The Twelve-Minute Solution

I’ve become aware recently of how well I’m served by a lack of ambition, or at least a lack of significant ambition. I came to this awareness staring at the scale.

The number staring back at me was daunting and not healthy. It hasn’t been healthy for a while, but if I think of trying to dump all that weight, of foregoing any treats ever again, of having to run five miles a day six days a week, I will go have a couple Hershey’s kisses to fortify myself for the coming ordeal.

My naturopath wants me to walk two miles a day, and this is hardly a significant exertion. I’m resisting that prescription though, mostly because I don’t have the energy for forty minutes (moving at a snail’s pace) of sustained effort. And anybody who attempts to intimate that exercise yields higher energy levels is flirting with a retaliatory rant from me about thyroid disease, Lyme disease, chronic anemia, and a few other choice epithets.

Exercise is just plain torture for me. Your studies and data and personal experience will not change my reality. It hurts my joints, makes me twitchy, tired and cranky–and it has NEVER resulted in any measurable improvement in my health.

Yes, well, so what. Extra weight is deadly. Deadly on this hand, torture on that hand… what’s a sedentary author to do?

I walk in twelve-minute increments, that’s what. Six minutes away from the house, six minutes back. Do this three times a day, and the two miles are fait accompli. Even if I only walk once a day for twelve minutes, I have lit a single candle in place of cursing the darkness. If I try to think of walking twelve miles a week, I’m setting myself up for failure. Twelve minutes, I know I can do.

I don’t have word count goals either. I get out of bed and commit to turning on the computer and reading yesterday’s efforts on the WIP. That’s it. That’s my twelve (or twenty) minute commitment to writing. It generally turns into a couple thousand new words, but I don’t commit to that.

I don’t go on cleaning rampages any more either. I need a break from writing and put on the tea kettle. While the water’s heating, I change one box of kitty litter. Usually in the course of a good writing day, I get them all changed, do a load of wash, sweep the downstairs, change the sheets, and go grocery shopping, but not because any of those un-fun tasks loomed as a goal.

Living like this feels comfortable for me now. It would not have worked as well when I was single-parenting, and I appreciate other people thrive on lists, plans, and goals.

How about you? Where do you fall on the structure and goals continuum, and how do you attack the major challenges in your life?

To one commenter, I’ll give away my first ever signed copy of “Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal.”

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38 comments on “The Twelve-Minute Solution

  1. I make lists of goals for the day, but usually it takes three or four days to accomplish everything. There’s always something that gets put off and put off, but then I analyze why I don’t want to do it, and if it really needs to get done at all. Things like mopping the floor usually get dismissed as unimportant. Paying bills really does have to get done with some regularity. As to exercise, I’m with you on the torture scale. For awhile, I really did walk an hour a day and enjoyed it. But then my feet started to go haywire, and I decided that was the fates way of telling me I didn’t really have to do it. I like to listen to the fates.

    • Barb, once upon a time I ran twenty miles a week while single parenting and more than full time. I have never been so cranky. Have to wonder what I was running from… <y mood improved considerably when I cut back on the exercise.

  2. WOW…. I am retired now. However, when I was a newly divorced mother of 2 young children, I had lists. Lists for grocery shopping, for “to-do’s”, for work, for the kids after school activities, family Bdays and anniversaries, for “reminders” and I actually advanced to having lists to remind me of the importance and order of my lists! It must have worked because I accomlished so much during those years. even had special times, week-end getaways and vacations with my children! Now, I just sit back and wonder now how I managed. I even squeezed in several degrees through night school!
    I would sooooo LOVE to win this book…. but, if not, I will definately be picking it up release day!! Best wishes… I LOVE your books.

    • Betty, I’ve heard the saying youth is wasted on the young. No, it is not, your experience being a case in point. My path paralleled yours: Two undergraduate degrees, a law degree, a master’s degree, most of those while working at least full time, and half of them while parenting. I cannot fathom how I did that. Some days, I don’t even know WHY I did that… I’m happier now, and much less busy.

