Episode 156: How to Change Your Life in 12 Minutes Per Week
Our minds are extraordinary. Great ideas can change our lives. However, those same minds are also brilliant at coming up with excuses to avoid making these ideas happen. For high-stress professionals, one of the biggest reasons is time. You might feel overwhelmed by the change you want to make or afraid of what other people would say if you tried. It’s up to you not to let these reasons stop you from changing your life.
Robbie Swale changed his life by using 12 minutes of his week. He joins us in this conversation to talk about the amazing realisation that you can achieve so much by taking a little bit of your time. He discusses the challenges of nurturing your great ideas and how to overcome those obstacles. Robbie also dives into the four phases of creating something new and the importance of starting.
Don’t let your great ideas go to waste. Learn how to change your life in 12 minutes when you tune in to this episode.
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
Find out the main excuses your mind can come up with and learn how you can overcome them.
- Discover how small and steady can help you win the race and achieve great things.
- You have more time than you think — enough time to start changing your life this week!
[03:15] Robbie’s Journey of Great Ideas
For a decade, Robbie searched for a career he could be interested in, whether or not he was at work. Now, he’s a leadership coach, author, and podcaster.
- As a coach, Robbie saw that people, including himself, often let themselves get talked out of great ideas. He wanted to know what stopped them from putting their ideas into action.
- In his late 20s, Robbie had a fantastic book idea but let himself get talked out of writing it. Somebody else ended up successfully writing a book with the same idea.
- Robbie had another idea he didn’t push through with because someone else had partly done it. In time, he met a friend who did a full version of the same idea.
- These past ideas were a symbol of all the things Robbie wanted to do but weren’t able to do. Today he no longer feels bad seeing other people do them.
‘I use the word creative because I have done work on myself to reabsorb that the word creative is okay for me to use.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
[08:42] Doing the Same Thing, Differently
‘For some reason, as an individual human, especially in the internet age, we see things quite differently.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
Many people, including high-stress professionals, are intimidated by others who’ve done their ideas and are doing them better.
- The internet makes it impossible to be the best among others. You’ll likely find someone else ahead of you, doing what you’re thinking of doing.
- People often seek an excuse not to do the scary, challenging, new thing. Finding others who have already done it often seems like a good reason.
- Don’t let the fact that other people were there first be your excuse. You’ll be bringing your brand of things into a field of great ideas.
‘When someone’s done it before, therefore, I can’t do it. Whereas it’s almost the opposite. Someone’s had that idea. Therefore, it must be a good idea.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
[12:13] Great Ideas VS Criticism
When Rachel started the You are Not a Frog Podcast, some people encouraged her, while others discouraged her.
- Many good ideas can get lost due to feeling overwhelmed. Be prepared to hear positive and negative feedback when starting something.
- Don’t take other people’s words as gospel; trust your intuition. You can also build a community that supports and encourages you.
- During the early stages, ideas can be fragile, especially in the face of other people’s opinions. Think, research, and investigate to solidify your ideas.
- Criticism can be helpful when you know your why and solidly on you’re idea. You can respond by sitting down to think and talk about how you can strengthen it.
‘Sometimes the criticism is difficult. It’s always most difficult when we partially believe it ourselves. [When] we’re not sure about the thing. And so one way to respond to the criticism is to really rumble with it, sit down with it.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
[17:31] The Power of the Tortoise
Robbie recalls Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare. For high-stress professionals, the tortoise symbolises the power of steadiness.
- People often overestimate what they can do in short periods and underestimate what they can achieve over extended periods.
- Robbie, like many others, had difficulty sharing his work. To help with this, he started the practice of writing an article and sharing it online in the span of a 12-minute train ride.
- Over three years, those 12 minutes resulted in 80,000 written words. This outstanding achievement came from doing something small regularly for a long time.
- You can learn more about what you can achieve in extended periods from Robbie and his 12-minute method when you listen to the full episode.
‘And I think the reason we underestimate what we can achieve in long time periods [is] because of the power of the tortoise, right? The power of steadiness or small repeated action over a long time.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
[25:59] Practice Makes Better Relationships
One life lesson Robbie learned is that what looks like talent can result from consistent, long-term practice.
- Practice can also help improve relationships. Taking a few minutes a week to think about how you can improve can help.
- Relationship skills are learnable. You can learn to have difficult conversations, especially at high-stress jobs.
- Spending a few minutes to chat weekly can build better relationships over the years.
[29:30] Breaking Down Career Change
One of the first times Robbie wanted to do something, only to finally put it into action after a long time, was his career change.
- Changing careers can feel incredibly overwhelming. Break down the change into low-risk, low-cost experiments.
- The outcome of these experiments may be uncertain, but nothing will truly change if you don’t do anything at all.
- Start with the lowest cost, lowest risk experiment. If it works, you can move on to the next phase; if it doesn’t, you can learn from it and rewind to find what’s right.
- One possible experiment you can do is to find a friendly person with the needed experience. Reach out and talk to them about your career change.
[33:41] Keep Going
‘When I was really getting into Keeping Going, I really noticed that when you’re not making a start on something, it’s not a neutral act, when it’s something you want to do.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
The creative phases include: starting, keeping going, creating the conditions for great work, and sharing.
- Don’t do nothing. Set aside a few minutes to take action and move closer to your goal.
- Over time, the little steps you take will compound. Once you choose to do something and commit to keeping doing it, you’ll build the capacity to achieve it.
‘So every day that you do a tiny bit of something, it’s not just that you’ve done the tiny bit, you have a day where you don’t add to that feeling of I wish I started this already.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
[36:50] Managing Time for High-Stress Professionals
Making the practice sustainable is vital to doing it regularly over the years.
- The harsh truth is that you do have 12 minutes a week. It’s up to your choices whether or not you have those few minutes.
- A big part of time management is choice. You can always choose what you’re doing. People often have many different excuses not to do it.
- You can create the conditions for the practice to work. Design your 12-minute plan as frictionless as possible.
[39:21] Getting Started
Great work conditions include starting the work, keeping going, and sharing it at some point.
- Many great works end because people want to make perfect conditions.
- It would be best to accept that things won’t always be perfect. You should start anyway.
