How 1% of My Day Changed My Life

This was originally written in May 2015 at 15minutesofchange.com, and I have republished it here with slight modifications.

There are 1,440 minutes in a day.  15 minutes = 1.04% of your day.

I used this 1% of my day, every day, for a year and changed my life.

Two years ago, I had an idea.

It was really more of a hypothesis: If I work on ideas and projects for 15 minutes each day, I will get more of them done.

I have always had projects.

My projects are about gaining new knowledge and skills. Sometimes, the projects are focused on creating new businesses. Some of them go farther than others. Some of them start and never finish. These seem to be the ones that require time I don't have.

But if I could spend a small amount of time on them each day, maybe I could make progress.

For the couple of years, I have been spending at least 15 minutes each day on projects.

Spending time on them each day gave me a chance to test the ideas.

A few of them have taken on a life of their own, and I plan to continue to work on them. Most of them have slowly slipped into a coma and are currently on life support. I know they are there, they could be revived, I'm not ready to pull the plug on them, but it will take a miracle for them to survive.

The majority of my ideas are centered around developing a portfolio of side businesses that could someday replace my day job.

Here's the problem I was trying to solve:

Let me clarify something about my current day job: It's not the worst job in the world.

I make a very good living doing it. I work reasonable hours, most of the time.

I enjoy most of the people I work with.

In the grand scheme of employment, I have a good situation. I understand that there are millions of people who would love to be in my employment situation.

At the same time, I believe there is more to life than working in an office for 30-40 years, looking forward to the day you retire.

My current office job is not what I am trying to escape - it's any office job.

When I say office job, what I really mean is trading my time and energy making someone else's dreams come true.

I would rather spend my time and energy making my dreams a reality.

My dreams aren't to make a certain amount of money, but to control my time.

I want to decide how I spend it.

I want to be able to go to the gym in the middle of the day. I want to ski on Wednesdays. I want to spend my time with people I enjoy being around. I want to work on things that are interesting to me.

Of course, I have to keep the roof over my family's head.

The primary means of doing this is the day job. Until I am able to replace that income doing things I love doing, then my time between 8 and 5 on weekdays will be owned by an employer.

I am a small bets kind of guy.

I prefer to make sure something will work and then ease into it.

I need to be able to spend the time I have on small projects to see if they are going to work or not.

Finding time is the challenge.

I don't want to spend every weeknight or all weekend away from my family - being a husband and father are the two most important jobs I have.

With the day job and the family, finding time to build my side portfolio is challenging.

As I thought about this challenge, I developed my hypothesis.

How I got started on this:

It was a small bet.

It was time I could find.

I found my time in the morning.

I found that if I could achieve small wins on the projects I was working on, I would feel good about the project and continue the next day.

It allowed me time to think about the projects. It gave me distance. When I came across a problem I couldn't solve, I could walk away and come back the next day. When I did that, I usually came back with a different take on the problem and could solve it quickly.

At first, I just built this website.

It wasn't the first one I ever built, but it gave me more experience buying domains, setting up hosting, installing Wordpress and a theme. I learned about plugins. I learned how to set up an email list.

Over the course of this past year, I have built two other sites: one for my wife and one for our food truck.  The experimentation helped me learn which tools I like to use.  I have a different preference for the platforms where I build my sites. I prefer Squarespace over Wordpress now.

I switched email list services from AWeber to MailChimp.

All of this experience and learning happened in the short spaces in time in the morning when I had time to work on it.

The learning came from the doing.

What else did I learn?

I also explored things like collecting survey information from food truck customers. My family owns a food truck, and I was trying to learn more about our customers.

I found the customers were willing to provide their feedback, but as I contacted food truck owners, they were unresponsive or not interested in getting customer data. I may come back to that project, but for now, it's one of the ones on the ventilator.

I also gained experience with Elance and Fiverr for a few pieces of information I needed.

I used Elance to get a list of catering companies I could contact about our food truck. That worked out pretty well, and we have gotten some catering gigs as a result.

I used Fiverr to get a catering brochure created. We can hand it out at the truck when people ask about catering. I also sent it to all the catering companies I had previously contacted.

I've tried some other ideas like selling a workout shirt communicating proper gym etiquette.

I got a little experience with Facebook ads and with the service that doesn't print the shirt unless you get enough orders. I didn't sell any shirts, but I didn't pay for any of them either, so I was out only a few bucks for the ads. I may try this one again at some point.

Through all of these different projects, I wrote about my experiences using the 15 minute technique.

I created a small guide that could be downloaded for free. I learned how to use Gumroad to deliver digital products.

I started writing and posting my ideas to LinkedIn's writing platform. I got feedback from co-workers and other colleagues expressing their appreciation for my writing.

I wrote a post about the chain method of habit formation. My mom has been using it to help her add exercise to her life. She said a few of her friends have started using it.

I rediscovered writing. I was an English major that hadn't written much more than emails or PowerPoint presentations since college.

Writing about things that are interesting to me and finding my ideas are shared by other people is a reward by itself.

There were some unexpected mental benefits associated with my experiment.

This process kept me sane when things got busy. In my day job, there are times of the year that can take up all my energy.

Having an outlet to work on projects that were important to me helped me find fulfillment in my life when things at work were stressful.

Instead of thinking about work when I was at home, I filled the time vacuum with things that brought me joy.

I became more aware of my habits.

Spending 15 minutes each day became a habit. It made me think about how easy it would be to add other habits.

In the past year, I have started: morning meditation, daily reading, drinking more water, daily writing, building my network by connecting with people each day, pushups, pullups, and gratitude.

These sound like easy things, but until you build them as habits, they move in and out of your daily routine.

I have found that habit formation and behavior design are topics I like.

I started taking a master class from BJ Fogg on Tiny Habits with the intent I will be able to coach people on the technique.

These insights came as a result of spending 15 minutes each morning exploring things that interested me.

What's Next

The past two years, I learned about things I like to do and other things that I don't.

I have a lot of new ideas. Some will work and some won't.

I'm going to continue to focus on improving my writing skills. I am going to continue to write about new ideas and what I learn along the way.

I believe that most of this learning wouldn't have taken place if I hadn't explored using small amounts of time everyday to work on these ideas. I may have read or researched them, but I probably would not have gotten as much experience as I did.

I don't know how this story ends. I don't have one big idea to change my life and change the world.

I may never have one single purpose in life. I'll have many professions, hobbies, businesses, and interests.

This past year has been a journey to figure out who I am and what I want to do.

It has been a trek from project to project, but I feel like I am farther up the mountain today than when I first started.

Along the way, I have found new influences, added new skills, and most importantly overcome the fear of getting started.

Through it, I have found joy not in getting to any destination, but in the journey itself.

I am excited about what the journey will look like over the next 12 months.