Since my last post about the power of 48 minutes, I’ve been testing different combinations of focused work time. I’ve tried 40, 45, 48, and 50 minute intervals and they all work well for long projects. The main consideration is having a good work area, some kind of timer, and a beverage warmer for coffee or tea. The ability to focus for a straight period of time is dependent on keeping the distractions to a minimum. When all of these things are in place my productivity soars.
A large project is pretty easy to focus on. If I’m writing a blog post for instance, the 50 minute time period works great. I just keep writing and keep an eye on the timer. When I have about 10 minutes to go, I know I need to wrap it up and upload the post. But what about smaller tasks? Is there a way to combine multiple ones into a focused time period?
I took a look at some of the outlining and organizing strategies that I’ve used before. I thought to myself, “There needs to be a way to organize tasks by time and combine them into a optimized focus time.” I tried a couple of things using the walleteer cards that I usually carry with me. I listed a smaller task on one of them and jotted down a reasonable completion time. I did this with multiple cards and did an experiment.
I set aside a time period of 50 minutes as it was easily dividable. I laid the cards out on the table and took a marker and marked a large number on each one of how much time I thought it would take to complete the task. I had two 15 minute cards and two 10 minute cards. I set the timer for 50 minutes and took the first 15 minute card out of the stack.
I started working on the task (sending an e-mail) and I noticed right away the urgency to get the task done. I would glance at the timer from time to time. I finished up the correspondence in the allotted time. There was something about being timed that kept me on track. E-mails have a way of being huge time hogs for me as my constant revisions really eat up time. With a timed focus I wrote faster, did one final spell check, and then send.
I pulled out the next card which was another 15 minute card. This one was a reply to a blog post. I started writing and found that this whole experience was like a game. I glanced at the timer and kept writing. The words came much easier now that I had a deadline. Short and concise was the name of the game. I finished the reply and clicked send. On to the next card.
The next task was to change the text on a computer graphic in 10 minutes. I fired up Photoshop, loaded the graphic, changed the text, and saved the file. I had the urge to mess around with the file but time contraints kept me focused. I uploaded the finished file to the webserver and then took up the last 10 minute card.
This one involved burning a CD for work. I opened Nero, put in a blank CD, copied the files, and clicked burn. It seemed to take forever to get going. I couldn’t help watching the timer. I was at the mercy of this software… come on… burn… faster… faster. It was like watching a Nascar Race. Would Nero make it on time? The finish line was fast approaching as the timer clicked down… but Nero came through at 48x. I ejected the disk with a minute to spare.
This was fun and I can say that any one of the individual tasks could have easily eaten up 50 minutes. There was some amazing competitive power in these cards. I decided to design some card sets in Word with the minutes watermarked into the background. Two 50 minute periods produced three sets of cards that I can use for most any task.
I would like to share these with you. The first set has 9 cards from 5 minutes to 45 minutes. The second is a sheet of all 5 minute cards and the last is all 10 minute cards. These are easily printed on normal Avery business card stock.
Here is how you can use them…
- Print multiple sets
- Allocate tasks throughout the day on the cards
- Use the proper time card for each task
- Set aside a focused 50 minute period
- Put them in a stack and start with card one
- Go, Go Go!
The cards are ideal for similar tasks in one area. I find that grouping activities by computer, phone calls, and task items works well for me. Sales people and others who must make a lot of phone calls or send multiple e-mails may find the 5 and 10 minute cards very helpful.
Download the Focused 50 cards here
For other downloadable card sets check out