Tools for Thought

Thinking beyond productivity

A Pattern Language for Productivity, Pattern #16: Ten Minute Dash

by Andre · 3 Comments

Action is experiential. The more we experience doing, the less effort we realize it takes. The more we imagine doing, the more effort it appears to take. We need a way to externalize our thinking, a tool to bypass our mental process. Fortunately, there’s a time-tested way to jump start any daunting task:

Set a timer for 10 minutes. Attend to the task without interruption until the timer goes off.

Only your presence is required. If you can fill the 10 minutes with constant output, so much the better. If most of the time is spent doing nothing but thinking about how to start, that’s fine — you were doing that anyway. The objective is not production, per se, but disrupting inertia. The only rule is that you have to be where the action is for 10 minutes, and do either absolutely nothing else, or do nothing at all.

Once the timer has goes off, you have two options: take a break, or set the timer for another uninterrupted session with a length of your choosing. You’ll find, more often than not, that you’ll want to continue. Whether you choose another 10 minutes, 30 minutes or 3 hours, you’re committed to doing nothing else, so choose the session length wisely. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. When the new session is over, take a break or do another session, repeating the process as often as necessary or desired.

The initial 10 minute length is arbitrary, and can be adjusted. If even 10 minutes makes you anxious, set the timer for five. But be sure to use a timer. Don’t keep time in your head, which is as inefficient as a professional musician practicing scales without a metronome. Tracking time in your head while trying to focus on a task is like running a resource-intensive background application. Your attention inevitably has to break away from your primary task to refocus on time orientation.

One important exception to single tasking, here or in any context: Keep a collection tool like a notepad close by at all times. If a thought unrelated to your committed task enters your head, write it down, then return to the task. Writing it down is not an interruption. You’re writing down and diverting the interruption.

Tags: A Pattern Language for Productivity


  • Vered - MomGrindNo Gravatar // Apr 23, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    This is going to be very useful for writing, especially when I have writer’s block.

    Thank you.

  • JohnNo Gravatar // Apr 24, 2008 at 2:37 am

    Maybe this will help me with my ADD. I’m going to try it.

  • NicoleNo Gravatar // May 2, 2008 at 8:38 am

    This is brilliant advice. I have just started working at home and have trouble getting started. Thanks!