switched on and off to accomplish goals we set for our self or others. No. Dimmer switches also need to be present and knowing where to put them and use them is important to achieve goals.

  5. Max
    Max says:

    “People like a choice of pancakes. That’s why restaurants serve a stack.”

    Do you choose from among the stack which pancake to eat? Nobody else does this.

    • jessica martinez
      jessica martinez says:

      Some ppl do I’m sure because I do and surely am not the only one. I always move the middle pancake to the very top and start with that one. Reason being that it has been sitting between two other hot pancakes and the texture is denser and chewier (but still moist)from the steam. The best one of the stack, imo.

    • Karelys Beltran
      Karelys Beltran says:

      When in a breakfast buffet, serve yourself style, I always let the pancake choose me.

      I always let the mug at my favorite cafe choose me.

      I always let the limes at the Mexican market choose me.

      I never really thought much of it. But I can’t help doing it any other way. It feels…..odd. I feel disregulated.

  6. Page
    Page says:

    I love how people respond as though something needs fixing. Although partners was a clever substitute, I will admit I don’t pounce on particular words or edit in my mind an author I enjoy. The 15 minute thing,It’s a good method for increasing self discipline, or, discovering lack thereof. Can the commentators who sometimes in other blogs, are incredibly rude and judgey, calm down? You make me laugh Penelope, and think, and thanks for the invite to your life. I can enjoy the view without assuming I know the complexity… also I binge read the farmer love story and I feel for you. An unexpected ending for sure, but, But!! Nothing takes away from what was, and it was such a great story. I think I even cried in some parts- girl you can write- please don’t change for the audience.

  7. Maria Killam
    Maria Killam says:

    I love this post.

    I have a project that I have procrastinated about for 2 years.

    I still have to do it, it’s not going away so that’s why I loved your ’15 minutes tip’

    Maybe that will help me start working on it.

    Love this post, you are the only one who just says it like it is with the 2 hour nap. We can all apply that to our life and relate to it!

  8. Amy D. Kovach
    Amy D. Kovach says:

    this is a record to show I understood what my job was and I did it. And also, wait until you have kids and see how hard it is to express love in a way that is not overbearing.

    Now that my children are in their 30’s (and one is a mother herself), I get the sense they understand this a bit better. Usually.

  9. Dan
    Dan says:

    I hate that tunnel at ORD with the blinking neon lights and the Gershwin music. Every time: “Ughhh…”

  10. Anon
    Anon says:

    In what way are “your” goals for Melissa important? What about Melissa’s goals for Melissa? And does she have goals for you, and are they important?

  11. Karelys Beltran
    Karelys Beltran says:

    I haven’t commented in a long while because life got in the way. Also I felt like I had nothing important or valuable to add. Just opinions and feelings.

    I have nothing of value to add except that I got a lot of value out of this post. It’s also so very beautiful. And I’ve got three favorite kinds of Penelope. One of them is this one. The soft one.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      One of my goals is to make sure I tell people how much comments mean to me, and that I know who comments and I care. So, I’m happy to see your name pop back up in the comments. I noticed you were gone.


  12. Shannon Graham
    Shannon Graham says:

    This post also reminded me of how much you can do in 15 minutes if you focus. Focussing is hard but 15 minutes of it should be possible.

    Someone suggested to me that I time how long it takes to do annoying chores. Like washing dishes, do you have time to do it? It takes 6 minutes and 45 seconds. So you probably have time. Cleaning the bathroom, equally annoying. I timed it at 45 minutes one time. Okay, obviously I don’t have time for that but also, why did it take 45 minutes? I changed a couple of things and got that down to 12 minutes, and I don’t have to struggle to find time for it.

    Apply that to your dreams and goals – how long does it take to send out one job application? An hour? Can you get it down to 15 minutes? How long does it take to generate a sale for your side business? Can you get one in 15 minutes? If you do even that little, then you’re getting closer to your goal.

  13. Erin
    Erin says:

    I’m divorced now and my kids’ dad doesn’t ever take the kids overnight. I think if he tried doing it, he’d get better at it. That’s kinda like the 15 minute principle: you get better at something by doing it. But it’s been a year since he moved out, and this hasn’t changed, so the truth is probably that he just doesn’t want to.

    Idk if this comment is me practicing telling the truth or just me being bitter, but I’m gonna post it anyways.

    If I didn’t post it, maybe that would be me practicing the art of not giving a fuck about what my kids’ dad does and doesn’t do, but I’m not there yet. And I’m not really sure if I’ll ever stop caring.

  14. Guy
    Guy says:

    I like the farming metaphor about eating the whole cow before butchering a new one. My four year old won’t let me nap for ten minutes. He doesn’t worry about me not functioning. He just needs me to change the YouTube channel on the laptop that I put on so he will be distracted while I nap.

  15. Denise
    Denise says:

    I love this post, Penelope. So often we beat ourselves up for not achieving goals we don’t even care about; they are goals others think we should achieve. By being honest with ourselves we can move forward on what we actually want to achieve, or not achieve.

    I am sorry you are so sad, and I get it. You worked hard for that relationship and loved the farm, the farmhouse, and the farmer. You loved that your boys were so happy at the farm. In time you will find new loves to bring you joy.

  16. Megan
    Megan says:

    Beautifully written post, Penelope.

    As far as the “your not meeting goals because you’re depressed” comment above, depression can mean different things to different people. It can vary in degrees. And there is a myriad of tools to use against depression.

    For me, accomplishing *something* consistently is very important. I have to tell myself I’m moving forward – that I’m living. Sometimes that is the goal.

  17. Zachary Drumm
    Zachary Drumm says:

    Maybe 15 minutes is too long. Maybe it needs to start out as 5 minutes? Maybe there is a procrastination hack that needs to be combined with the 15 minutes.

    I’m sure you’ve read “The War of Art” b Pressfield. I think Resistance is at play here, and you are arguing for tapping into your muse.

    Your posts always make me think and approach things from a new angle.

Comments are closed.