Two months ago with a plate of sushi between us, two of my favorite writer friends and I gathered for our monthly dinner. The tradition started as a workshop group. We’d gather with a glass of wine and snacks to share insights about our writing journies and critique each other’s work. It had now evolved into monthly dinners.
This night, I was late and K and K were in the midst of discussing something passionate, when I finally slid into the booth. I heard the last words which were something about Tetris. Immediately images of the long hours spent playing Tetris on the computer in middle school came to mind. After we shared our excitements and grievances about life and writing, we ordered and began to deconstruct my life. I shared that I was trying to get into a routine of working out, but couldn’t seem to get into one; some weeks I do it regularly, while others I can’t get off the couch. It’s very all of nothing, I declared. Both their eyes lit up and one gave the other a knowing glance and smiled. I stopped mid sentence and said, “what?”
That is when my dear friend known as Miz Yank online gave me her brilliant theory on what has helped her become successful as a writer even with a full time job. She called it Tetris Time Management. It works like this: if you have 10 minutes to do something, then just do it. Don’t think about doing, don’t sit around analyzing the meaning of doing it, just do it. She also jokingly said it’s because at the core of me I don’t mind being messy. We joked about why full ass something when you could half ass it. For example, if I have ten minutes to do the dishes and don’t finish all of them, I leave the rest for the next time. You fit little pieces of time together to complete the tasks you want/need to for each day. Therefore, making it like the game of Tetris. If ever there was an aha moment, this was it. Years of therapy couldn’t get me to see this concretely. Everyone has given me the advice to stop being all of nothing and I never could quite clearly see what it could be like if I didn’t spend the week before grades were due frantically grading everything I see. I will say that in search of a normal life as a teacher, I did learn Tetris Time Management most of the time on my own. My sole motivation was that I didn’t want to stay at work slaving over my job and burning myself out further. However, I still hadn’t gotten to that place with my household chores.
That is until this year. Every summer, I’d get into a routine of housework and cooking sure that this year I’d found the perfect formula to continue throughout the school year. But eventually, the habits would fade and I’d go back to coming home to a vicariously balancing pile of dishes that reminded me of a game of Jenga or a mound of laundry that rivaled the 8 foot tall snow mounds from Boston winters. It frustrated me that I couldn’t, even as an adult, maintain a clean house.
After the dinner with K and K, I drove home stewing in this idea of Tetris Time Management. I wondered if I could actually become a follower. I desperately wanted to, but years of evidence proved that it could end with the same result as the ones prior. Still, I began by experimenting with one chore also know as my most dreaded chore–dishes. Every time there is a sink full of dishes the hardest part for me is getting started. I spend so much time dreading finishing the whole pile. Thus delaying the inevitable and worse– making the pile taller. So one day soon after that dinner, I tried it for the first time. I set the kitchen timer for fifteen minutes and said to myself when the timer goes off, no matter how many dishes are left, I’ll stop. This did two things for me. 1. It gave me a finite amount of time to do the chore that I hated. 2. It allowed me the freedom to be imperfect, yet productive. So I began. At first, I glanced at the clock several times wondering if I would actually finish. As the days passed, I realized most dishes can be washed in fifteen minutes or less. Once I saw success with the dishes, I tried it with my second dreaded chore–folding laundry. I was surprised to find that in fifteen minutes I could accomplish quite a bit.
As I write about this idea, it feels small and like common sense. Maybe it is for others, but when you have spent most of your life chasing perfection. The spotless kitchen. The neatly folded laundry that magically floats into the drawers and closets. The shoes that always make it back to their original shelf. The six-pack abs. The muscular biceps. The ballerina legs. When you spent most of your life chasing such things, leaving three dishes in the sink when your fifteen minutes is up so that you can rest or write or go for a walk can feel like a miracle.
I also noticed that this fifteen minute rule started bleeding into other areas of my life. Especially exercise. I was a dancer in my twenties and went to classes regularly and didn’t need to do much else to keep a body that was semi-fit. Then I started teaching and gained weight gradually with ease. This happened mostly because I had this idea in my head that I needed one-two hours to workout at a time in order to keep a semi-fit body. Don’t get me wrong, this is definitely a priority and important, but I’m beginning to value my fifteen minute Pilates breaks while watching evening television or a quick 30 minute dance improve session late afternoon. It doesn’t have to be one-two hours or nothing. It can be a little of both. To my all or nothing thinkers out there, as 2016 rounds the corner and you begin to think about the changes you may want to make in your life, I say try the Tetris 15! You’ll see that it works miracles. I can’t guarantee that your house will be spotless. I can’t guarantee that your body will transform into a dancer’s bod. But! I can tell you that you will feel way more productive and accomplished, if you do.