It’s that time of year again.  A New Year.  A clean slate. A chance to hit the Reset button and start over.  And yes, a chance to do all the things we meant to do but didn’t get done in the previous year.

It’s the time of New Year’s resolutions, setting intentions and goals, and renewing our belief in our ability to GET THINGS DONE.

But studies show that gym memberships (and attendance) skyrocket and remain fairly steady in the month of January, and shortly thereafter, trail off dramatically.  So why is that?  Because deep down, people are really lazy?  Not dedicated?  Not well-intentioned?  Quitters?  Inherently just plain losers?

A big, fat “NO!” to all of the above.  The reason people often tank in their goals by the second month of the year is that they overshoot and try to do too much at once.

And nowhere is this truer than with creatives, and especially music people.  We all want so badly to succeed.  And succeed NOW!  We also want to please everyone, including ourselves.  So we tend to set a lot of ridiculous, lofty goals with unrealistic constraints.

“I’m gonna write three completely new songs every day for the next 365 days!”

“I’m gonna call 50 publishers/venues/music libraries/fill-in-the-blanks by January 31st!”

“I’m gonna learn to play three new instruments this month!”

“I’m going to work out, eat better, get tons of sleep, be a better spouse/friend/colleague AND record my next album in the next three weeks!”

Can you hear yourself in any of the above?  I certainly can.  But there IS hope, and there IS a way to get a lot more done – and done consistently – than we have in the past.

Besides the obvious thing, which is simply to make our goals far more realistic, the real trick is to change the way we look at time.  Most goals are set with only two elements in mind: a task/accomplishment to be done; and a specific date (and/or other number, e.g., a dollar amount or a number of pounds on the scale).  What most goals don’t include is how we are going to devote our time to achieving the goal.

Well, there’s a little time-devotion gem that – when we actually use and adhere to it – can be life-changing.  It’s called…

The “Twenty-Minute Time Slice.”

That’s it.  It’s actually quite simple, but very powerful.  The idea behind the Twenty-Minute Time Slice is that, instead of trying to block out enormous swaths of time that we already don’t have available, we instead break the things we want/need to do most into very small segments that we can always find time for, no matter how busy we might be.  And 20 minutes seems to be the “sweet spot” for how long these time slices need to be to become really effective.

Let me give you just one example of the Twenty-Minute Time Slice that has made a huge difference in my life…

I used to tell myself that I never had enough time to exercise.  Or to take a break from working in the studio when I was doing a lot of detail-oriented things that take a lot of intense, sustained concentration (like mixing or mastering).  Or to get outside and get some fresh air.  Or to make sure I got some daily sunshine (I’m one of those people who gets really wiggy when I haven’t been exposed to natural sunlight for a while, especially during the winter months).

Well, one day, I decided to give the Twenty-Minute Time Slice idea a try.  I got up from my studio chair, walked outside and up the driveway, and took a 20-minute walk.  No more, no less.  20 minutes at a moderate walking pace in my hilly neighborhood equals about 1 mile (1.6 km).  So, in those 20 minutes, I not only walked a mile and exercised, but I also got a break from work, spent time in the fresh air outdoors, and got some daylight to boot!

Ironically, when I got back from my walk and sat back down in my studio chair to continue working, I actually did better at my work because I had given my brain a chance to rest and reboot, and I felt super-refreshed.

I thought to myself, “wow, that took absolutely no time or effort at all!”  So I did it again the next day.  And the day after that.  And I kept doing it – because I could always find 20 minutes in my day, even if it wasn’t always at the same time.

That day was right around 20 years ago.  Since then, I’ve walked somewhere in the ballpark of 5,000 to 6,000 miles in Twenty-Minute Time Slices.  That’s right: THOUSANDS OF MILES, just 20 minutes at a time.  This is just one example, but it’s proof that the Twenty-Minute Time Slice concept works, and works big-time.

There’s an important key to Twenty-Minute Time Slices besides the act of just getting up and DOING them that makes them work: they must remain limited to a short time frame.  If we let the time frame get too long, then it starts to get in the way of other things, which in turn gets them behind, and the results are the opposite of what we intended in the first place: to get more done with the limited time that we have.

My 20-minute walks are just one example, albeit a profound one.  Twenty-Minute Time Slices can be applied to just about any task or activity we want to achieve; it’s mostly a simple shift in mindset that makes the difference.  Instead of saying, “I’m going to practice my instrument more,” or worse, “I’m going to practice my instrument as much as possible,” it’s far more effective to say, “I’m going to practice my instrument 20 minutes at a time.”  Then, it doesn’t seem quite so daunting to imagine devoting 20 minutes to practicing once every few days, or even every day.

Here are some other things you might want to consider applying the Twenty-Minute Time Slice approach to:

  • Cleaning up your office (or any other space)
  • Writing thank-you notes to people you’ve been meaning to thank
  • Making business-related phone calls, like calling venues to book gigs
  • Doing computer maintenance, like installing/upgrading software or cleaning up files
  • Calling friends or relatives on the phone
  • Spending true, uninterrupted “quality time” with your kids or significant other
  • Preparing food for the week (e.g., chopping veggies)
  • Doing bills or other financial activities
  • Meditating or other forms of relaxation/spiritual renewal
  • Listening to music
  • Sorting through the mail

There’s almost no limit to activities that can be split into Twenty-Minute Time Slices.  But again, the key is to LIMIT those slices to 20 minutes and not let them expandIt’s amazing what you can accomplish in just 20 minutes when you know that’s all you’ve got!

Here’s a variation on the Twenty-Minute Time Slice approach that can work really well…  Pick the top seven things you’d REALLY like to get done but haven’t seemed to have the time for, and do only ONE of them for 20 minutes on different days of the week.  In other words, the task you do in the Twenty-Minute Time Slice on Monday is a different task than you do in the Twenty-Minute Time Slice on Wednesday.  This technique pretty much guarantees that, every week, you’ll address seven areas of your life that just haven’t been getting your attention so far.  And you can take it a step further and come up with a list of 7 new things each week.

I’ve used the Twenty-Minute Time Slice approach for many, many activities in my life over the years, and believe me, when I use it, IT WORKS!  It’s exactly how I prevent myself from burning out on all my New Year’s goals by the First of February.

Try it yourself, and let me know by reply below how it works for you.  I’m excited to hear about YOUR success!

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