07 March 2006

One Hour of Productivity

Been dragging lately. Not as focused, energetic or capable as The Jenius usually is. Found a hack--a technique--that lets Me get at least one good hour of work a day.

You scoff. So let Me ask you: can you honestly say you do at least one good hour of work every day? The fact is, if you do, you're quite productive. According to time-motion and effectiveness studies dating back to the 1970s, the average person actually puts in about 40 minutes of high-production work a day. The rest of the day's production comes from snatching bits and pieces of time to coalesce disparate efforts into a whole.

One more thing: the advent of the computer/Internet age has decreased high-production time by about 6 minutes (on average). The major culprits: e-mail and instant messaging.

What is "high-production time"? It is a block of time in which a person can substantially advance or complete a task that has high growth value for future tasks or projects. In other words, it is about working well on high-value items. So the first step towards high productivity is identifying those high-value items, then buckling down to do them.

And yes, "buckling down" implies an effort of will, often called discipline. Get over it.

The hack comes from the ever-fascinating 43Folders and it's called (10+2)*5. It's fairly simple:

1) Get a timer you can set to 10 minutes and less. If you want to use one on your computer, you can download a free timer such as MB-Timer. Don't skip this step: the timer is essential to making this hack work well. (Pun intended.)

2) Make a list of 5 tasks you can work on for 10 minutes at a time. Not complete: work on. You want to focus on 5 tasks you need to be working on right now.

3) Set the timer for 10 minutes...and start. Work straight through for 10 minutes. Forget doing anything else, because it's only going to last 10 minutes. Work!

4) When the timer goes off, stop. If you finished the task before the 10 minutes were up, congratulations! Then stop anyway. Set the timer for a 2 minute break and take a break. Go!

5) After the 2 minute break, start the timer for the next 10 minute task dash. Stop when the time or task is up. Repeat. (Do not lather, do not rinse.)

6) Do this until you've done the 5 tasks you listed. By following the "10 + 2" pattern, you assure yourself of focusing long enough to get some strong work done, while leaving yourself some flexibility to avoid getting tired. You also reward yourself, a key component to maintaining focus.

7) After (10+2)*5, you have completed 5 work-rest cycles in one hour on work you deemed to be of high value. That's high-productivity time. Of course, you could find yourself so energized by just getting started on something that you run right through the breaks and get that nasty project done in a short while. Excellent! That's what hacks are for: to get you from point A to point B in an easier way.

As 43Folders points out, you might want to change the numbers to (15+5)*3, (20+10)*4 or any other comfortable combination. The important thing is you list high-priority items, you give yourself the time to work and rest and then you do it.

Schedule two (10+2)*5s a day and you will quickly surpass almost everyone else around you in terms of productivity. Think about what that means to your life's goals.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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