- There are many reasons why people want to wait. Setting a timer is an excellent way to get yourself going.
[41:51] Executing Your Great Ideas: Just Start
Having massive goals, like becoming the best at something, is okay. However, it will benefit you to start with work that is within your control.
- For Robbie, external goals can be overwhelming. When he started the podcast, one of his primary goals was to learn.
- No matter how big or small your goal is, the first thing to do is to start.
- Robbie suggests separating your goals from external things. Make your purpose fun to encourage you to start.
- Many medical professionals think they must be the best and struggle to create new ideas. It’s critical to get out of this mindset and start doing.
[45:20] Robbie’s Top Three Tips to Start Changing Your Life
Build some time to work on something important but not urgent.
- Choose something to work on and make a repeatable habit out of it. Make your practice as easy as possible to make it stick.
- Just start things. You might never reach that perfect ready state, but start it anyway.
Robbie Swale is a leadership coach. His life journey and experience in different careers as a director, leader, and now coach have helped him see things differently. Robbie has worked with entrepreneurs, investors, theater directors, and other coaches.
Robbie is also an author and a podcast host. He wrote the 12-Minute Method Series, which includes: How to Start When You’re Stuck, How to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up, How to Create the Conditions For Great Work, and How to Share What You’ve Made. You can also find his writing on his blog. Robbie hosts the Coach’s Journey Podcast for coaches and The 12-Minute Method Podcast.
You can find out more about Robbie, his writings, podcast, and his work as a coach on his website and LinkedIn.
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Rachel Morris: Have you got something you’d like to do that’s been sitting in your head for ages but never made it past the idea stage? Or would you like to change your role, your career or even fix a difficult relationship? Perhaps you’d just like to take up something new and exciting, but something stopping you. If you’re like most doctors and other professionals in high stress jobs that I know, you’ll tell me that you just don’t have the time, but perhaps, you secretly know that a lack of time is just masking other reasons for why you haven’t even tried to start.
Robbie Swale, author and coach, has cracked it. He’s managed to write several books and change his life in just 12 minutes per week. Yes, you heard right, not per day, bits per week. If you don’t have 12 minutes a week to spare, then you’re probably a very, very, very important person and almost certainly don’t have time to listen to this podcast. In this episode, Robbie explains how the 12 minute project came about and why it’s so helpful in getting us over the hump of starting things, such as new projects, career changes, creative stuff, or even new business ideas, which can seem overwhelming at first.
I found this conversation incredibly encouraging and motivating. I’m going to try doing something next week, which I’ve been putting off starting for ages. So listen to this episode to find out what really stops us from trying out new ideas or starting stuff. The surefire way to never achieve what you want, spoiler alert, it’s something to do with never starting in the first place and how much you can really achieve in just 12 minutes per week.
Welcome to You’re Not a Frog, the podcast for doctors and other busy professionals in high stress, high stakes jobs. I’m Dr. Rachel Morris, a former GP now working as a coach, trainer and speaker.Like frogs in the pan of slowly boiling water, many of us don’t notice how bad the stress and exhaustion have become until it’s too late, but you are not a frog. Burning out or getting out are not your only options.
In this podcast, I’ll be talking to friends, colleagues, and experts and inviting you to make a deliberate choice about how you live and work so that you can beat stress and work happier. If you’re a training manager or clinical lead, and your teams are under pressure and maybe even feeling overwhelmed, we’d love to share our shapes toolkit training with you. Our practical tools are designed by a team of doctors and practitioners who know what it’s like to work in a stretched and overwhelmed system.
With topics like how to take control of your time and workload, deal with conflicts and managing stress, from team away days and half day sessions to shorter workshops and webinars online or face to face, we’d love to find out how we can help your team work calmer and happier. We work with primary care training hubs, ICS wellbeing teams, new to practise GP fellowships, hospital trusts and lots of other health care providers with staff on the front line. To find out more, drop us an email or request a brochure at the link below.
Robbie Swale: Hi, Rachel. I’m Robbie Swale. I’m a leadership coach and author and a podcaster, and a big part of my work in the last year or so has been on the 12 Minute Method series of books.
Rachel: It’s wonderful to have you on the podcast, Robbie, and I wanted to get you on because I think you’ve got really interesting take on why ideas don’t happen and why ideas do happens. So tell me a bit about how you got into sort of coaching and developing an interest around those sorts of ideas.
Robbie: In some ways, I came to coaching because I wanted to be doing work that was using all the skills I had, and I wanted to find something that was so interested in it that I would read about it outside work. I had a bunch of different jobs in the first decade or so of my career. The closest I got before coaching to finding something that did ticked all the boxes for me was I worked in arts and culture, managing arts centres.
But then I realised that I’d stopped thinking and enjoying learning about arts and culture outside of work, and I was like, this is no longer that thing for me. But coaching could be perhaps and that’s how I came to it. One of the reasons it is is because I do get really interested in these kinds of challenges like the one you’re talking about, like, why had I had an amazing idea for a book and let myself get talked out of it. I had two amazing stories actually.
Like now that I’ve done some things that I’m really proud of, I can kind of let go of the pain of these a bit, but I’d had a couple of these in my late 20s. I’d had a book that I thought was an amazing idea for a book, and I could show you emails plotting out this book in a lot of detail with a friend of mine over email. Then we basically let ourselves get talked, I let myself get talked out of it by a friend of that friend who said to my friend, “I just don’t think it’s a very good idea. I wouldn’t read it.”
That was enough for me to just let it go. Now, the reason this is important, Rachel, is because somebody else wrote the book. Like, in fact, we’re still — ‘cause it was about computer game that I had played loads of when I was a teenager — like, we’re still- one of my friends gave me this book. It was I gotta say, it was like a horrible heart sinking moment. I still haven’t read it. I’ve still got it somewhere, but I could read it now.
But for a long time, I couldn’t even look at it without having to sick feeling because I’d had the idea and my life would have taken, like, I’m happy with my life. So I wouldn’t want it to go down that other way, but isn’t that interesting. Another one happened was exactly the same. I had this business idea. I googled it. I kind of let myself not do it, because someone had like about 1/3 done the idea that I had. I found it. They had done it first and I didn’t do it for a while.
