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15 Minutes to Make a Difference

Marc on 2021-03-05

Time

15 minutes is (approximately) 1% of your day, how could you use it to make a difference?

I've always been fascinated by the study of productivity; Seeing the multitude of ways in which people can achieve incredible things by implementing a simple system. I've never been quite so fortunate myself however, for the better part of a year since the Pandemic set in I've been cycling through countless different systems attempting to find the one.

Now, what the one is will vary drastically depending on the kind of work you do. Perhaps you're a Pomodoro kind-of person, working better under an on-off cycle. Or maybe an "Eat the Frog!"-sort, tackling the hardest tasks first and moving to progressively easier topics as the day progresses. Perhaps even creating a dedicated Deep-Work space is right for you, something I've dabbled with previously.

However none of the aforementioned really clicked with me and having generally exhausted most of the systems I'd stumbled upon, I was concerned I'd ran out of options. Then, I was presented with a post by Mickey Mellen via my trusty RSS reader on building habits in fifteen minutes a day. In his post, Mickey poses the question that if fifteen minutes is only 1% of your day, what little things could you pick up and develop over time that eventually lead to larger benefits?

The idea struck a chord with me in its simplicity however I wanted to try a different approach: Only work on 1 task for 15 minutes, then switch.

After a few weeks I found that the approach worked surprisingly well. I found that I could work for longer without breaks as the novelty of a new task every 15 minutes helped keep me engaged. I also found that I was more likely to make meaningful contributions, tackling the heart of the issue rather than procrastinate around it as I had so little time to waste. Most importantly however, I could see tangible progress being made in multiple areas far faster than I had with other productivity methods.

15 minutes may not sound like a lot but that's the point; It allows for an approach that helps build upon multiple tasks quickly without feeling burned out; leading to more meaningful progress in a shorter period of time.

Of course one of the main concerns with changing tasks so often is that of context switching: That mental residue where our mind is still processing the previous task while our eyes skim over the new. Although I don't have a definitive answer for why this issue hasn't arisen, it may be that because I don't have a lot of time to waste between sessions I'm more inclined to subconsciously switch my focus faster. Overall, I've found it encourages a sort of accelerated flow-state, letting me quickly jump from task to task without any time lost on reacquainting myself with what I was doing.

With regards to taking breaks, I've generally been switching between two options: Either the novelty of a new task is enough to keep me engaged or after a couple of sessions I can take 15 minutes out (after all, it's only 1% of my day).

Overall I'm surprised with how effective this approach has been: It's easy to get back up to speed if you lose focus (You can just start afresh with the next session); It makes larger tasks seem more manageable by breaking them into smaller segments; and it also stops you going into mental auto-pilot as you don't have time to tune out.

If you're looking for a way to track your 15 minutes effectively, why not get started with Just Study, my personal timer of choice.