A friend of mine reminded me to share with you about Fly Lady, a website of free advice on how to get your home in order. She’s right. Although I’ve mentioned Fly Lady before, it’s been a long time and new readers may have not gotten the benefit of checking this great resource out.

One of Fly Lady’s best ideas is the use of a timer. Fly Lady points out that it is our perfectionism that keeps us from starting. This is an odd idea because we usually associate perfectionists with clean, orderly homes. It is the desire to do something absolutely perfect that overwhelms us. We look at the room, know what it would take to fix it, know we don’t have the time for all that, and so we don’t start. But a habit of working on it for 15 minutes will eventually get the job done.

Fly Lady recommends 15 minutes of decluttering every day. Eventually, I’ll find my home again under the stuff.

I’ve put this concept into use regarding exercise. Again, it is probably perfectionism that keeps us from wanting to begin. I want the body of a dancer or athlete, like any woman does, but I know it would take daily two-hour workouts to get there. Part of Fly Lady’s morning routine is 15 minutes of loving movement or exercise. I’m attempting to make it a habit. Loving movement can be leg lifts while I’m chopping vegetables, jumping jacks, running up and down the stairs, push-ups, situps, walking, running, … anything.

Sometimes, I get up and get dressed for the day and I don’t want to change into workout clothes. I’m trying to keep myself from making excuses. So I do the 15 minutes in my day clothes. Who cares if the jeans are restrictive? Who cares if I sweat a little? Just do it. I’d like to get into the habit of dressing immediately in my workout clothes, whip through the morning routine, and exercise hard for 15 minutes. Realistically, that is all the time I really have if I want to get all the other things done in my day — 15 minutes.

I may jump in a class offered at the gym sometime. I may take a walk or run with a friend. I might bike ride with the kids or play a sport with them. But if I count on those things, they happen so rarely that I won’t really take good care of myself. This 15 minutes gives me a baseline. Something to build on. If I add to it, great. If I don’t, at least I won’t go to seed.

The trick with using the timer is stopping once you get going. Sometimes, when we finally start a task that’s been nagging us forever, we want to “just get it done.”

But, the goal is habits, not immediate results. We want to change ourselves not our immediate circumstances. If we change, the results and circumstances follow for good.

Charlotte Mason, another mentor I’ve mentioned before but need to mention again, discusses the need for using timed segments in teaching. When we tell our kids that they need to “sit there until it’s finished,” they inevitably dawdle, dragging the minutes into hours sometimes. We get frustrated, sit down with them, and basically do it for them to finally accomplish what should have been done long ago. But setting the timer is motivating. The child can see the end of it. They can grasp that there is an end to it. As they hear that tick, tick, tick, the pencil flies furiously and they compete against the clock. Sometimes, they finish. Sometimes, they don’t. But those 15 minutes were spent focused. They’ll learn far more in those fifteen minutes than in the hours of staring at the work not accomplished.

Moreover, if I can afford to spend that 15 minutes at the child’s side, rather than distracted, the task gets done. Always multitasking, like any good mother, I sometimes waste time trying to shift gears between the dinner I’m assembling, the phone conversation I’m having, and the questions punted at me from the table. If the timer were set, and the focus adjusted, I could probably do it all in less time.

The power of 15 minutes can be used in so many areas of my life. I’ve recommended to parents who have trouble with their child’s behavior to spend 15 minutes of time with them at the beginning of the day or the beginning of the time they are to be with him. That focused attention usually trumps so many behavioral problems. Once they have that focused time, children feel better and are less demanding.

There are other ways to set a timer, if you don’t like the ticking. (Personally, I love the sound of clocks ticking. It’s exciting! But I know people who hate the sound). The microwave usually has a non-ticking timer which is great. And my musician friend uses songs to measure time: “a ten-song tidy,” she calls it or a “two-song tidy” for when she’s running out the door. Exercising for 15 minutes would probably be for five to seven songs.

Well, I better go set the timer.  It’s time to exercise.