Then I looked it up again, and it was kind of 1/3 there or something like that, not done very well, not done quite how I’d imagined it, but it was there. So I didn’t do it. Then I kind of every now and again would think about it going like that would have been cool, what if I’d had that business, that would be interesting. Then my friend, Patty, was like, I can’t remember the name of the guy now, I think you should meet my friend, Adam.
Adam, it turned out, ran a much better version of the business that I like, not a 1/3 version, but a full version, and I think that’s so interesting. So what was it that stopped me with those things? What was it that the people who did write that book and start that business did those things? Then as time went on, I started to see it in my coaching, and in one way coaching is just that challenge.
Most people come to coaching, it’s like, I have a thing I want to do, whether it’s a personal habit or a business idea, or a change they wanted to put into place in their organisation. I don’t quite know how to do it, or I’m not doing it yet. Can you help me in some way? So I started to see more and more about that as time went on.
Rachel: That’s really interesting, because, yeah, when I think about everyone who comes to me for coaching, and the other clients who’ve worked with, it is that it’s always that people want to make a change, but they’re stuck, and they don’t know how- I mean, sometimes, I guess, they don’t know what the changes that they want to make, but not so much. It’s generally because there are a few barriers that when you really look at it aren’t that hard to overcome.
It just needs a bit of support, a bit of thinking through, a bit of maybe creative thinking. So that’s really interesting. I mean, oh, that you must have been so gutted when you saw the book and when you saw that this, this.
Robbie: I mean, people who are listening can’t see my face. Like these days, Rachel, I genuinely don’t have the sinking feeling anymore. But for a long time, I couldn’t have gotten a bookshelf really. I think it’s really important because I think in a way, what’s shifted for me about that that feeling gutted is so I sometimes think of it as it now I use the word creative because I have done work on myself to reabsorb that the word creative is okay for me to use.
Lots of us have stories that like creativity isn’t really us, or it means something very particular about painting or something. I’ve found the ways to be creative and get things done. So for a long time, that gutted feeling was not just about the book, but the book was a symbol for all the things that I had wanted to do and for whatever reason not done not felt able to do.
So it had that feeling that I sometimes think of as creative hell, which can be anything from wishing I’d written the book and seeing someone else has done it to the feeling people get when they really want to sing at karaoke, but it too embarrassed or really want to ask someone out, but for some reason, haven’t done it for weeks, or months or years.
Rachel: In a second, I’d love to know some of the other reasons why people get stuck. But I am really fascinated about that business when you thought, “Oh, I’d really love to do that.” Then you look but because someone had already done it a little bit, it just put you off. It reminds me I was listening to a podcast by Pat Flynn. I think it’s called a Smart Passive Income or something like that, and he was answering a question.
I think I’ve shared this on the podcast before but someone had written in to him and said, “Pat, why does everything you do turn to gold?” I thought, oh, here we go. Actually, he gives such a good answer. He said, “You know, everything I do does turn to gold but that’s because when I look at something to do, I will never do it if nobody else has done it before.” Says, “I’ll always choose things where somebody is really successful in that realm, or somebody has done it before, because then I know that it works.”
That just reminded me that story, you looked at that business that wasn’t even successful. When someone’s done it before, therefore, I can’t do it. Whereas it’s almost the opposite. Someone’s had that idea, therefore, it must be a good idea. Therefore, I do it. I think for a lot of doctors listening to this often they don’t do stuff because they’re intimidated by other people working in the same space or other people who might be better than them or more experienced than them, and I think that is a really major blocker for doctors. Have you found that is a blocker for other people?
Robbie: Yeah, I mean, we can look at it if we kind of zoom out. It’s especially exacerbated by the internet, right? Because it used to be that, if I had it, let’s rewind, even just like the late 90s, right? If I’d had a business idea, then that I could conceivably have done really. I would need to look around the geographical local area that I lived in, and I always think it’s weird how in towns, you get all the like similar shops next to each other.
It’s like, there’s obviously space for three shoe shops in a town or in a city of a certain size, and they usually sat like literally on the same street, because actually, for customers, that’s convenient. You want as a customer to have a choice about which shoe shop you go in. Yet, for some reason, as an individual human, especially in the internet age, we see things quite differently.
The problem on the internet is, you’re not just looking for it, I guess, even with three shoe shops, there’s a sense like, well, actually, if I back myself, I could be the best of the three shoe shops. That’s literally impossible thing for me to be on the internet. It looks really different to that, because it’s basically impossible for me to be the best thing at anything on the internet, because there’s always going to be somebody out there.
Pat Flynn being a good example, who’s done online business in a way they’ll just never do as well. Basically, anywhere you look about anything, you’ll find somebody who’s doing exactly what you’re thinking of doing, but they’re a bit ahead of you, or a bit smarter, or a bit more attractive, or a bit, I don’t know, younger or older, whichever one intimidates you more. So yeah, it’s a real challenge.
The thing that I think he’s going on, and underneath that, often, if you think about me in the situation with the business, is that really some part of us is looking for an excuse not to do the scary thing, and a good excuse is someone’s already done it. Then you hear that thing that you just share from Pat Flynn. Even though I say it’s not painful anymore, I just got this real flash of I just wish someone had said that to me when I was 25, because that would have made a real difference to me.
Rachel: I think that’s really important for people. Firstly, don’t let the fact that other people doing it, because you’ll bring your own thing to it. But I’m interested that you say that your brain is sort of looking for an excuse not to do it. I mean, I have lost count of the people. When I was thinking of starting the podcast, I didn’t get a lot of encouragement. It has to be said even to the you even calling it that. Are you calling it that really?
People have now said that to me that they really liked the name. I mean, obviously, there’s some people that really hate things about frogs or whatever, but people have enjoyed it, et cetera. I don’t know. Anyway, I could have been very, very easily put off doing it.
Robbie: So why weren’t you, do you think?
Rachel: Why wasn’t I? That’s a really good question. I guess I just wanted to see how it could be done. I think I probably suggested it to a couple of people who were encouraging. So for everyone who wasn’t encouraging, there are a few people that were encouraging, and I could see it made sense. Also, it was fairly risk free. If you start a podcast, and no one listens, you can just stop your podcast.
