Need to increase productivity? Get your timer out!

2014-02-05 18.56.05


Yesterday, I was working on a writing project. I spent about two hours sitting at the computer attempting to write. I say attempting because I only got a few pages written. I kept getting distracted by email, Facebook, Twitter, laundry, cats, thinking of other projects, checking on dinner and just about anything else I could think of so I didn’t write. Today, I decided to try something different.

My friend Jenny has been writing about her journey to clean up her house. She has been using a system called 20/10 and is a huge fan. Essentially, the system calls for 20 minutes working on something and 10 minutes of break. I started to think that maybe this could work for me also. I grabbed my phone, set the timer for 20 minutes and started to write. When the timer went off, I was amazed how much I had written.

Now, it was time for my 10 minute break. I need to keep my head from getting distracted so I decided to see how much laundry I could accomplish in 10 minutes. I set the timer and ran upstairs to grab a bag out of the laundry sorter. I ran back downstairs, threw the laundry in and started to hang up/fold the clothing that was in the dryer. I got most of it done when my timer went off. I stopped. Yup, right in the middle of folding laundry. You know why? Because I knew I would be back down there in 20 minutes.

I ran back upstairs, set my timer and wrote for another 20 minutes. Back to the laundry for 10. I repeated this pattern all morning and for a while after lunch. I didn’t always do laundry in my 10. I emptied the dishwasher, checked email, checked Facebook, wrote a few tweets.

I realized a few things today.

After writing for about 30 minutes, I get less productive. My mind starts to wander and I get antsy.

If I sit too long, my back gets sore. No sore back today.

I can hang most  loads of laundry in under 10 minutes if I hustle. I can also empty and reload the dishwasher in less than 10.

Focusing on writing for 20 minutes means I am really focused for that time and can write a lot of content in those short little bursts. I am not tempted by distraction because I know I will have time to focus on those things as well.

Twenty minutes might not be perfect for everyone. Maybe you do a 30/10 or a 30/15. My friend, Doreen Stern, says that 17 minutes is the perfect amount of time before your brain gets distracted. Twenty seems to work well for me.


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  • That is really compelling.
    I know I could make that work with many areas of my life — but I wonder if it would work for my songwriting.

    I will let you know what I discover!

    • Kristin

      I’m writing content for a new site. Some of the content areas are very long. I’m essentially writing an online textbook. I didn’t think it would work for me because I would lose my train of thought but it actually helped me to stay sharp. I wrote twice as much content today as I did yesterday in half the time.

      Let me know how it works for you!

  • I love seeing how other people use their 20/10s. I have been taking mine as true breaks. Funny how 10 minutes can feel decadent after a while! It’s just the amount of unwinding I need before I start the next part of the job.

    • Kristin


      Thank you for introducing me to this. I did use a few of the 10’s to check email, Facebook and Twitter. Really I needed a regimented plan so I could write and stay focused, which also allowed me to get some things done around the house.