Just Seven Things

Exploring why and how we do what we do, and how we can do it better

Why the 20 Minute Rule and Ignoring Yourself Increase Productivity

Thinking a lot about the apparent contradiction in the following: Is the best way of being truly mindful, creative and in the ‘here and now’ to be continually running a slot management and priority review system?

I know I’ve read about it many times in David Allen’s (see links in right bar) work, but it’s been difficult to make stick previously. Something’s definitely shifting. Again, I think it’s a left brain/ right brain thing. Let me explain.

My left brain, in Taylor’s words ‘chatters’. It’s continually raising into my awareness my commitments, to do list, undone business etc. It’s function as an awareness system has shortcomings. Dragging my focus onto those things that my other-than-conscious cannot currently sort on it’s own doesn’t help if I can’t consciously act now to sort those commitments or issues. They end up bouncing round my head and weighing heavy on my chest (at low moments)

So what to do? Accept that mindfulness and the ‘here and now moments’ are paid for by lots of little actions. These actions are normally dismissed: ‘I’ve only got 20 minutes, I’ll start thinking about that big project that’s been on my task list for weeks in that big slot I’ve got tomorrow afternoon’

Wrong. Why? Because 1. You’re already thinking about it. Have been since you committed to do the task and put it on a list. You can’t stop (consciously or otherwise) until you’ve started the momentum towards a goal you’re crystal clear about. 2. Why not do 20 minutes now? Pen to paper and start to list everything you can think of that you’ll have to do to achieve your goal. End the slot with a time commitment to just another 20 minutes tomorrow. (in that big slot tomorrow afternoon that will probably suck in loads of distractions, so you’ll only have another 20 minutes anyway)

Repeat the above every day for a week and you’ll have given the project that’s been hanging in your thoughts and on your chest 100 minutes intense focus. Set a deadline and you’ll be near completing it.

Do the above across all the things in your task list. It may cause a balloon of work (and make it seem you have even less time in the here and now) – but it’s a hump you’ll overcome to achieve efficiency.

If you notice, it’s virtually accidental. An afterthought to use a 20 minute slot rather than re-reading the emails that have been squatting in your inbox (which you never get round to because you’d never get anything done in 20 minutes, would you…….)

The point of the above in relation to a contradiction between a system and creativity?

We’re using our logical left brain to accept the shortcomings of it’s chatter, to then accept a system that it doesn’t believe in, to facilitate something at the polar opposite end of logical and analytical.

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11 thoughts on “Why the 20 Minute Rule and Ignoring Yourself Increase Productivity

  1. Two thoughts:
    1. Arnie – apparently he keeps a free diary and just does whatever he feels he needs to at that moment in time. I heard this from someone so it may not be true (!), but I love the concept.

    2. Cory Doctorw – writes novels by doing a chunk every day, small, focused, with a clear goal. The end result are award-winning books.

  2. As you’ll probably know, Mark Forster’s new system (Autofocus) relies on writing out a list then letting some part of the brain sub-consciously select the next most important thing to do.

    The list is bounded by page size but otherwise things to do are unfiltered.

    What I’d like to know is if you are going to let your sub-conscious do the selection why not get truly radical and just do whatever you feel like (a la Arnie)? Whatever feels good?

    Why bother with a list at all?

  3. If I relax (everything) and just do what I like it may not be as simple as “my subconscious” but it is “me” and what “I” like.

    Hard to do though. Brain keeps getting in the way!

  4. I was reading about an author who would write for 3 hours every morning, whatever happened he would always have these 3 hours. What if he finished the book within those 3 hours? He would start his next book in the remaining time. Brilliant focus. Can’t remember the author but have the article somewhere….

  5. If you believe in the 80/20 rule (and I do) then why all this need for focus? That’s what I don’t get.

    It all seems terribly like school – talk of focus reminds me of discipline.

    • Completely agree with the 80/20 rule Pete. Therefore if, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes then why wouldn’t I want to maximise my level of activity within the 20% to maximise my effect in life?

      Focus is a discipline which I believe enables me to do more of the stuff that has the greatest impact. I think it is a discipline, and if school is about learning then again, yes, I am pushing myself to develop. After all, what is life if you’re not learning, growing and developing?

  6. Can’t resist replying to this one Simon! Probably should but can’t.

    What is life if you’re not learning, growing and developing?

    It’s playing. Having fun. Laughing. Fooling about. Making a mess. Screwing things up. Fixing them again. Crying. Hobbling from place to place. Being sad. Wondering at the absurdity of it all. Laughing again. Round and round. Every day.

    I think a focus on developing too much of the time, and a focus on achieving things too much of the time can distract us from enjoying life. Life can pass us by while we are busy achieving or developing.

    That’s from personal experience.

    • No worries Pete. Loving it. It’s one of the reasons I forwarded you Jonathan’s excellent Illuminated Mind post on ‘Why You Should Stop caring About Personal Growth’

      Living life in the moment. Exploring, having fun…. again, couldn’t agree more. But achievement, development and the enjoyment of life are not mutually exclusive. My argument is just that with a little focus you can minimise the screw-ups, the tears and the sadness. Yes, you learn through not making the same mistakes again. But surely better not to have made them in the first place if avoidable?

  7. I suppose it really depends what your starting point is. Yin and yang. If I am very focussed person, then perhaps I need to learn to become more unfocussed. If I am unfocussed then learning a little focus is probably a good thing.

    It’s perhaps philosophical to say it but life is perhaps about unfolding, discovering, rather than achieving? After all, when we die what good are our achievements to us?

    And maybe it’s a post-hoc rationalisation of some kind. But it seems to me that there are many things that can’t be taught. Only learned. The hard way.

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