How long should you work on something in one go?
This lesson is a big one. Settle down with a cuppa. If you think you’re likely to be interrupted, skip this one for now and come back to it when you’re can focus a bit longer. The reason is that if you get this bit right it can save you several hours each week.
So now you’re getting on with it and you’re blowing your procrastination habit, how long should you work on things now that you’re starting them?
Other modules look at how long you should work on something in total and what time of day you should try and do things, so it’ time to look at how long your should do things, when you do them.
- Killer question #1: how long do you think you can work for, in a day? For most people, if it’s brain-work, it no more than six hours in total.
- Killer question #2: how long do you think you can work for in one go, on one thing? There’s all kinds of guesses, estimates and assertions on the internet, with most people saying it’s somewhere around the 20 minute mark.
Take a moment to refresh yourself on the idea of the sigmoid productivity curve from a few lessons ago:
The challenge, as I’m sure you’ve realised, is that everyone has a different A-to-D and different A-to-D times for different tasks. If we’re to be as efficient and productive as possible, we need to figure out what those various timings are.
Exercise: make your own version of the table below. I’ve filled it in on the left hand column with tasks that are typical for my working week. Your week will look very different, of course. If I’d filled this in completely, you’d see very small numbers for Proof-reading, but bigger numbers for things like reading new research.
That’s not a surprise as I enjoy researching and can do it for a long time (I was a university researcher before I became a trainer, don’t forget). On the other hand I’ll go so far as to say that after about 20 minutes of proof reading I lose the will to live and only about three minutes after that I lose the will for anyone around me to live, too.
You have been warned! 😉
Fill in the first blank column only for now – the one which looks at how long you can concentrate before you get inefficient and/or start to make more mistakes. In other words, this column is your current best guess as to the length of your A-D time on the graph in the video.
As things stand, that’s how long you should work at a task for at one go. You shouldn’t work past the point where the productivity curve flattens out (F in the video) at all, really. In an ideal world you’d not work past the point where it begins to flatten out, (E) but that might be asking a bit much. The further you work from F towards Z, the more time you’re spending working inefficiently!
A big idea here… it’s almost magic trick…
Take the time you normally work on something between E/F and Z and – instead of wasting it by using it ineffectively/unproductively – take that time and use it as your A-to-E time on something else! In other words, take the time you’re working in-efficiently on one project and turn it into effective and very–productive time on another Project.
In other words…
Your D-F time on the first project becomes your A-D time on the second project.
Simple. Geniusly simple, in fact. But not easy.
Doing what you now know logically that you should do will mean you face two types of problems:
- internal ones caused by your own old, bad habits; and
- external ones caused by the working culture and environment you’re in.
We’ll look at how to handle those in other lessons, but for now, do what you can – and start to block your time in your diary in blocks of different length. Ignore the convention that says you have to work for an hour or two hours at a time! Depending on your personal circumstances, the boost to your productivity can be sensational.
A side note of caution – apply a bit of common sense!
If your best guess at how long you can work for according to this system is, say 35 minutes, but the task is nearly done, and working for just another ten minutes would finish it off… think about just keeping your head down for that final ten minutes.