  3. I am in the boat with you Ms.Burrowes. As someone with a disability I have had exercise foisted on me–It was called PT(physical therapy) or for those of us forced to live through it call it PT(phyisical torture).When it comes to goals & structure I try to do the best I can with whatever my goal is and go at it on my schedule and I try to make the experience as enjoyable as possible.Maybe while walking a nature trail you could pick wild flowers are do bird watching. I would think you would get alot of exercising walking the halls of justice fighting for the rights of those kids who wouldn’t have a voice without you:)

    • Gail, you would think from television lawyer shows that lawyers never walk anywhere, they CHARGE around in huge buildings, (the lady lawyers do this wearing high heels),chase bad guys and elusive witnesses… maybe the criminal lawyers do, but in my line of work, we often sit in the same courtroom all day. My back never hurts worse than when I’ve finished one of those all day dockets.

  4. Hi Grace,

    First major congrats on your award ! Then for me I am with the other commenters on this one I also make lists all the time all day long !


    • Desere, I think there’s value in simply making the list. It organizes your thoughts and gets you focused on resource management.
      But I also believe in the Got Done list, the one you make when you’re heading for bed, and wondering where the day went. It may not resemble the To Do list very much, but it can be a meaningful and satisfying list anyway.

  5. I’m right with you! I have no routine or structure, that is except from going to work from 8-5 Monday-Friday. I do think that alittle physical activity is good for you but I think each person should do what they feel is within their means.
    As far as my cleaning I do what I want when I want to do it. My opinion of my home is that it is my home. Homes are meant to be lived in and enjoyed not put on show. If you don’t like my home then by all means please do not come. I am not a neat freak but then again I do not like to have dirty dishes sitting in the sink either.
    I think we all have to find our happy place and live the way it makes us each happy.

    • Donna, your comment makes me wonder about men. So many of them have major physical problems within a year of retirement, while women seem to make the transition much more easily. Is is that we always had more of a foot outside the job, or that men give all to the job and save nothing for their golden years (I’m having golden decades, though, thank you very much)? What makes for a long happy life, after all?

      Think I will put this question to Their Graces.

  6. I have some rather daunting health issues (found Heir when I was on medical leave last year–wonderful for my head and heart, if not for my body), and adore only my dog above my independence. Because it’s what I love, I’ve picked up writing again and don’t make word goals, either, or much of a schedule, though I’ve been told I’m supposed to. Once I get going, I just go…until the voices in my head take a break 🙂

    And my version of the 12-minute walk is 15 minutes on the elliptical while I watch Jeopardy on TV. I can take my time finding my shoes and something to drink, but by Final Jeopardy I’m done. And I spent so much time trying to come up with the right “questions” I don’t think too much about my discomfort. I do, however, go on cleaning binges, but I tend to do so when I need to work out a tangle in my story and I’m restless with it. I find it helps to have something to do with my hands while my mind is whirling.

    Congrats, both on the award nominations and finding contentment in your life! Both are serious achievements 🙂

    • WHAT are we going to do when Alex Trebec retires? That guy has always epitomized class in an unlikely location for me.

      If you ever want to send me some pages, I’ll happily do a beta read for you. Romance is about the only genre I know anything about, but the offer is sincere.

  7. I am an avid list maker. I make lists for everything! Groceries, potential names for my future service dog puppy (first by gender, then alphabetically), to-do’s for my days off, who I need to write letters to. I’ve even been known to make a mental list of what lists need to be made! Now, in the digital age it is much easier to make said lists by just entering things into my ever present “smart phone”, complete with timer and alarm to remind me to read my lists!

    Do I ever follow through with the lists? Absolutely not! It is more of a relaxation technique; something to keep me occupied when it’s slow at work. Sometimes I’ll whip out the list and look at it & use it as a guideline, a starting point or recommendation for what I SHOULD do that day. Most of the time I look at it, chuckle a bit & do whatever catches my attention at that time.

