To Do List

Why You Want To Work In 20-Minute Spurts

Everything in your daily life—be it a physical or mental activity—can be vastly improved by working in 20-minute spurts.



WORK SMARTER  | While there is proven science behind the idea that just 20 minutes of the right kind of daily physical activity leads to a longer, healthier life (read Gretchen Reynolds’s The First 20 Minutes, or an article on the book in the NYT), there’s no specific science I know of linking 20-minute chunks of mental focus to greater effectiveness at work. And yet I’m living proof that this is the case.

A while ago, in his Monday Morning Manager column in The Globe and Mail, Harvey Schachter wrote about how to get focused in 20-minute spurts, sharing ideas from J.D. Meier, a Microsoft project manager with a cult following among those seeking strategies for working/living smarter. Meier’s free book Getting Results the Agile Way is full of advice and techniques, including working in 20-minute chunks. “I’m a fan of being intentional about spending my time and energy on things that produce more effective results. I’m not a fan of randomly throwing time and energy at things in a flurry of activity,” Meier wrote in one of his frequent blog posts.


To Do ListEvery day I make a To Do list: stuff to do immediately and stuff to accomplish at some vague time in the future, with the latter routinely rolling off one list and onto the next. After reading about Meier, I now make a daily list and a weekly list where I put stuff that previously had no completion date, effectively giving it one.

I divide my daily tasks into committed 20-minute chunks with the aid of a ticking timer (there’s nothing more motivating than the sound of a ticking clock) and the occasional Meier-endorsed five-minute break. (I can see now how much time I was frittering away taking totally random Internet breaks, reading emails, etc.)

By working the Meier way, I was able to get most of my daily stuff done with time to spare for work on my weekly projects, two of which (put off for months) I was able to complete by the end of the week.

And I have high hopes for accomplishing a few more big things this week. —Carolann Rule

CLICK HERE To learn more about Getting Results the Agile Way.

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