It Takes 25 Minutes

Part III - How To Get Things Done 

In our last post, we discussed how to get things done by optimizing workspaces.

Today, we look at a different recipe to work better. This technique was most helpful when I was writing my book and working full-time.

If your plate is full or you are juggling multiple priorities, you may find this experiment useful.

Test it, reuse what works, and discard anything that’s not helpful. Please, do not forget to inspire others by sharing any new strategies that you adopt on your own.

Identify Proactive and Reactive States

Find the right sequence of tasks to get your work done on time.

When I was writing my book at 4AM before work and after dinner at 9PM, I had to decide what to work on. Editing in the morning felt mundane, and I had limited energy at the end of the day to be creative.

There are different ideas on the most creative time of the day or the perfect time to solve problems, but you have to do what works best for you.  I love Maria Popova's 2012 article The Daily Routines of Great Writers, which shows that there is no one size fits solution to your work. 

In order to find the right sequence for you, you have to categorize your work first. Why? Because, knowing what we need to do first is good before deciding when to do it. 

For example, if I am working on a presentation, checking emails would slow me down. If I am preparing a meal, doing dishes in-between would extend the cooking time or worse burn the food. If I am on a conference call, reading my next meeting’s agenda would be a quick way to forget the discussion (and sometimes I want to).

I find jumping between tasks within the same category not as exhausting, but jumping between different types of work very tiresome.

Predetermine the categories on your own. I distinguish my work categories into creative and reactive states. 

Identify when are you most creative.

I only create content when ideas seem fresh and abundant in my head. For example, I wrote new chapters for my book in the morning when I had the least number of distractions. If you are most creative during the night, then only create at night.

Identify when are you most reactive.

Do everything but ‘create’ during this time. For example, if writing new chapters is the creative part of the process, then editing previously written chapters is reactive. I would do my reactive work after dinner in the evenings. Some examples of reactive work include editing chapters, listening to interviews, reading articles, and researching for the next chapter.

Limiting the amount of time spent category hopping optimizes my schedule and helps me get things done on time.

Category hopping disrupts flow. Being able to maintain a workflow that is in tune with the type of work you are doing is crucial to getting things done.

Gloria Mark at the University of California, Irvine, found that it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption.” 

The New York Times, 2013

For me, category hopping is not optimal because it robs my focus from one task and drains my attention from another. It’s like a train switching tracks; it only slows me down.

If you are thinking about adopting this practice, here are some questions you can ask yourself to reflect on the process.

How did you prevent yourself from jumping from one category of work to the next?

A new idea that we introduced was this idea of segregating creative versus reactive times? Did the segregation of work help you become more productive?

This idea isn’t a homerun for everyone.

Remember, everyone is designed differently and likes to work in different manners.

Studies have shown that focusing on one thing at a time improves productivity. I am trying to offer a new way of capitalizing on this practice. Let me know if it works.

Once again join me next time to learn work optimization hacks that may help you get things done on schedule.