    And yes, I’ve even made a list of what exercise I should be doing, but can’t bring myself to do. I keep saying “when my Schedule at work changes I’ll be able to do _____”. Hasn’t happened yet. Let’s see what my next shift has in store for me!

    • Christina, my brow was knitting as I your first para, thinking “is this healthy?” and then I got to the Absolutely Not! part. You go, and someday, I might have a heroine take a leaf from your book. Lists everywhere, but just for mental exercise and frolic. Interesting approach.

  8. I make lists of what needs to be done for the day or the week. But I’m also very good at procrastinating with the bigger issues, like starting my own blog. Think this is more fear than anything though. Am pretty good about trying to lose weight, but going slowly. Seem to have hit a plateau. I actually keep track of calories, writing down each day, which helps keep me in line. Lost 45 lbs. in 2011, and working on more this year. This is probably by biggest long term goal and know I need to add i the exercise now to help break free of the plateau.

    • Wow! Congrats, Sue! 45 lbs is a lot of weight, and very difficult to lose. I put on weight last year when I was having health problems, and am struggling to take it back off again. I’m going to think of you when I balk at getting on the elliptical, or when I reach for another helping of the sugary snacks 🙂

      • My publisher has spent the last two years dumping 35 pounds and is wearing clothes she hasn’t fit into for years. I asked, of course, how she did it. Her answer, “I had to go where I did not want to go, where I never wanted to go: I had to exercise.”

        She’d hit a plateau much earlier than you did. There’s a reason why I heard this message from her when I did though…

    • The fact is the more slowly you lose it, the more likely you are to keep it off. Maybe the more deliberate you are about setting up a blog, the more likely you are to find a sustained following. Lemme know if you ever want a guest post, and keep up the good, hard weight loss work.

  9. I’ve never liked exercise for the sake of exercise. The few activities that I do indulge in aren’t a lot of help – bowling once a week and bocci in the summer and the usual housework. Now my life revolves around the computer instead of young children so that makes it even worse. A few years back I tried an exercise routine for 3 months and like you, just got achy joints so it didn’t seem worth it. I try to watch what I eat but I refuse to actually diet. So, I’m no help with ideas lol.

    Congratulations on your award and thanks for a chance to win your book!

    • Catslady, I used to ride horses. That was fun, social, self-reflective (the ponies never lie), and gave me an hour’s drive to the barn to spin ideas. The hour’s drive from the barn to the office was never half so much fun.

      I think what you do isn’t as important as having fun, getting off the reservation, and getting off life’s treadmill. Next strike, think of me.

  10. Congratulations to you and Miss Sophie!! Beating out her brothers is quite the Coup! I hope she doesn’t let them forget it any time soon. In the name of sibling love, of course.

    I was an OCD Type A+ neat freak who would do an 18 day that included at least a 5 mile brisk walk before chronic health issues took over the running of my life. Either I let them run the show or they will make me PAY and now I do a similar system. Nibbles. Sound Bites. Unload the dishwasher while the water heats for morning tea. Pace my stairs a few times (classic three level row home with 15 stairs to a flight – built in stair master).

    Amazingly stuff gets done. And when it doesn’t, it doesn’t, it waits. And my health isn’t worse, the house isn’t a mess (even by my neat freak standards) All the nibbles add up and feel less like chores. Also the little bouts of activity help with the chronic pain-stiffness vs aggravating it like extended exercise or cleaning will.

    Favorite healthy activity is a dry sauna. Warm, detox and all I need to do is lounge, drink water and perhaps read a book.

  11. All I can say is I’m taking this week as a vacation week just because. My beloved hubby and I have been joined at the hip for four months since he had surgery. Now he is back to work and I’m taking the week for myself. No plans, no lists, no schedules, no alarm clocks. Each day will unfold as it may. Sincere congratulations for Sophie’s award.

  12. I am an internal list maker. I get such a sense of accomplishment when I complete my work related tasks, but at home I work at a slower pace. When it comes to exercise, the best thing that I found is having a dog. I know that the dog needs the exercise so I make it a priority to get the walking time in everyday.

