Are you currently reading this article instead of doing some actual work?
Good. Because you’re exactly the kind of person who needs to be reading it.
I (like you, perhaps) get distracted very easily. It’s not wholly a bad thing, as the things I am typically distracted by also make me better at my job. When you write and create content, it’s important to be well informed, and the fact I am distracted by articles and other such pieces of content 95% of the time assists in my being well informed.
But, in order to actually do my job, I also require a level of focus. Acute focus, when I’m being particularly creative.
Because my “distractions” can be justified, it makes them even harder to ignore. So I need a time management system in order to operate. I have tried out a lot of them, but as is typical with an easily distracted mind, I’ve found them rather difficult to stick to. This one I’m sharing with you today, however, shows a little more sticking power.
The 50 Minute Rule.
Stop breaking your day into hourly chunks, and start breaking them into 50 minute chunks.
Step #1 – Set
Assuming you already have a predetermined task list for the day (preferably written down, if it’s purely in your head something will be forgotten) break it all down into 50 minute chunks. Then, when you’re ready to settle down and do some work, set a timer.
This could be on your phone, although I have found having a phone within close proximity to be counter productive to this exercise. Instead, I would recommend setting up a timer on Google which you can utilise simply by typing “timer” into the searchbar. Set your time (50 minutes, in this instance) and start the timer, and it will alert you on your screen (and via sound, if you wish) when the timer is up. This is especially useful for all things desk based, as chances are you’ll be looking at a screen anyway.
Step #2 – Work
Once your timer starts ticking down… you work. Intensely. No distractions, no exceptions. If you need to look something up, do so as quickly and as efficiently as you can, and don’t allow yourself to wander away from the task at hand. More critically, focus on one task and see it through to completion.
It helps if you purge your tabs before setting the timer. Take out absolutely everything that isn’t necessary for the task at hand – even emails. That way you won’t be visually reminded of the other things you have to do.
Do this, intently, for 50 minutes. Not a minute more, not a minute later. Even if you’re struggling, even if your brain is crying out for a distraction (and it will, it’s a tricksy thing, especially when habits are being broken) stick with it.
This… will take some practice. But don’t allow yourself any breathing room. If you slip up, get straight back on it. Much like when your mind wanders during meditation, simply bring it back (and repurge your tabs if you have to).
Step #3 – Distract
Your 50 minutes are up. Now reset the timer for 10 minutes… and stop working.
And no, I don’t mean switch to another task. I literally mean STOP. No work. Find something else to do for 10.
This could take any form. Get up. Have a wander around the office or even a quick walk outside (highly recommended). Make a cup of tea. Or, if you’re happy to still sit in front of your computer, check your facebook. Check your emails (although save the “working through” element for one of your other 50 minute chunks) or read a few articles. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it isn’t work.
Three steps work together nicely, to both focus and de-stress your brain. Once the ten minutes are up, jump in with the next 50 minute task.
You’d be surprised how much can be achieved with this technique. By factoring in time for distraction and – let’s face it – procrastination, you’re mitigating the possibility that your reactive time (i.e. the time you spend unfocused and bouncing from task to task achieving close to nothing tangible) will outweigh your proactive time (i.e. the time you spend focused and “on task”, producing tangible results).
There are, of course, lots of other ways of doing the above. But this one definitely works for me… for now.
Guess how long it took me to write that? I’m now off to distract myself for 10.