Years ago, when I was writing my PhD thesis, I went to the library in a fit of desperation. One of my PhD supervisors had left the country permanently in what appeared, to me, to be a fairly dramatic move to avoid reading my drafts. If it was that dire that someone had to move to the other side of the world, what were my chances of getting this thing finished? I knew that rather than getting on with the work, the correct and proper thing to do was to find a book about what to do.
I found one called “Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day” by Joan Bolker. I know what you’re thinking – that’s impossible! – and it is. The title was pretty misleading. BUT….that book, and the concept I’m about to share with you, changed my life.
The basic premise is that fifteen minutes of truly focused attention is better than no minutes. Or an hour of hopping between your project and Google and social media and Ebay/Trade Me. In fact, when you let yourself really play with the concept, it’s surprising how much you can acheive in quarter of an hour – if you really set your mind to business. (As an aside, I’ve set myself the goal of writing this post in fifteen minutes. With another fifteen to edit, and another to upload a photo and publish.)
Here’s the trick, in a nutshell:
Close all other tabs, turn off all notifications, let the dog out/in/out again.
Make sure you have everything you need within arm’s reach, to allow you to throw yourself into the ONE piece of work you’ve been procrastinating on.
Set a timer for fifteen minutes.
Sit (or stand) and focus entirely on that one job for fifteen minutes. If your attention wanders in that time, gently (but firmly!) bring it back to the task at hand.
When fifteen minutes is up, review your progress. Have you nailed it? Well done you. If there’s more to be done, notice how you feel about the job now that you’ve warmed up to it. Are you hating it? Step away and do something else (we’ll come back to creativity and struggle in a future blogpost). Are you feeling neutral or positive? Set the timer and work solidly – head down, tail up – for another fifteen minutes. Rinse and repeat as needed (but take a decent break when your attention is hard to reign in).
It’s so simple, but amazingly effective. Give this a try with something that you know needs to be done, but you’ve been putting it off.
And tell me – on a scale out of 10, how AWESOME are you at procrastinating (where 10 is the world’s best procrastinator ever)?