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The 15 Second Principle




Photography: jek in the box

What could you do in fifteen seconds?

Watch a slow-motion replay of the 100 meter Olympic final?

Describe in full all of Microsoft’s contributions to the advancement of computer science?

Get the idea behind Phillip Glass’s “4′ 33″”?

Or achieve all of your life’s goals, find perfect contentment and live happily ever after for the rest of your days?

According to Al Secunda, a motivational speaker and author of “The 15 Second Principle,” it is actually possible to do the last one. (He didn’t mention Microsoft.) Dedicating just fifteen seconds each day to a goal you really want to achieve will remove the blocks, build the momentum and provide enough power to get you exactly where you want to go, he argues.

Fifteen Seconds… More or Less

There is some method in his madness. The actual amount of time dedicated, he explains, doesn’t matter. The fifteen seconds is a minimum, an amount that no one could possibly begrudge. What is important is that it gets you moving. A goal stops being a dream when it’s acted on – if only for fifteen seconds – and starts to become a plan.

Secunda, who fills his book with stories, compares the principle to starting a car:

“Let’s say that you own an old sports car and you discover that the battery is dead. Your mission is to jump start it. The most difficult part of this task is getting the car to begin rolling forward from its stationary position. Once you get the car moving from zero to one mile an hour, it will be much easier to increase its speed. This, in turn, helps the engine to turn over so that when you put the car into first gear the engine will start.”

Or to put it in more relevant terms, if you have an idea for a business or a product, just the act of doing something about it — listing what you have to do, deciding how many people you’d need, calculating the amount of capital you’d have to raise – may be enough to start the process that will take you right through to the end.

It’s nonsense, of course. Much is made of the power of the blank page to scare away writers and planners, but entrepreneurs and creative types tend to know where to start. It’s not the beginning that’s tricky. It’s the middle bit, the part where the unseen problems start to pop up, the excitement has worn off a bit and the doubts had time to reappear. To put it in Secunda’s terms, it’s as though you’ve given that old sports car a hill start, trundled down the road for a few minutes but stalled while waiting at the first set of traffic lights. You know you can start pushing again but you’re not too sure which way to go so you decide to stay parked on the side of the road for a bit until you’ve had another look at the map.

And there the car remains because there’s a difference between taking action and continuing to take action. When Secunda tells us that we should go easy on ourselves if we skip a day, he’s spoiling us and missing the real contribution his idea can make.

If you Can Do it in Fifteen Seconds, it’s not Worth Doing

The only thing that could be done in fifteen seconds and that would be worth doing is developing a routine. Fifteen seconds is nothing, not even spread over a lifetime. But devote half an hour a day to writing music, designing a new vacuum cleaner or coding an iPhone app, and eventually you’ll find you’ve created a symphony, a working model or a piece of software that could become the backbone of a new business.

But only if you keep doing it and that’s the biggest problem with the book. GTD is demanding. Reading it is tough, let alone putting all of its methods into practice. “The 15 Second Principle” tries to reassure us that everything can be achieved with minimal effort, no sacrifice and no disruption to our normal, achievement-free routine. Secunda even goes as far as finding someone to blame when things do go wrong. Instead of encouraging grown-ups to take responsibility for their actions, he grants them an invisible twin called Pat.

“If you ever look around your own life and say, ‘How in the world did I ever get here?” perhaps the answer is that Pat got you there,’” he writes.

That’s not a new trick. Ask a three-year old who spilled juice on the floor, and you’ll be unlikely to hear a Washingtonian confession. The buck will be passed firmly to someone with a more imaginative name than “Pat.”

There is a price to be paid for using Secunda’s 15 second principle successfully, and it’s the determination to do it even when you don’t feel like it – and those moments will come. It’s not true that starting is difficult, but restarting when you’ve already finished the fun bit, certainly is.

That doesn’t mean that the Secunda’s book is completely useless though. He provides a good example of how stories can illustrate business ideas, and the long list of testimonials from everyone from Deepak Chopra to Jacqueline Bissett shows not just that such endorsements are important, but that they’re a powerful way for the endorser to spread his or her name.

If you can get a sackload of people to endorse your product, you’ll be giving them some valuable exposure, and winning an opportunity to win the same in return. Collecting them shouldn’t be too hard, but it will take you more than fifteen seconds a day.

[tags] gtd, productivity [/tags]



One Comment

  1. matt Bivins Says:

    Nice article. It's always the middle part where things get stuck, where the 15 seconds tend to be either not enough, or too much. Very frustrating. Sounds like I'll skip this book...I don't need another reason to not get things done. My "Pats" have a party at my house every damn day.

    I appreciate your thoughts! Keep it up! One well-meaning correction, though: John Cage wrote 4'33". Mr. Glass came up with "Einstein on the Beach" and many movie scores.

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