So it wasn’t a it wasn’t a big life decision. Whereas a lot of time, things do feel like big life decisions, but maybe that’s one of the problems actually, we think too big rather than thinking small.
Robbie: Yeah, I think you definitely can be. I think lots of good ideas get kind of lost in the overwhelm at the size of the project, or an attachment to a particular long term outcome from a project. I think that’s really true in what I’ve seen. I also think it’s like, what you’ve said, I just know, because I know. Because it’s the story of that book that I just told, but it’s the story of so many ideas like that, I just know that those caring, what you call it, it was the opposite of encouragement, disencouragement, I don’t know if that’s a word, disencouraging voices.
They just kill so many ideas, and that’s such a shame. I’m so glad that from where I am, it looks like you’ve made something really special here. I’m really glad that you’ve done that. I think it is something we have to be aware of. If people are going to set out to do something that matters, you’ve kind of got to prepare for the being a group of people who you would wish would support you who might just say disencouraging things. It’s useful to know that upfront.
It’s really useful that you kind of raised it. Now if people are listening because you sort of know that upfront because then you can get to prep yourself for it and you can either surround yourself by some people who will be encouraging, like build a community for that is a really, like smart idea. Or you can just arm yourself up, just know that you’re gonna have to let go of 5 or 10 of those things and that the thing you’re making probably wasn’t for those people anyway.
Rachel: Also if you start off by just knowing your why, you know why you’re gonna do it because of this, you’ve got some good reasons, you’ve thought it through, you’re fairly happy with that, then actually when people do come back at you going, oh, doesn’t sound like a good idea to me. Then that’s absolutely fine. I think we just do pick take people’s comments as gospel, so a certain person in my life automatically goes to the critical elements., but that’s just the way they’re built.
They have a certain personality profile, which makes them actually really, really very useful in a business because they can spot holes and spot problems. So when I’ve gone, oh, I had this idea, the first thing I’ll get from them is, oh, that’s not you know. It’s sort of all the problems and all the reasons why it won’t work. I have been in a situation where I’ve pitched an idea, got some negative feedback, and then a few months later that person has said to me, “Oh, but what about that thing you were gonna do?”
I’m like, “But you said it was rubbish.” “No, I didn’t, I just know.” Oh, but I’ve really taken that person’s word as gospel when actually you just need to trust a lot of the time, your own intuition, right, rather than just thinking with your inner chin.
Robbie: Yeah, I love that. If you do feel solid enough, like you said, maybe from knowing the why from whatever it is that you as a person need to feel solid, then that criticism is really useful. Like sometimes the criticism is difficult. It’s always most difficult when we partially believe it ourselves, but we’re not sure about the thing. so one way to respond to the criticism is to really rumble with it, sit down with it.
You’d have to do it with the other person because that can be like, I don’t know, I always freeze in the light of in the face of criticism. So I probably need time by myself to do that kind of thing. But other people can do it in the moment with the person, it’s like, what would we need to do with this idea to strengthen it. So that criticism wasn’t valid, like that’s a really useful thing to have.
I guess I’m really aware that in the early stages of an idea, sometimes it can be really fragile, or we can be really fragile about it. Like you say, we take that criticism as gospel truth, we kind of really believe it, even though it’s just somebody’s opinion. We’re in the night before, when we had the idea, and we thought it’s fantastic. We had a different opinion, but we forget that when we’re faced with somebody else’s.
So I’m always protective of people at those early stages, because I think that sometimes the idea is most fragile. Once we’ve solidified it, once it’s going, it can often feel really different, but the criticism can be really difficult.
Rachel: Maybe, like you say, it’s fragile, and so you maybe need to be quite careful about who you share it with and in what context you share it and then just bring it on people, but maybe even catch with you. I’ve been thinking a lot and I’ve been writing it down. I’ve done some investigations. I think often, we throw out our idea far too early, before we’ve even prepped other people and we just get their initial reaction or a silly reaction.
Whereas if they’d have really thought it through, they probably would give us a more considered reaction and a more encouraging reaction. I think one blocker I find with doctors and lots of people in healthcare, people who are really really busy as they desperately want to change. They desperately want to do something, but they’re so busy.
They don’t have any time to do it. In their minds, creating lasting change, trying a new idea, doing something different takes an awful lot of time. Now, I know you’ve cracked this, which is why I’m asking you. How do we get over that?
Robbie: So funny, I’m still wary of I’ve cracked it, because these things are complex on one level, and the challenges that anyone face is really different. So there’s a few ideas that I think are really important here. So one is I’ve got really obsessed with the tortoise and the hare recently, the Aesop’s fable, and I think that we massively overvalue the hare in society, despite the fact that the hare loses the race in Aesop’s fable and the tortoise wins.
There isn’t nearly enough mythologizing of the Greek tortoises of our ages and our workplaces and that kind of thing. One of the reasons I think that’s important is this quote that the idea basically being that humans tend to overestimate what we can achieve in short times. So that’s why we write a to-do list that we never finished for a day. But we underestimate what we can achieve in long time periods.
I think the reason we underestimate what we can achieve in long time periods because of the power of the tortoise, right, the power of steadiness or small repeated action over a long time. So I think this is particularly relevant for people who are super busy and under huge amounts of pressure from conflicting demands and agendas, and all these kinds of things like many people who work in health care.
So for me, though, this really came about from some work I did with my coach, kind of accidentally, one of the parts of the creative process, when you’re going to have an idea, right? In a way, it’s the one we’ve been talking about. It’s the point where you share the idea with other people. Now, that can be when you share the idea that we’ve been talking about, or it can be the end of the process.
You’ve made the thing, whatever the thing is, and then you launch it in some way. I was really, that was an agonising process for me. Like the vulnerability of sharing the idea at the time, it was even making jokes on Facebook. It was like an agonising thing that I would like write the joke and then I would delete it and rewrite it and all this kind of strange behaviour really looking back, but it felt really important.
I was starting out my business, and while I knew that it wasn’t really sustainable to have this challenge with sharing things that I’d made or launching things. But also, I just didn’t want something like that to feel so agonising. My coaching, I designed a practice which was first to help me kind of play with this, which was I got the train to Waterloo three days a week to an office job that I had running alongside my coaching business.
