Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Twenty Minutes

I battled a migraine all day yesterday, and when this storm finally blew through and took my headache with it, it was rather late.

And, having taken medicine that contained caffeine, I was wide awake.

I promised Thad that I wouldn't stay up too late--it was only midnight or so, not late at all for me even without the caffeine--and settled down to read a few blogs in the peaceful silence of the abandoned living room.

I was absorbed in other peoples' ideas and the thought-tangents these ideas led me toward, quite happy. And then I noticed something on my desk: the pile of tests I hadn't graded last week, because I kept finding myself short of time to do it.

If it weren't Lent, I might have been able to ignore them and go back to my reading. But during Lent my guardian angel's wings have a bit of sting to them, and so, reluctantly, I turned off the computer, picked up the tests, glanced dourly at the clock, and sat down at the kitchen table to grade them.

I'm terrible about grading things. I let tests and papers pile up, and put off the actual moment of red-pen truth as long as possible. Even though the girls are good students and rarely have a total test meltdown, I hate the drudgery of reading through each line, unraveling essay question answers, and the like. Back in college, I found teachers who let tests go to be frustrating; I wanted instant results, or as close to instant as possible! Now, with only three students, I have a pang of sympathy and pity for those instructors of hundreds; I'd rather do almost any chore than face a pile of tests, even in a silent house well after midnight with no distractions.

But I figured that as I was awake anyway, as my brain was whirring with activity, as my head felt clear for the first time all day, I might as well do this one little thing for my children who are also my students. I read through the tests, marked answers, smiled at the good ones, deducted a few points for some off-mark solutions, and put each completed test on each child's desk so she'd see her graded tests in the morning.

And when I finished, I looked at the clock again.

And discovered that all of twenty minutes had passed.

Twenty minutes, to do a job I'd been putting off for days. Twenty minutes, to give my girls the feedback they need, to see for myself how they're doing, to get one set of tests closer to glorious summer freedom. Twenty minutes, to get rid of a pile that was starting to make me feel guilty every time I glanced at it.

Twenty minutes.

This, naturally, made me think of other things I frequently put off or avoid, that could be done, or at least well underway, in a twenty minute time period:
  • vacuuming, at least the two main living areas and the hall;
  • cleaning the kitchen, or at least cleaning it better than it is at any given moment;
  • planning meals, instead of ransacking the cabinets and fridge at the last second;
  • tackling a "clutter spot" and making at least some progress;
and so on.

And there are other things, too. I can usually manage to exercise for at least twenty minutes a day, but how often do I skip it because there "just isn't time?"

I say a rosary daily, but how often do I end up finishing it in bed because "I just didn't get to it?"

I owe a sister a phone call (yes, Ohio girl, I mean you!) but how many days now have I missed the window of opportunity (especially given the hour time difference; I always look at the clock when I'm about to call and realize she's probably in the middle of dinner, or headed to bed, etc. by the time I think of picking up the phone)?

I still have clothing buckets in my living room--okay, part of that's because the weather got cold again right when we were packing up all the warm things--but some of it is because I didn't think there would be time before tonight's extra Easter choir practice to get to it, no?

So often these jobs look disconcertingly large, or the perfectionist inside of us doesn't want us to start something we can't finish, and finish well, once we've started doing it. But as I discovered with those tests last night, sometimes twenty minutes is plenty; and even if it's not, it's better to be twenty minutes closer to finishing than never to begin at all.

This has been a Lent full of little obvious realizations for me, but I'm very grateful for them. Just think--most of us are awake for at least sixteen hours a day, and each hour is made of three twenty minute sets, which means that we have forty-eight opportunities a day to get to one of those nagging little chores we've been putting off, because there "just isn't time."

And when I realize how easy it is to fritter away those same twenty minutes on less necessary occupations (not that all leisure is bad, mind, but balance is key), I realize that I only need to commandeer one or two of those twenty minute intervals a day to make a difference to my husband or children or house or vocation generally or even to the community outside.

What can you do in twenty minutes today?


LeeAnn said...

I used the shop-vac to suck all the flies out of my kitchen. Ha ha! A big improvement on the fly-swatter. No fly guts on the ceiling. We must be the only people in the northern hemisphere troubled by flies all winter. Ding dang cat; it's probably her fault.

Also, I hung some curtains and made a nice little prayer spot in the upstairs hall from stuff we've had lying around collecting dust and in the way.

Twenty minutes' work will make my trip up the stairs happier for a long time.

Eileen said...

This is so true. "O, what peace we often forfeit; O what needless pain we bear" as the song says.

My dad always counseled us as kids that "if you do [some avoided task] right away, you only have to do it once; but if you procrastinate, you have to do it in your head every time you think of it." Maybe that's why it's such a surprise that it only takes 20 minutes when you actually get down to it.