To be honest, I tend to think in larger chunks of time than 15 minutes. I tell myself I can’t possibly engage in anything really useful, unless I make a significant time investment.
I will admit it. I was wrong about that.
Here are some of my favorite activities for days/times when I only have a few minutes:
- Play “Eye Found It!” – a Disney “hidden picture card game” that’s completely suitable for ages 3 and up. You do need 2 or more folks, good vision or a magnifying glass, and I suggest partnering with a 3 year old (my convenient in-house 3-year-old has eagle-eyes). The cards are beautifully illustrated (uh, Disney!) and all you do is search for items, like keys or a clock or a letter or a villain. Easy to learn, quick to play, helps with focus and attention to details, and it’s FUN!
- Learn a foreign language online! I grew up in a Portuguese-/Spanish-language speaking group of folks, but my great-grandparents were immigrants who didn’t want us learning foreign languages. In rebellion, I did study Spanish in school, and picked up some Portuguese accidentally along the way. On www.Udemy.com there are several language courses that have super-short (3 minute!) daily lessons that build on one another. Udemy has sales on classes all the time, so for a $9.99 investment I’m picking up some Portuguese. For some FREE experiences with languages, try my favorite MOOC: www.edx.org where some awesome opportunities await!
- Work on foreign language skills during your commute! In Hawaii I fell in love with the Japanese language. Pimsleur offers less-expensive language courses on CD that teach practical words/phrases. Costco sometimes carries the language products along with many online retailers and at www.Pimsleur.com. I worked my way through the first set of Japanese CDs during my 5-minute commute to/from work last year. Now I can order basic things like beer or sake, comment on the weather, apologize, ask for directions, and say “I don’t understand.” It sounds silly, but on a recent flight a group of Japanese tourists sat in front of me and I understood some of what they were chatting about. I was so pleased! Woohoo!
- Turn off notifications on your email and only check it one to two or three times a day at scheduled times. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but this saved me so much time! Just because someone sent you an email doesn’t mean you’re obligated to read and respond immediately. In fact, stopping what you’re doing to read an email derails your line of thought and studies show it can take 10 minutes to get back on focus. Chunking email reading to blocks of time (I try to keep it to 15 minutes, unless I hear from a friend) helps me focus on what’s important.
- Okay. I read a study showing even 5 to 10 minutes of walking – even pacing in a smaller space – can help us center our minds and even energize. I tried it, focused on the walking, taking 10 steps one direction and turning around, or walking in a square. At the end of the short “pacing-break” I did feel refreshed, so I’m going to try this again.
- Listen to music that’s special to you. To lift my spirits on challenging days, I put together a “Happy” playlist. Although it’s an hour long, I can randomly start the list at any point and listen to 1 or 2 or 5 songs (depending on the time available) and it lifts me from Grumpy-Granny to Happy-Granny. Honestly, I usually can’t resist getting up and dancing (when I’m alone or with toddlers who can appreciate my moves 😊). Music and dancing make most days seem better!
- When my youngest friends (furry or child-version) seem antsy, a trip to a nearby park lifts everyone’s spirits. Even when time is limited, there are a few parks along our typical commutes, so it’s easy to pull into a parking lot, hop out to admire the trees or swings, stretch our legs, and breathe. Setting a timer on my phone as a reminder for when we have to move on helps! This was one of my favorite energy hacks in Hawaii where it was easy to find a beach with an uplifting ocean view. According to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, even taking as little as 2 minutes in nature to admire surroundings has a positive impact.
- Visiting www.TED.com is free (WiFi is available free near most coffee houses, McDonald’s, and public libraries, among other locations), uplifting, and informational. Some of the video talks are 20 minutes long, but many are shorter than 15 minutes. Learning new things leaves me feeling my world just expanded.
- As a young child, I loved visiting the public library. It was 2 blocks from my childhood home, had air conditioning in the summer, and held so many adventures. The library has changed over the years, but it’s definitely worth visiting. My new local library is open 7 days a week, has a business center where budding entrepreneurs can use office equipment for up to 3 hours, has programs for toddlers through elders, and still has games, movies, and books available to check out! Ducking into the local library for 15 minutes is challenging – there’s so much to do, including rest in a comfy chair – but it’s time well spent.
- Take time to really savor some special food that you normally don’t eat. Elevate the occasion to a ceremony. There’s a single-source Vietnamese dark chocolate that I love but can’t afford too often, so when I buy it, I really take time for it (in 15 minutes I may finish a square or two, really focusing on the flavors). I let my body tell me when I’ve had Enough (I find I can’t eat dark chocolate in mass quantities and, having eaten really excellent chocolate, have zero desire to stuff cheap chocolate into my precious body).
- Check in with a friend and make a quick coffee-chat date. I still love Starbucks (sorry, haven’t found a local coffee house with coffee I find palatable) and I’ve found local fast food places with play areas suitable for toddlers, so I meet another granny for chitchat about once a week and/or a play-date with our preschool kiddos. We keep it to 15 minutes when we have other things to do, but often it’s far longer. You get to set the boundaries.
- Sit. Breathe. Say out loud what you’re grateful for. Glance around. There’s so much! Some of mine right now: The colors of the sky. The roses that bloom through the winter in my neighborhood. The sounds of birds calling to one another. The covered patio where I often write. The rain that has turned the local mountains from gold and brown to flashy shades from lime to emerald and forest green. The toddlers who encourage me to keep moving. The opportunities to learn new things. The places I want to visit. And the list goes on…and on.
- Grab a book or an article (online, in print, newspaper, magazine). Don’t grab the one you feel you SHOULD read. Grab one that’s light and airy and maybe a bit silly. Maybe there’s a half-naked adult on the front cover. Maybe it’s about cats or gargoyles or rescue dogs. Whatever lifts you and feels like a guilty pleasure, pick that one. And savor your 15 minutes in that other world.
- Whip up biscuits in 15 minutes then stick them in the oven and move on to another activity. Sketch a design for jewelry to make later. Play games on the phone or tablet. Snuggling. Swimming. The list could go on. And on.
By now I hope you’re already thinking of a dozen or more ordinary and extraordinary ways to invest short amounts of time… There’s really no end when we use our creative minds, is there?
Here’s to self-care in manageable little bits!
Please let me know your favorite ways to invest short amounts of time in self-caring activities!