The plan was going to be, I would get on the train at Clapham Junction, and five times in the next two weeks, I will write an article while the train was moving, stop when it stopped, proofread it once and post it online. That was the practice and then I would be able to write the bottom of it to help me with my sharing thing, and the anxiety. I could write the bottom of it. This was written on the train.
So essentially, a lot of my fear was, people will laugh at me, people say it’s terrible writing, people tell me I’m wrong. Like, these are the kinds of things that I was really worried about. With that, at the bottom, it took the pressure off that a little bit, because if someone said one of those, well, I wrote it on the train, so who cares? So it gave me that little bit of separation. My memory is of those five, it wasn’t fun to do those things. It wasn’t nice.
There was elements of the agonisingness about it, but it was kind of I could tell it was good. It’s a bit like exercise. When you don’t really want to do exercise, it doesn’t feel fun to do it. Sometimes it’s really boring. But after it, you can kind of feel it was good for you. So I decided to make it into a weekly practice after that, and I’ve now been writing an article in that way for six and a half years every week.
So this is essentially where the 12 Minute Method came from. At some point, I stopped getting the train as much and checked how long it lasted that day, it lasted 12 minutes. So often these days I write an article with a timer, right, while the timer is going off, when it stops, proofreading once, post it online. But for the context of this conversation, it got interesting about three years in, because the marketing expert, the author Seth Godin, just like taking a load of his blogs for the last like X years and put them in a book.
I thought, oh, that’s an interesting idea. I was posting these blogs on LinkedIn, essentially because I thought no one read LinkedIn, and so it’s the safest place for me to put them. LinkedIn is I don’t have anyone to notice, but it’s hard, quite hard for me to find my own blogs on LinkedIn, let over somebody else. My blogs are all on my website, by the way now as well, so people do want to find them.
But I thought, well, if somebody did want to read all those first three years of these articles, like it’d actually be really hard, so maybe I should make a book of it. I thought it be funny, because I could call it I wrote this book in 12 minutes. I got all these articles together, and over three years, 12 minutes at a time, I’d written 80,000 words, so this is the tortoise over the hare. We underestimate what we can achieve in a long period of time by small repeated action.
On one level, Rachel, it’s completely obvious that every book ever written was written by sitting down essentially for 12 minutes at a time. It’s just sometimes it was 40 minutes for six weeks, or whatever it is, right? All amounts of time can be divided by 12. Yeah, I didn’t really know that if I sat down for just 12 minutes a week for three years, I would end up with 80,000 words. What was interesting is I sat down with a friend of mine who’s an editor who said, “That’s a great title, Robbie.”
I wrote this book in 12 minutes, because it makes me think if Robbie wrote a book in 12 minutes, I should better bloody well get on with the things that I’ve been saying I want to do. But can the book itself help with that, and this is where it got really interesting, because I sat down with my coach at the time and plotted out what it takes to get an idea done into four stages. Then I sat down with these 130 articles from those first three years, and I dealt them out and they pretty much went.
So it’s like, I hadn’t just written 80,000 words about anything, I’d actually accidentally written 80,000 words about something which makes retrospectively total sense looking back, because if you’re writing with a timer, like you don’t really have time to think about what you’re writing about. So I’d written about what I was wrestling with in my life, which is building a business, sharing my work with this kind of thing, and I was coaching, right?
So I was working with other people and that kind of thing, and that’s where in the end the book became for, and that’s where my series of books came from. But there are so many things that this 12 minute practice has taught me. One of them is that this is one of the pieces of feedback from one of the first people who took the idea and made it their own. She was doing her thing in 20 minutes at a time, not 12, because 12 is like an arbitrary number.
It doesn’t have to be that. She said, I just couldn’t believe how much I got done in that 20 minutes. It was so much more than I thought I would. With some practice, even in writing, that’s been true for me. So, I’ve got much better at writing in 12 minutes than I was six and a half years ago. But I’m still surprised how much of an idea I can convey in a short article when I would think it would take much longer piece of writing.
Of course, if you do something, there are so many benefits to doing something over a long period of time in this way. You get to learn repeatedly each time, right? You get feedback and reflection time between each thing, so I think there’s lots of strong arguments. Sometimes doing stuff slowly over a long period is actually better than doing stuff fast, but at the very least, it’s really important.
The message I would want everyone to take away from this is don’t forget the kind of obvious truth that I didn’t know until I did it for six years, which is that if you do something a small amount over a long period, and you keep doing it on a regular basis after a long time, you can end up with something kind of unexpectedly magical.
Rachel: That’s so wise. We do know that intuitively, don’t we, but we’re so conditioned to want quick results very, very fast. I guess traditionally, when I think about medical school, that’s five or six years of intensive study, and then you emerge being a doctor at the end of it. So you then get into this mindset of the only way you can actually learn anything, or do anything, you’ve got to do it full time.
You’ve got to put everything into it, and that’s not actually how life works. I mean, I have been surprised. I’ve talked about this on the podcast before, been learning to ice skate the last couple of years, and I never really practice but just 30 minutes a week means that I can do some stuff, although I broke my ankle ice skating a few months ago. But I think we have this all or nothing mindset, and we forget the power of just really, really small amounts of things.
I’m interested, Robbie, does this apply to other things? Because I can see how this works with writing totally. But what about if he wants a career change? Or what about if you’ve got a difficult relationship that needs sorting out, or there’s something different that isn’t writing?
Robbie: The thing you’ve just said about ice skating is actually really important, and this kind of all or nothing mentality we have about these things is really pervasive. Like my brother in law has been taking my nephew swimming, and my brother in law realised he’s not a very good swimmer. Then he realised after going swimming just a few weeks in a row that he’d probably done more swimming in those weeks, even though he wasn’t learning very effectively, or paying much attention to it than he had done in the previous like, I don’t know, 20 years of his life or something like that, since school enforced swimming lessons on him.
So no wonder he was getting better at it. That’s one of the other really important lessons of the more recent parts of my life that I wish I’d known a bit more in earlier parts. A lot of the time, we’re massively over indexing what is talent versus what is practice. Sometimes when people look talented, what they’ve done is they’ve just practiced it a lot more than most people have. So don’t underestimate the power of practice. So a difficult relationship, we have an example, we could play with it and see what that might be.
