Column: I’m counting on improvement in 2009

by Father Mark Goldasich

No matter what you do in 2009, don’t forget these numbers: Ten …two…five.

No, these don’t refer to the time, nor are they this weekend’s winning Pick 3 numbers or the combination to a safe filled with jewels and gold. Instead, these numbers — ten, two, five — unlock a different kind of treasure.

Before I go any further, I have to credit my friend, Father Phil Winkelbauer of Sacred Heart-St. Casimir Parish in Leavenworth, for directing me to these numbers, found at a very helpful Web site, called 43folders.com. Founded by Merlin Mann, an independent writer, speaker and broadcaster from San Francisco, this site is about “finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.” Its name comes from the number of folders you need to start an effective “tickler” system for papers — one folder for each of the 31 days in a month, plus another one for each of the 12 months in a year. But I’m not here to talk about the number 43; I’m here to sing the praises of ten, two, five.

The Web site above sent me to a link to how to effectively battle procrastination, even if you’re a professional at it (like me). How? Think those magic three numbers, expressed in this formula: (10+2)*5. If you’re wondering just what the heck that means, here’s the way it plays out in practice:

The first step is to pick out something that you’ve been putting off. Next grab your kitchen timer (two are better, if you have them). Sit down with that dreaded task and set the timer for ten minutes. Work on that item in a focused manner for those ten measly minutes; allow no distractions. When the timer goes off, quit and reset it for two minutes. These are your two fun minutes — get up and stretch, grab a Diet Pepsi, run in place, breath deeply, do whatever floats your boat.

When those two minutes are up, it’s back to another ten at your task. Then take another two-minute break, then work another ten, etc. Repeat this five times (the last number of the formula) and — voila — you’ve just put one hour into a task without really breaking a sweat. I can’t believe how three little numbers have been responsible for making me more . . . responsible. A second new year’s discipline that I’ve already started is composing a “not to do” list. This idea, from the January issue of Real Simple magazine, is a winner at reducing stress, guilt and regret. Readers of the magazine were invited to write in with their “not to do” list items and here are a few: (not) worry, go on another diet, be a “people pleaser,” save things for “special occasions,” and obsess about my aging looks.

As my personal “not to do” list is getting longer and longer, my spirit is growing lighter and lighter as I see time emerging for truly important things — visits with God, family and friends, for instance.

Lastly, my new year will be a time to “hide the evidence.” I recently came across this little nugget of advice for keeping things more orderly: Think like a “criminal” when it comes to the day’s projects or tasks. After you’ve eaten breakfast, for example, hide the evidence that you’ve done so: Put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, throw away your used napkin, put the milk and cereal back in their proper places, pop the bread back in the bread bag . . .

Whoops, sorry. Gotta go. The timer just went off for the fifth time and that means that I’ve got to move on. You see, there’s plenty more things on my list that I’ve got “not to do.”

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