‘Five minutes a day’
Have you ever had a teacher who taught a subject but actually taught you life? I was lucky enough to have a teacher like that. Her name was Linda Carson. She taught me fine art and art history, but she also taught me a lot of other things along the way. She died recently. Her passing has left me thinking of her, of all I learned from her, and of how those lessons have changed me.
Here’s an example. Linda believed that anyone, anyone can learn to draw. One night our class of adult learners struggled with blind contour drawing. Our results scrawled off the page, tangles of lines with only a passing resemblance to the still life. We laughed at our efforts. Linda laughed too, but said: “If you did this for five minutes every day for a year, you’d be amazed by how well you could draw at the end of it.”
Five minutes a day would create a new way of seeing. Five minutes a day would build the skill. Five minutes a day would build habit and confidence. Five minutes a day for a year. “But,” she added with a wry grin, “nobody ever takes me up on that.”
That stuck with me.
Years later I found my own version of this. As a new manager leading my first team, I was scared spitless. All of a sudden I was responsible for the care and wellbeing of other people. My team’s careers depended on me, their (workplace) happiness depended on me. What if I f*cked up?
I desperately needed to build new skills and I kept coming up short on resources. I wanted the perfect book on management, but never found it. I wanted a course on becoming a manger, but it didn’t (yet) exist. I wanted a coach but didn’t yet know about coaching. So in the face of that vacuum I created a tool for myself. It’s one I still occasionally fall back on, because it’s dead simple and it helps. I created what I called “The Leadership Log.” It was a journal of sorts. Each day at the end of my workday I thought about how I was showing up as a manager. I considered three things. The first — what one thing did I wish I’d done differently that day? Second — how could I do better next time? And finally, third — what three things had I done well?
Total time each day? Less than five minutes, but the impact was huge. Those few minutes each day helped me create a practice of learning and growth. The log let me be honest about failures, but in a way that helped me improve. The practice made me recognize my wins, which over time built confidence. Each day became an intentional cycle of Try — Learn — Repeat.
That’s a huge impact for five minutes a day.
It’s easy to think of big change as needing big effort, and maybe it does. But small investments of effort add up. Making those investments over time brings other benefits too:
- 5 minutes a day is easy. It’s bite-sized. The daily barrier to ‘doing’ is pretty darned small.
- Doing a little bit every day for a year creates 365 cycles of practice-and-learn.
- That slow and steady approach covers enough time to form truly deep new habits.
- Recording and seeing growth over time builds confidence.
So yes, big change takes big effort. But big change can grow from small investments. Just 5 minutes a day can take you there.
That’s a perfect Linda-lesson. On the surface she was talking about art, but really she was teaching us about life.
Thanks for the lesson, Linda.