Fitness corner: Change your life in 20 minutes a day

Pritam Potts

A while ago, I wrote a Fitness Corner column about weeding. Appropriately titled “Wisdom from weeds”, it detailed how much wisdom came from having to weed my own yard. Weeding is something I have always loathed to my very core!

Strong words, but very true for me, because there are few things I dislike as much as weeding. However, it reminded me back then that we can learn a lot from unpleasant but necessary tasks in this life, if we’re open to it. Also, because this is life, it is a lesson I am continually learning.

In fact, although I managed to successfully weed my yard back then, I have still preferred to avoid weeding as much as possible, whenever possible. Ugh! Until last year, out of necessity, when I had to take a much larger role (again) in caring for my yard.

I couldn’t have imagined that a year later, not only do I not hate weeding any longer, I’m actually beginning to embrace it!

How could this possibly happen?

In my previous column, describing the wisdom of which I had found myself reminded, I wrote: “Doing a little bit more frequently. This makes it way less overwhelming. About 15-30 minutes a day is totally doable vs. an eight-hour day (will not happen!)”

So, when I knew I had to get serious about yard care last year, I came up with a decision to do 20 minutes a day, which I decided was a non-negotiable number. No more, no less, just 20 minutes. 15 minutes was too short, 30 minutes overwhelming (that would’ve lasted about three days.) It was the only way I could force myself to do this horrible chore. Anyone can survive 20 minutes of something they loathe, right?

The first couple of weeks were tough. I was in a rage against the evil weeds! I felt so much negativity and resentment that I almost quit many times. But it wasn’t about the task itself as much as it was about the 20-minute commitment I had made to my home, my yard, myself. I did not quit! As the results of my small amounts of work began to add up to cleared space, my feelings gradually morphed into satisfaction and accomplishment.

It dawned on me that I didn’t need to stop with the most overgrown areas of the yard. If I just kept going outside, every day for 20 minutes a day, I could get (and keep) my entire yard in shape. Once I realized this, I felt empowered instead of powerless.

I did not, however, spend 20 minutes a day in my yard for the last year; in fact, as soon as I could stop, I did. It takes a while to build a habit, plus neither of my previously broken wrists were cooperating with my plan.

It was the right decision to allow my wrists to recover (healing always takes priority!). However, it meant I had to re-start the process in the spring of this year as the weeds came roaring back with a vengeance. But I found it much easier this time around and I was able to implement the same process without the same negativity.

The biggest surprise has been that the consistency of this activity has brought me not just a nicer-looking yard but also a much-altered perspective:

I enjoy the accomplishment. I enjoy moving around, feeling active. I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing my yard without the unkemptness of weeds. I enjoy the routine I have created. I enjoy being outdoors; I had forgotten how good it is to spend time amongst plants and trees (not just walk or run past them during exercise). I enjoy taking ownership and responsibility of something I have long hoped someone else would do. (Even my amazing yard people can’t keep up with these weeds!) I enjoy feeling empowered in an area that for many years has rendered me powerless.

Even more incredible, I didn’t accomplish all of this by forcing myself to do this every day. If I missed a day, I missed a day (or two) and got back out as soon as I could. There was no self-disparagement, or disappointment. I stepped outside most days, and that was more than enough.

I began to see how this could be applied to many other aspects of my life.

Strength training (indeed, you can realize gains in a short consistent amount of time). Learning something new (why yes, I am now spending 15-20 minutes a day learning a new language). Writing. Reading. Running. Biking. Stretching. Clearing out a drawer. Catching up with friends. Folding laundry. Dealing with paperwork. The possibilities of change, growth and accomplishment are truly endless!

We can all find 20 minutes daily (most days) on our calendars. Perhaps we can even find more than one 20-minute spot in our days. Yes, we can.

This year, I am certain I will be continuing with my weeding “practice” because, well, I’m rather liking it now. I could not have imagined this of myself, ever! And all because I found 20 minutes most days to tackle this horrible chore.

Because of this, I have changed my life.

If I can do it, anyone can do it. The power of just 20 minutes a day to usher in tremendous and enduring change is endless.

— By Pritam Potts

Coach Pritam Potts is a writer and strength coach. After many years of training athletes and clients of all ages as co-owner of Edmonds-based Advanced Athlete LLC, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. She writes about health & fitness, grief & loss, love & life at and

  1. Yes, anyone can find 20 minutes! Thank you, Pritam, for the reminder and inspiration to care and value ourselves.

  2. I’ve been able to work through several of life’s issues through “weeding therapy.” And I have fond memories of weeding my back yard while listening to Jeremy Irons read “The Alchemist.”

  3. Thank you for the very informative and inspirational article. It’s written in such a way you want to keep reading and absorbing every tidbit of empowerment! I’m a little weird …..I’d rather be outside pulling weeds instead of indoors cleaning house It must be that wonderful fresh air that gets me every time!
    Your “20 minute per day” theory can be applied to so many different aspects of our lives. It really does work.
    This has given me a new motivation! Many Thanks

  4. Yes. Very good message at the time of the year when those weeds might be having the upper hand. First weed and plant the raised veggie garden. Then weed and plant my garden flowers, new plants. Then look at the weeds in all of the other places really getting going STRONG .
    Area by area with great fortitude they are eliminated. Then I think I need to add bark this year to make weeding easier for future years. I will get help with that.
    My Grandma loved gardening and I inherited that love from her. I really love my garden. I really love and care for my plants. I am glad Pritam, that you were disciplined enough to turn around your aversion to dastardly weeds into an appreciation all of the incredible joys that a garden holds.

  5. Weeding is especially gratifying when the ground is still soft enough to rip out most of the roots. Recently I’ve had manic pulling sessions trying to rid our front yard of buck brush. About five years ago, ignorant of its growing habits, we planted it with the other Northwest native plants that we’ve had in our front yard for decades. Little did we know that it is so aggressive. But like Ms. Potts, I’m not complaining. The buck brush roots cling more than run-of-the mill weeds, so I’ve been getting a great work-out. In fact, I’ve cut back on other forms of exercise, most of which are boring (except for racquet sports.). So, if you’re interested in a good work-out garden let me know. I have bags of buck brush, roots and all, just waiting for you.

  6. Thank you for this. Great advice. Relating the twenty minutes to other activities that can be done for mental and physical health emphasizes how anyone can integrate exercise into their day.

    For me, weeding and gardening is a time to immerse in nature. I love worms, beetles, dragon flies, bees, birds, bunnies. The sounds, smells, and energy of life are a gift to gardeners. Weeding can be meditative.

  7. Thank you Pritam I have always enjoyed your advice. To all the other commenters you are all great. I loved this story and the comments. I agree with every one of you. I love my garden and tending it is work but it is good work. I started a couple months ago on the weeds, and I am managing to keep them down a lot now I did find that for those spots between large landscaping rocks and pebble paths etc. that the tea kettle with boiling water has really worked well. It’s hard to get the roots sometimes and especially in those pesky cracks. I don’t mind the weeding in the fronts of my garden, but the old back does complain when I get stuck in the back. I was the other day, and my husband is very hard of hearing, he couldn’t hear me yelling for him so finally I just thought oh well and did the splits basically over a huge bolder under a huge camelia vine. I paid for that, but it was worth it. Have fun. I have finished my weeding and staking and deadheading for the day.(already) petunias and cosmos so far on the dead heading. Hubby is cleaning up the Rhododendron blooms today. It’s a dangerous job with the bees. So many bees, more to come this year.

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