Productivity: You only need to own the next 10 minutes

Do you routinely make a habit of owning the next 10 minutes?

This post is part of a series in Productivity and Getting Shit Done. You can read the original introduction post here.

How long can you stay focused on a single task?

Especially if that task is anything but interesting?

In 1948, the Mackworth clock test was developed to assess British Air Force radar technicians during World War II. They were trying to determine how long they could be expected to maintain focus, and how efficient they were at recognizing targets over long periods of time.

It’s since been re-designed and re-developed and used to asses people’s state of concentration. There are many findings and reports, but the more recent research suggests that decreases in focus occur in the first fifteen minutes of a task, and even earlier when the task is demanding.

Then, as you’ve expected, there’s the research indicating our attention span and focus is shortening even further due to mobile phones, the internet, news & media, and on and on.

All you need is ten minutes

However, we may be able to use this to our advantage.

The 10 minute rule is very simple: you simply ask your brain how you can most effectively use the next 10 minutes. You’re not trying to structure your morning, schedule your day, or even plan your entire year (those are different processes).

Just asking your brain to own the next 10 minutes.

“what will I do in the next 10 mins to make it easier to live my ultimate life?”

A 10 minute window creates a certain amount of eustress – believe it or not, a certain type of “good” stress (the Greek prefix eu- means “good”).

Most of us equate all stress with negative experiences – but this is a positive kind of stress.

Stress is actually helpful. Focus comes from stress. You reach a state of ‘flow’ when you’re placed under a certain amount of stress. A challenge helps create stress.

A human can’t reach a precision-like state of focus without being stressed.

Hear this: we function at our very best when we are stressed.

“Eustress helps us stay motivated, work toward goals, and feel good about life.”

By asking ourselves to absolutely and utterly own the next 10 minutes, time and time again all day long, we place ourselves into this state of eustress where we’re focused, energised, and challenged.

Expanded into 25 minute cycles

If you haven’t yet heard of the Pomodoro Technique, have a read of this or this.

It’s simple:

  1. Choose a task you’d like to get done
  2. Set the Pomodoro for 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings
  4. Take a short break
  5. Every 4 pomodoros, take a longer break

That’s it. Resist the urgent to overthink it. Pomodoro’s utility is in its simplicity.

Truth is, we all work slightly differently, we all have different periods of optimal working time. It may be worthwhile using trial & error to figure out what length of time you can focus before taking a break. It may be shorter, it may be longer. Find your optimum pomodoro.

The most successful people, the very highest achievers in our society, they don’t actually work non-stop all day. They realise that optimal productivity is like a series of short sprints.

  • Lebron James doesn’t think of a basketball game as a 2-hour marathon, it’s 200 possessions of 24 seconds each.
  • Elon Musk intentionally plans his day out in five-minute increments or ‘time blocks.’
  • One of my mentors uses 45 minute pomodoros – he’s discovered he can focus for that period before his attention starts to slip.
  • Researchers Anders Ericsson, and then Tony Schwartz, found that the best performers all work without interruptions for 90-minute periods.

The time varies, and the time value itself isn’t important – it’s the “cycle”, and then the rest.

The important part of this, I believe, is the rest: we need a break, our bodies sends us signals such as hunger, tiredness, we fidget, we lose focus. We try to fight them.

Learn to take that break. Then reset, own the next 10 minutes, and start that timer again!

But… control???

By controlling your schedule, you’re dedicating time to the important work that matters for creative pursuits, and you create a feeling of relief in your brain, allowing you to go deeper in your creative time.

Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals book profiles many world-famous creatives. Very few adopt a “I’ll work when I feel inspired” attitude — they instead controlled their day so they could control their art.

Control your day so you can control you art. I love it.