So, fifteen minutes. What had I stumbled upon? I felt like I had just been given the permission I’d be waiting for all my life–the permission to work on something for a very tiny amount of time and then to walk away. Ideally, of course, I would eventually not need to walk away after fifteen minutes. But, I didn’t dare to get too far ahead of myself, but of course, I hoped that if not today, one day soon, the allotted fifteen minutes would be the gateway into a reverie of work from which I would lift my head only to realize that hours had elapsed and a snowbank of pristine, finished pages had risen around me.
But, even though I did not have children at that point, I was still very aware of The Power of Jinx (kids drill repeated and urgent warnings about Jinx into you, for fear that you will ruin their lives by getting too far ahead of yourself and counting their chickens before they’re hatched.). And, as excited as I was becoming about the 15 minute formula (and then I will rule the world! 15 minutes at a time!), I held it as tightly in check as I could, for as I made abundantly clear in my last two posts so very much was riding on the completion of this ef-fing (say it with a British accent) thesis.
I was excited to read the section of Valian’s essay titled “Rules and Rationales of the Program” (It was a program! and it had rules! it would work!). The first rule was “that the fifteen-minute period had to be spent solely on working.” Good, agreed. I could do it. But then, a few lines later I read something that stopped me short: “I also had to learn that losing myself in my work was not dangerous.” I’d never thought of this before, but I definitely knew what this meant. It was sort of scary to think of being absorbed into a long project, something like falling into a well. There was more to think about here, but for now I had to press on.
I was eager to start my first fifteen minutes. I got the kitchen timer ready. But I knew that if I went into the fifteen minutes without a plan, I could choke and I was–I hate to admit it–afraid to use my first 15 minutes for actual writing on my thesis, so before I set the timer, I reassured myself that the first fifteen minutes would be spent on brainstorming a plan for completing the thesis. I won’t bore you with the blow by blow of this fifteen minutes, but I will say that I settled in quickly and used the time making a list of 15 minute tasks–look up this and that, write a paragraph explaining x, read this source. When the first 15 was over, I was satisfied, but I also knew that if I didn’t do a writing task that day, I would still be doomed, that I would be using my new program as a very elaborate form of procrastination. So, not long after (knowing me there was probably snacks, tea, some heavy sighing), I set the timer again and valiantly chose a writing task from the list.
Reader, I wrote. I wrote for 15 minutes.
You’d think it was a lunar landing the way I boast, but I knew after that fifteen minutes that the worst was over and that I would continue and soon the 15 minutes would turn into longer periods. And by the end of the week, that’s exactly what happened. I was now working for, gulp, several hours a day. Probably four hours. And the pages were piling up. Two months from that first 15-minute session, I entered a small classroom and defended my thesis. I passed. I think everyone passes, but it was still glorious. But the most fabulous moment was a few days earlier when my desk jet printer spat out the last page of that thesis. It was then that I did my Rock the Casbah victory dance.
Download Valian’s “Learning to Work” here: