That's all the time it takes. To blog, to check in on some news, to send an update on a project, to follow up on a conference submission.

Just fifteen minutes.

Often, we'll sit down to build out a to-do list for a day, a week, a year, and we populate it with more work than we can possibly accomplish in that time period. Our daily task list contains at least 10 hours of work, more than we can reasonably accomplish in an 8-hr workday.

Our yearly task list contains perhaps 5 years worth of bucket list worthy items. It's unreasonable to think we'll come even close.

We set milestones. We fall short. We grow discouraged and begin to doubt if we'll ever reach the finish line. If we'll ever reach the next milestone at all.

Running a Marathon

I've run three marathons in my life, and even more half-marathons. Every one is an exercise not in endurance, but in recognizing the difference between milestones and more reasonable accomplishments.

At the starting line, imagining you can run "a marathon" seems fun. A few miles in, you're still excited about completing "a marathon." Then the fatigue sets in. The pace group you were following has inched farther ahead and you notice another pace group - or two - coming up from behind. Your iPod shows you've dropped a few seconds from your usual mile time, and your internal estimates of distance start to feel off.

Mile twelve seems like it was intentionally misplaced by a block. Mile fourteen seems to have moved a few blocks farther down the course. By mile eighteen, you no longer care about "the marathon." You see a sign offering "free rides to the finish and a consolation beer for quitters" and debate following that guy in the red shirt who shrugs and walks off the course.

I didn't grow up a runner. When I signed up for my first 5K race, everyone thought I was nuts. My first half marathon, only the friends running with me actually believed I'd go. My first marathon ... people actively tried to talk me out of running.

But I signed up. I showed up. And I finished the race. My trick: I stopped counting the milestones.

Instead, I made deals with myself. "OK legs, if you keep up this pace until that next car, then I'll slow down and let you relax a bit."

Mile seventeen, I realized my bad running form had strained my IT band. Running was painful - walking even more so. I kept going, but the thought of making it to mile eighteen - let alone the finish line - seemed ridiculous. So rather than wait for the next milestone, I gauged my progress in city blocks and car lengths.

I broke the insurmountable task of completing a marathon into achievable chunks. Every car passed was a victory. Every intersection a celebration.

By the time I finished the race, limping, sore, dehydrated, and exhausted, I had a huge grin on my face. I didn't just complete the marathon, I ran another block without stopping! Oh, and when they put a medal around my neck I realized that all of those blocks I'd just run added up to 26.2 miles. I'd finished what I thought I'd never do - what everyone had been telling me was impossible.

I ran a marathon, one block at a time.

Life is a Marathon

As I'm now in month 11 of a year-long blogging effort, people ask with increasing frequency how I manage to keep it up. They point out the effort it takes to devise new topics and sit down to write.

"I don't have enough room in my schedule for that," is the most common comment I hear.

Really, though, my secret isn't that I write a year's worth of content. It's that I sit down and work for fifteen minutes at a time. While I wait for the coffee to brew, in between meetings that ended too early, while I wait for the bus.

All yearly blogging takes is a year of random fifteen-minute periods strung together.

It's amazing what you can do, how much you can produce, and how far you can run when you break the seemingly impossible task into smaller objectives.