Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Big task? Chip away at it.

Before you read this post, could you please jump across to the blog tournament I’m competing in and have a read of the post in Game 2 with the tag ‘GIFT’ – if you like what you read could you please sling a vote my way? I had lots of fun writing that post and it has a lot of useful takeaways.

HERE IS THE LINK. Then, please come back to read this post. I had a lot of fun writing this one, too!

(Friday, period 2, Year 8 English.)

There’s a lot to be said for attacking tasks in a huge rush of focus, urgency and… if you have a deadline looming.. panic. You can get a lot of things done in a short period of time. But there’s also a lot to be said for using snippets of time to chip away at things. Tasks don’t get done so quickly, but they still get done.

Every English class I teach, I start off with 10 minutes of silent reading or writing time. The kids bring in any book they want to read, either fiction or non-fiction and they have 10 minutes 5 times a week to enjoy themselves with whichever they want to do.

Some kids hate reading, so they can write. Each kid has a dedicated A4 exercise book that is their own personal space to write whatever they want to. This writing is never marked/graded or checked for spelling, punctuation and grammar. The kids are allowed to simply express themselves.

The research finds that the more writing kids are allowed to do, especially ‘low stakes’ writing, the better their skills get. A child who decides to write for most of the 10-minutes in each class will get 50 minutes a week of writing under their belt. By the end of the year that’s a lot of time to practice and improve.

Right at this moment, there are 3 minutes remaining of my year 8’s 10-minute time on Friday. They’re absolutely silent, most of them reading, but some are writing.

I told them about a couple of year 7 kids I had last year.

One boy, Jack, is a mad car enthusiast. On his first reading time, he asked if he could write about why the Mercedes XYZ (whatever it is) was so awful. When he finished it he let me read it and I was blown away. It read just like an article in a car magazine. Bythe end of the year he had 2 big exercise books filled with articles, stories and rants – all about cars.

Another boy got an idea for a novel while he was writing in class, so in every English lesson, he wrote a little bit more of it. His novel would never have been written if he hadn’t used these little slivers of time.

That’s really powerful.

(Friday, period 4, year 9 English.)

Ok, I’m now in front of my year 9 class. I’ve given them the huge ‘rev up’ talk about how these 10 minutes every day are probably the only time they’ll get to choose what they want to do in a usual day. I’ve told them to take advantage of the freedom to either consume something they want to read or create something they want to write. It’s silent. Again, most kids are reading but some are writing.

Using little snippets of time can add up to really substantial results.

Actually, it just occurred to me that we bloggers are the poster children for this. We write WHAT we want to write, we write WHEN we want to write and we put it out there. I’ll guarantee you that after a year or two, most bloggers who look back at their early posts wince and wish that they could do a re-write because their writing has improved so much. The writing has only become better because we keep coming back to it.

All of the bloggish writing that we do is being done in little moments of time that we squirrel away from our day-to-day lives. For example, in the last 7 minutes of lunchtime, I found the memes for the first 2 images in this post. I knew I had to get to class when the bell went, so I used the time I had available to get a little job done.

(It’s now Monday, period 3. I’m looking at my year 8 as they read or write.)

Going on from what I was writing last week, little bits of time are usually SO productive. Your phone rings, you pick it up and someone says, “Thought I’d drop in. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.” It’s AMAZING how much housecleaning you can get done in that time! (Or is that just me?)

(Monday, period 5 – a year 10 French class I’m supervising.)

I remember years ago, when my Dad was standing in my front yard with me. The garden was overgrown and weeds were everywhere. I sighed, really disheartened, and he turned to me and said, “Never forget, Frogdancer, people move much faster than weeds can grow. Any bit of time you spend out here means you’ll be in front, because you can pull the weeds faster than they can spread. “

I’ve never forgotten his words, mainly because he was expressing the bleeding obvious. Why is it that we can never think of these things ourselves, but the minute someone else says them you recognise the truth in them? He was right – if you decide you’re going to pull out weeds for 5 minutes a day, eventually your garden will be weed-free.