  13. Grace,

    Congratulations on the award! I was excited to see you win it. LSCW was such a sweet read, in the very best way.

    I used to run too, but it made my hips and butt hurt! Even fast walking makes me sore. So now I walk more slowly. What also helped was doing a little weightlifting, like we’re always being told to do. Small weights, and some real results. Also have a theory that as we get older we don’t process carbs the same way, especially as women. My friend was in the Peace Corps in Mali, and he said that eating an almost all-carb diet, all the men lost weight and the women got larger. To experiment, I tried slanting away from carbs and sugar a bit (not giving them up, just eating more of other things) and that helped too.

    Thanks for sharing your routine–I like to hear what other people are doing 🙂

  14. I adore my husband (not only) for making lists and truly work them through and have things done, and have tried to do so myself – unsuccesfully. But I do make notes on very important things and usually don’t forget to do them then.
    But mainly it is, what needs to be done will be done though often just right in time.

    As to physical workout: my husband does sports to stay fit and get a good body shape and just lifts some weights for that – how boring. But my thing is to do it because i enjoy it. I tried fitness centres and just couldn’t bear that… stoically moving weights with no real sense – bah!!!
    What I do like is team sports, because that is fun, that is being with people who mostly are fun and it’s fighting for a purpose – win, and if not won then it was fun nevertheless!!! It is killing some birds with one stone: fun, excercise, seeing friends and a light blow in the brains for new stuff to fill in…
    Grace, maybe you should try some other stuff to workout and move, that brings you joy and some sweat! I don’t know, get on a bike to do some minor shopping, go swimming in a nearby lake (and take the bike there), try dancing in the evening (sweaty ones like rock’n’roll, latin dance or whatsoever…)

    But still, the main thing for me to keep my body healthy is food of a good quality and well chosen food. Always makes me happy to eat vegetables that have been picked from the fields just before I buy them on the farm…

    Please, hurry up with your next books, Grace!!!

  15. I don’t make lists unless I’m going to the store. I do have the tendency to make mental list or shall I say promises that I don’t tend to keep. I promise myself that this year is the year that I will lose the excess wait, but the next year it is the same promise. I’ve noticed that since I have stopped making myself these outrageous promises in my head and stick to little manageable goals, I have lost some weight.

  16. Ah, I sympathize and I empathize. Three years ago you could get me off the couch to go for a walk, but not multiple times a week and only if someone would walk and talk with me. Then I got the ever so delightful Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis. I took off like a shot and have rarely looked back. If I wasn’t literally scared for my life I’d still be sitting on the couch napping and packing on more pounds. I also made myself accountable by joining a local CrossFit box. Those guys are going to want to know where I am if I stop showing up.

    Now, if I could just apply the same thing to my cleaning habits. Then maybe this house would look like a adult lives in it and not a college fraternity. Eh, I think I’ll take a nap.

    • Sabrina, I got the same diagnosis–had to be Type II, given the symptoms–but lo, the HA1C tests just do not support that hypothesis. I’m lucky in the sense that any kind of diabetes is nothing to mess around with. If CrossFit does it for you, then keeping on CrossFitting.

  17. I have to say I have no time for lists. One it is too structured and literally wastes my time to make them. Two I find that in my early years, it weighed me down and I would get depressed. Lastly I like the freedom to choose what I want to do, it allows me to make rash decisions and think quickly. I like to challenge my brain and it let’s me critical think without planning. I no longer feel my time is wasted on planning, instead I get to the doing.

  18. When the clock ruled my life, everything got done but I was so busy ticking tasks off my mental list I wasn’t enjoying the time spent. After a couple of health scares and two grandchildren, my life has changed. No more clock watching, no more task lists, tea when I please. Everything still gets done, but I am more relaxed and a better person. My sweeties and I play and that is so much better than running from here to there and back again. It took me decades to realize I am entitled to enjoy the life I have.

    I am enjoying your writing talent greatly. Thank you for sharing your gift.

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