Rachel: So for a difficult relationship, what about if you’re a partner, and then there’s one of the partners that work that you just find really, really difficult? You clash a lot in a meeting. You’re often sort of at odds, and there’s a bit of bad blood built up, but you both want to stay in the partnership. You’ve got to work together for another 10, 15 years.
Robbie: That kind of top level thing, I would say is like, how much time you’re spending thinking about how are you going to practise being better in that relationship, having a more successful relationship? The very least, I’d be curious to find out with that person, what would happen if they spent 15 minutes a week for the next three months where they just sat down? For that, 15 minutes could design the questions, but the questions could be, what can I do this week to try and improve that relationship?
Then you just ask yourself, and what else and what else, and what else and keep asking that. Then at the end of the 15 minutes, when the last two minutes of it, choose one thing to try that week, and see what happens. I definitely had an idea that relationships were like fix things, whether it’s intimate relationships. Like I had this idea that I was either was or was not talented at relationships.
I’m so very, very glad that I learned that that was total nonsense, and that they’re absolutely massively learnable skills that would help me, for example, in my marriage, but also in difficult business relationships. Another way to think about it would be, if you’ve got that difficult relationship, are you learning about how to have difficult conversations with business colleagues, so that you get better at it.
You can take 15 minutes a week, okay, a great thing to do slowly is reading nonfiction. It’s a really great way to read a book, because it means you got six months marinating in the ideas of that person. Well, if you’ve got a difficult relationship with a partner, and you’re going to have to be in that relationship next 10 years, now, it’d be a really good time to invest in learning as much as you can about how to have relationships with speech marks difficult people, and there’s lots of good books on there.
Rachel: Yeah. I was thinking, even if you maybe put yourself for a target to spend five minutes chatting to that person every week, right? For the next three years, what would happen?
Robbie: Exactly. Imagine if you spent, yeah, you spent five minutes and your intention for that five minutes of chat is to learn something new about this person or can you have a 15 minutes, non working coffee with that person once a fortnight? If you can do that, I suspect, like you said, that the things will be really different.
Rachel: Yeah, what about if you’re trying to sort of change careers or job craft or do something different? So I think it’s quite easy to picture when you’re trying to develop a business or develop an idea or something tangible you’ve got in front of you. But if it’s about maybe getting that different particular role in a hospital trust or developing a special interest here or there, how would you be advising people to do that in 12 minutes a week?
Robbie: So earlier this year, Rachel, I created a kind of second podcast. I have a podcast for coaches, but I created a second one around the 12 Minute method. I wanted to make it an investigation. What I was interested in was what can I learn about the patterns from my life when I’ve wanted to do something, not done it for a long time, and then finally done it. I was just about to record the first episode of this.
I was going to take them chronologically in my life, when I realised that the first time I done that was changing career. I was like, what happened there? What were the lessons I learned? I think this is like one of the 12 Minute Method lessons for me is one of the reasons we don’t do the things we want to do is because they feel hugely overwhelming. Now, depends on exactly the move you’re talking about in their career change, but especially if it’s a big move.
It’s going from one career perhaps, that you’ve trained for for a long time, then there’s this, yeah, there’s this move to something new. There’s a lot happening. There’s identity shift, but also there’s like, well, how do I even know where to start? I was very lucky to have read some articles, and in there were some really important ideas. For me, one of them is it may not take 12 minutes, right, but it is to break things down into low risk, low cost experiments.
You probably don’t know exactly how it’s gonna turn out, and you can’t know that at the start. This is always the case with these big projects. You can’t do it with the difficult partner either, right? You can’t know that what you’re going to do is going to improve that relationship, but you can be pretty sure that if you do nothing, it’s not going to improve very much. If you do something, at least you’ve done something and maybe you’ve learned about how to deal with difficult relationships.
So the next time as a partner, when this one moves on in 10 years, and you get sick turns out that somebody else who’s difficult, you’ve got some more skills to deal with them. So we can’t know how the career change is going to end up for sure, but you have some ideas now. The idea, basically, in the lean career change was you’ve got some ideas about what it might be next.
Somehow, we could talk about how to find some of those ideas. What’s the lowest cost lowest risk experiment you can take to learn more about whether this is the right next phase for you, and then you run that experiment. Then you either learn that this is probably a good direction to be going in, or you learn that it isn’t. If you learn that it is, you run the next lowest cost low risk experiment, and you keep going until you get somewhere or you have to rewind to the last time, it works.
It’s kind of how I ran my career change meant that I ended up, I kind of got after a while to something to do with people. But I got as far as a two term counselling training. I’d already written off coaching. I’d got as far as a two term counselling training before I realised there was a gutting moment really that after all, that time and some money invested that it wasn’t the right thing. I had to rewind too.
I then found a different coaching training, which felt much more right for me. But if we think about the 12 minute writing, again, it’s the same kind of thing. It’s like how do we make it a low risk, low cost experiment from which we learn, which we have an intuition is on the right path. But if it’s not on the right path, that’s okay. We can stop at that point. So there’s some ideas for that kind of more nebulous thing, like a career change.
Rachel: That makes a lot of sense. Even if it’s just, I’m going to spend 12 minutes a week writing some emails to people to arrange the meet them for a coffee and a chat to find out about stuff that will be massively valuable, right?
Robbie: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, if you think about low cost, low risk experiments, like early on in that and whatever career change you’re doing could be finding the friendly person who already does that. One of the things I learned, I couldn’t believe some of the people that said yes, although I only tried it. In fact, I had 100% record. I tried it with two people, putting really successful people. You know if you email them and say, I’m thinking of changing my life.
I really admire what you do. Do you have time to talk to me about it? Like, most people who have the time will say yes to that, because most people have been in it, in a situation like that. Look, I guess, the other piece with the career change that’s really worth saying, the phases of the creative process that are in 12 Minute Method series. The first book is about starting. The second is about keeping going.
The third one is about creating the conditions for great work, and the fourth is about sharing your work. When I was really getting into keeping going, I really noticed that when you’re not making a start on something, it’s not a neutral act when it’s something you want to do. So if you’ve got this idea that you want to make the change in your career, like there’s this kind of creative hell build up of like, I wish I had done that thing already, or why haven’t I done anything that kind of blaming that can sometimes happen.