Even the biggest tasks can be achieved if you keep coming back to them.

I was worried about whether I’d stop writing so much for this blog after I went back to work. I’m addicted to reading and I was using the 10-minutes in each class last year to get my Goodreads challenge done. It helped – I read 72 books last year, which still fell 8 short of my target. However, what if I swapped some or all of the reading time for writing time? Hmm… I’d still be modelling creative behaviour for the students which is what a good teacher does…

How could I make this work? I began by lowering this year’s Goodreads target to 60 books. I decided that I’d use the 10-Minute morsels of time on blog posts during the week while saving big chunks of time for writing on the weekends and I raised my blogging target to 3 posts a week. I included ‘Write Every Day’ and ‘Post 3X a week’ columns on my chart that I started at the beginning of the year.

(Tuesday period 1 – year 7 English.)

I’m only in my second week back at work, but so far its been working like a charm. I’ve written things for the blog every single day. It’s easy on the weekdays – as the kids read or write I’m tapping away on my keyboard – but even on the weekends I make sure I’m productive. I hate having to record on my chart that I didn’t do something!

There’s a lot to be said for long swathes of time where creativity has the chance to sit and ponder and let ideas mature and develop. That’s what the weekends are for. But there’s also merit in giving yourself a tight deadline with little smidgens of time and letting productivity go wild.

I thought it might be fun to include the periods that I was writing this post in, so you can see how the 10-Minutes works. I’ve also been editing as I went along, which is why the lengths of the writing during each lesson varies. It wasn’t because kids were talking and I had to take time to shut them down. The kids really love this time. Anyway, hope you enjoyed it!


  1. Bev

    Duly voted for (but I haven’t read it yet….I’ll do it later. I know it’ll be good). I loved your Dad’s idea of weeds, though. What a way to think of it! I can easily manage 5 mins a day. In fact even 15 min!

    • FrogdancerJones

      Yes, I’ve never forgotten him saying that. It’s very motivating.

  2. Diana E Sung

    Writing with kids was my favorite part of teaching English!

  3. Buy, Hold Long

    You have another vote from me. I remember in school during English, I really enjoyed crafting stories and fiction. It was fun, although I musn’t have been very good as I was an average B student. (15/20 on my TER – old school I know)

    • FrogdancerJones

      Thanks for the vote!
      I gue those writing lessons back in school paid off – you’re writing the blog now. 🙂

  4. PFI

    Love this. I hadn’t really thought about it – but it’s the only way I get books done anymore. I’ve always had a habit of reading every morning with breakfast, and then a few minutes before sleep. With work, and working on blog stuff, I haven’t left much time for just sitting down with a book. I’m glad I have that habit of chipping away, because I still get books read – it just takes a little longer.

    Oh, and you already got my vote! Good luck.

    • FrogdancerJones

      I’ve got 2 books on the go at the moment – (one at home and one on my desk at work), and it’s amazing how quickly a few minutes here and there spent on knocking over a chapter can get you through a book.
      I always say to people who worry about how long it takes them to read a book – it doesn’t matter how long it takes. The beauty of a book is that it’s always waiting right where you left it. It’s never going to go away.

  5. Jamie

    I homeschool our three children and found our middle child was a very reluctant writer in early primary. I decided to let him spend time writing on the topics that interested him. I would set the text type and explain the features, we would read over some examples, do some comprehension, then he would write. I did worry a lot over the years, but tried to console myself that some writing was better than none. Thankfully, I’m seeing great results now he is in high school. He has just started year 9 and blows me away with the language he uses, how witty he is in his writing, and also the sheer volume of it! He has been ticking away at writing a novel for around a year now, just writing it in his own snippets of time. He also has a second novel he is writing in collaboration with his older sister. Five years ago I wouldn’t have pictured him writing for pleasure like this! I’m overjoyed!

    Haven’t read your other article yet, but know I will love it so I’ve voted already!

    • FrogdancerJones

      Love hearing this!
      Just letting kids write without fear of being judged really works to give them confidence. That’s brilliant about your son – nice teaching there!

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