Lighten Your Mental Load with Fifteen Minutes to Freedom

By this juncture in life, I understand that learning lessons is part of the gig. And that, most often, this involves learning them the hard way. I'm cool with that. But what really puzzles me about myself is when I insist on learning the same lesson ... over and over and over again. I mean, come on! Let's at least mix things up by making new mistakes. 

One of the lessons I cannot seem to pound into my brain in a lasting sort of way is this: the only thing that requires more energy than doing the things I don't want to do is not doing them. It's so much more stressful to think about the things I need to be doing, then coming up with excuses for putting them off than it would to just actually (gasp!) get them over and done with.

The irony is that one of the little day-to-day things that irked me the most about my last relationship was that I had to constantly stay on my partner to take care of stuff. He wouldn't do it, then I'd ask again and become the nag, which resulted in a really vicious cycle wherein I was both resentful about the things that weren't getting done as well as of the fact that I was being put into a position where I had to nag to get anything accomplished. No one wants to be a nag. (Incidentally, "nag" is one of those words that becomes really weird when you say it over and over again.) Ultimately, most of the time I would decide that it was just easier to do whatever said task was on my own. Again: resentment. 

I know that I'm not alone in this. In the past year or so, I've seen several articles about this phenomenon of "mental labor" come through my social media newsfeeds. These articles generally focus on wives and mothers, but of course they apply to whoever the person is in the relationship who is tasked with the job of keeping track of what needs to be done and delegating. It's tiresome, cumbersome work that often doesn't leave you feeling good about yourself or partner to boot. (If you want to read more about this phenomenon and the psychological ramifications, you can check out a couple of articles here and here.)

One of my favorite things about being single is that I feel like I have so much more energy and mental space freed up because I'm not delegating (or, at least, attempting to) anymore. I've realized it's actually way easier--logistically, mentally, and emotionally--when I'm in a situation where I can just take care of things myself without the expectation that someone else is going to pitch in, only to be let down. 

Most of the time.

There are still those certain things that I just put off and put off and then put off some more. They're usually stupid things. In a lot of cases, they're not even things that require that much time or effort. It's just that I've staved them off for so long, they morph into these looming, menacing mental hurdles in my brain. 

So, I was really intrigued when I heard The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin talk about her "Hour of Power" on a recent Super Soul Sunday podcast. It works like this: once a week, she dedicates an hour of time to taking care of those things that  just sort of linger out there in an incessantly haunting, undone state. Genius, right?

I love this idea. But the more I thought about it, I also realized that I know myself and my current situation well enough to know that an hour is a daunting enough chunk of time that the Hour of Power itself would end up relegated to my to-do list, becoming a source of stress and self-flagellation itself, rather than a mind-clearing solution. 

But instead of discarding the idea altogether, I put my own little twist on it: Fifteen Minutes to Freedom. For the past week, I've been practicing this on most days, and, so far, it's been great and made a noticeable difference, both in terms of my productivity and, more importantly, in lightening my mental load. Here's how it works:

  1. Make a list of all of the things you have to get done. It can be anything: laundry, thank you notes, organizing the photos on your iPhone, whatever. Keep adding to the list as things come to mind.
  2. Designate fifteen minutes of your day to working on the items on that list. Set an alarm and really try to keep it to fifteen minutes. I feel like this is an important part of finding success, because if you go into "overachieving mode" and spend more than fifteen minutes getting sh*t done, it may begin to feel like you have to spend that longer amount of time on your to-do list every day, which can get overwhelming. Overwhelming = not good. Remember, you don't have to finish each task in the fifteen minute period, the goal is just to chip away at it. It's not a huge time commitment but, done consistently, those fifteen minutes add up to a whole lot of items crossed off your list more quickly than you might think.
  3. If your tasks are "mindless" and don't require a ton of concentration, do something you enjoy during your Fifteen Minutes to Freedom. Turn on Spotify or a podcast or call a friend. Make it as fun as possible!
  4. At the end of the fifteen minutes, walk away from whatever your project is and do something to celebrate gittin' 'er done. Doesn't have to be big--a cup of tea, a quick walk, an extra long soak in the tub if it's bedtime. The point here is to give yourself a little reward for a job well done. Positive reinforcement, my friends. Positive reinforcement. Plus, any excuse for a treat is good in my book!

Although you can set these Fifteen Minutes to Freedom at any point in the day, I've done most of mine at night, after Izzy is in bed, and right before turning off the computer and calling it a day. There have been a couple of nights where I've been exhausted and wanted to skip my fifteen minutes, but I reminded myself of how good I would feel after the fact. And, really, who is so busy that they can't spare fifteen minutes for the ultimate goal of lightening their mental load? 

What tips and hacks do you have for taking care of those little things that weigh you down? Lemme know!