So every day that you do a tiny bit of something. It’s not just that you’ve done the tiny bit. You have a day where you don’t add to that feeling of I wish I started this already. So it’s just that again that really important value like you said, if it’s something like changing career, even just setting aside that 12 minutes, 15 minutes, half an hour but but mostly less amount time than you think, it’ll take and quite fun if it’s not around number because then you remember how arbitrary the amount of time is setting aside for something is like 12 minutes a week to send a few emails.
At least, you’ve done something about that this week. Over time if you keep doing that on something like the career change or learning about where you might go next in your work, over time, that will compound. I really think one of the things that I’ve learned again, when I was working on the Keep Going book, it’s worth having something. It doesn’t really matter what it is, anything that you decide to do on a regular basis, and then you keep doing.
Because once you’ve got that practice idea that we talked about earlier, and you know you can keep going with something, 12 minutes a week, every week say, like, what’s possible for me as a person feels really different. Like, I’ve got nothing else. I mean, kind of exercise, but I’ve really got nothing else that I set out to have as a practice, and then have kept going for six years. But once you get to go on for six years, I basically know I can keep it going forever.
If I know about myself, that I can keep practising something once a week, even for 12 minutes forever, then in time, getting better at things is a completely different picture. If I decided I wanted to get better at ice skating, injuries aside it, it feels like a real choice in my life. Now, whereas before, it used to feel like I could never be good at ice skating. Now I know in some ways, it’s just a matter of time and have I got the patience to do it.
So that’s why I think building that capacity in yourself, that capacity to choose to do something, and to keep it going, it doesn’t really matter how small that thing is, as long as you really commit to doing it. On the weeks when you miss it, you don’t then give up forever, right? You then go like, “Okay, I missed it last week. Am I gonna do it this week?” Yes, then things really change.
Rachel: I like that it is such a mindset shift, isn’t it? So I’ve lost count the amount of people that have said to me, oh, wow, it’s so amazing. You can ice skate. I could never do that. My reply is, of course, she could. Literally, you start in level zero or level one where you are holding on to the side, and after a week, you’ll be only holding on to the side occasionally. Of course, you can literally build it up. So it’s very confidence inspiring, isn’t it?
You know, same with musical instruments, same with singing, same with pretty much anything. Absolutely right. But I can imagine as I’m talking to you, lots of people sitting there going, yes but, yes but yes but, so I’d love to know what yes but to get from people. The first one that’s occurred to me is, I know that some people will literally be saying yes, but I don’t have 12 minutes a week.
Robbie: People used to miss here that the 12 Minute Method is 12 minutes a day. I’m really, really, really glad that in September 2016, when I decided to go, when I decided to make it practice that I worked it, made it a weekly practice, not a daily practice. Because if it had been a daily practice, I would have failed to keep it going for six years for sure. How do you make the thing sustainable is like a really key part of it.
The I don’t have 12 minutes a week thing person, I mean, I would tell them a harsh truth, which is that they absolutely do, and it’s only their choices.
Rachel: Yeah, that they don’t want to, right? Yeah.
Robbie: If they don’t have “have time” to make 12 minutes a week, then they don’t want the thing enough or that or they’re kidding themselves. At some level, time management isn’t really a thing. A big part of it is choice management. We always have a choice what we’re doing on some level, and every time we say yes to something, we’re saying no to something else. So if you don’t want to make the 12 minutes, then you don’t want to and that’s okay.
I don’t think you have to do that, but let’s not pretend you don’t have the 12 minutes a week. Like a day, I think that’s reasonable, but a week, everyone really can make that 12 minutes.
Rachel: That is what’s so compelling about your 12 Minute method is because that just gets rid of that I don’t have time. Because literally, if you don’t have 12 minutes, then literally you’ve not got time to feed yourself, eat or anything like where are you, and what you’re doing, right?
Robbie: The other yes, but I guess that mostly come like, I guess on one level, for me, there often are different versions of that same thing. They’re different excuses more than reasons to not do the thing, and that makes total sense. Because doing new things, changing ourselves is a scary, vulnerable thing to do, and it’s human incredibly natural to avoid that. So therefore, the thing that we often need to do is to make that 12 minute thing in the planning and the design of it as frictionless as possible.
So if the 12 minute thing is emails from people about the potential career change you want to do, we need to make sure that the computer can be on. We’re not getting distracted in those times. So it’s like, often the yes bots, they become about creating the conditions for the practice to work.
Rachel: I remember having a conversation with a family member who wants to take up running, and they used to do lots of running, but they weren’t. It actually turned out they needed new trainers. That was the friction and once the trainers had come there was no excuse. Actually, they wanted to do it. So it was fine. So it’s amazing that the little things that do put us off. I’ve been wanting to record something with some friends, but I can’t find the charger for a particular microphone thing.
I’m like, “Oh, that’s so annoying.” Literally, the other day it took me 30 seconds on Amazon to order this charge is crazy, isn’t it?
Robbie: So I have a little argument with myself quite often about the order that the books that I release should have come out. They came out with the third one being create the conditions for great work, which if you want to do great work is an important thing to think about. But the most important three conditions for great work are that you start it, that you keep going, and then at some point, you share it.
Many, many pieces of great work have been wrecked on the rocks of creating the perfect conditions, so we have to be really careful with that. I really know that feeling of like, I just can’t get the technology to work, so therefore I’m going to not do it, and I’m building up all this frustration. Often, these things, it’s like we do just need to accept that the thing won’t quite be perfect or solve the problem in a different way, and remind ourselves that we don’t need the conditions to be as perfect as we think.
We don’t need to be as ready as we think. We don’t need to be as confident as we think because like we say that comes after. We don’t need the permission that we think we need. We just need to start. Often, we’re waiting for inspiration to start. The truth is that it comes when we start, it’s always there, but it’s when you just start doing the thing that the ideas sometimes comes. There’s all kinds of reasons that people wait.
But actually the setting the timer, timer is good for because it stops you messing around as well stops you making excuses if a timer is going, think use of the timer as a kind of an underrated tool. I use it in lots of ways, but that’s a good way to get yourself going. If you’ve got 12 minutes, it’s going to be you know that you’re free after the 12 minutes. You’d have to do it anymore, whatever this thing is that you find difficult sometimes you’ll carry on anyway. Yeah, there’s just faffing around so much as well, sometimes.
Rachel: I was recording a podcast the other day about meetings, which may or may not have come out by the time this one comes out. But Carrie was saying, yes, time is absolutely brilliant for making decisions, creative constraints, put a timer on it, like almost the shorter, the better. You’ve got to suddenly decide. I think one thing that you said earlier, it really struck me and that was when you talked about starting your podcast and doing your podcast and the fact that you’ve put your goals there as learning for yourself.
I think that’s really, really wise. Because if you were to start a podcast with the goal of being as big as Tim Ferriss, for example, the biggest podcastor or even being as big as some other ones that are right up there in the charts, you’re never going to start it because that is really daunting. It’s likely that you’re just not going to meet that goal. So you have to have, I guess, the goal not being something too external, right, not being too much about external success or validation.
Otherwise, then that does become a bit scary, and that the possibility for failure, which we all hate, is higher, right? But if you can’t fail if literally, I want to do this, because I will learn as I go a lot.
Robbie: I don’t think it’s inherently bad for somebody to set out to be massive. If that’s what you want, acknowledge that goal and do it. But when I’m working with clients, I’m always looking like how do we make the work we can do within our control. Now, so it’s like, if we were going to have a big goal, like I want to be as big as Tim Ferriss was like, well, this year, we don’t know if you can do that.
What would you have to do so at the end of the year, you’ll feel at peace with yourself about having done the work that you can do towards that goal? So that’s one of the ways to think about that. But then I think for me personally, those external goals, they get overwhelming, and they don’t really serve me. So to have a definition of success, which is, if you like, yeah, beyond the kind of conventional idea of success is really important for me to help me get going.
There’s one surefire way of never having a podcast that’s as big as Tim Ferriss. And that’s not to start the podcast, right? It’s like, we don’t know if you can have a podcast as big as Ferriss, but we know for sure you can’t if you don’t start. So the first thing is do whatever it takes to start and for me, separating from the external things, making it something that is fun, and somewhere that I will have a great time doing it if only if no one listens. Like that’s the first thing to do, because I want to make sure it gets made.
Rachel: Yeah. Think of Elizabeth Gilbert, I was listening to her on a podcast is the writer of Eat, Pray, Love and several other absolutely amazing books. She was saying that she had this pact with herself and her writing that she would never expect her writing to pay for her life, that she was always going to have the writing something she absolutely adored doing. I mean, she now obviously is a very famous published author and is paying for her life but there was never that expectation so she could always do it for the love of it.
I think sometimes, and I’ve noticed this particularly with doctors, we do want to be absolutely brilliant at everything. So if we don’t think we’re going to be world class, we’re not going to start it, we just need to get out of that mindset and just start doing it, stuff for the love of it as well.
Robbie: Yeah, I love Liz Gilbert. Her book, Big Magic, is along the lines of lots of what we’ve been talking about in this conversation. She has a great bit in there about that same idea about day jobs getting a bad rap. Like who are we to put like the thing we love pressure of paying our rent, and that kind of thing.
Rachel: That’s where medics often have an advantage because it is possible to work and do different sessions and stuff and do other stuff as well and have a reasonable income in order to do that. So we’ve got a massive advantage there, which is really good. But we’ve talked for ages, Robbie, we’re nearly out of time. If I was asking you for your top three tips in all of this, what would they be?
Robbie: I know you’ve done episodes before about urgency and importance. I think in some ways, we can look at the 12 minute method as as a way of making sure that you spend some time in a week on the important but not urgent.
Robbie: So it’s like the top tip would be build some time, even just 12 minutes, to work on something that is really important to you, but probably isn’t the thing that people are emailing and calling you about first thing in the morning or not banging on your office door about. I think the second we’ve talked about really would be choose something and make a repeatable habits out of.
Now, I think that creative things are quite a good thing to do that with, because they invite us to have ideas. They invite us to practise different things in us. But it doesn’t have to be that but choose something because once you know you can stick to something and make it as easy as possible to stick to that can have a really big impact on us. Then the last one is just start things, isn’t it that’s the thing really.
It’s like, remember that, that it’ll never be perfect, and start that thing that you’ve been meaning to do for a long time. Just start this week, find a little way.
Rachel: Just do it. JFDI as we say in my house.
Rachel: Marvellous. Oh, Robbie, it’s been wonderful talking to you. If people want to find your books, where can they get ahold of them and find out more about your work?
Robbie: Yeah, so I’m robbieswale.com, and quite easily Googleable. You can find me there. Find me on most of the social media, because my blog was on LinkedIn. I’m always on LinkedIn. The books are on Amazon, but they’re also if you’re in the UK on Waterstones and Blackwell’s websites, that kind of place.
Rachel: Brilliant. Thank you so much for coming on. We’d love to get you back at some point and talk a little bit more about all this sort of stuff.
Robbie: Yeah, it’s been a total pleasure, Rachel. Time has flown by. Yeah, I’d love to come back.
Rachel: Thanks so much. Speak soon. Bye. Thanks for listening. Don’t forget, we provide a self coaching CPD workbook for every episode. You can sign up for it via the link in the show notes. If this episode was helpful, then please share it with a friend. Get in touch with any comments or suggestions at hello@you’arenotafrog.com. I love to hear from you. Finally, if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate it and leave a review wherever you’re listening. It really helps. Bye for now.
Check out the Shapes Toolkit for training tips to help manage stress and overwhelm.
12-Minute Method Series by Robbie Swale
Book 1: How to Start When You’re Stuck
Book 2: How to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up
Book 3: How to Create the Conditions For Great Work
Book 4: How to Share What You’ve Made
Smart Passive Income Podcast with Pat Flynn
You Are Not a Frog Episode 154: How to Fix Your Broken Meetings
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Magic Lessons Podcast with Elizabeth Gilbert
The Coach’s Journey Podcast with Robbie Swale
The 12-Minute Method Podcast with Robbie Swale
Robbie’s writing blog
Connect with Robbie: Website | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Youtube | Email
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