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How To Stay Focused For Greater Productivity

I almost never work on the weekends. And I rarely work in the evening. So, then, how do I manage to remain a thriving solopreneur? How do I get my work done on time and under budget? Simple (mostly) through good productivity practices.

I have a number of processes that help me keep a stable and productive workflow. Yet I’m always looking for better and more efficient ways to run my business.

So is Ben Yoskovitz. But he wants to help all of us with our productivity. That’s why he’s instigated (sorry Ben, couldn’t resist) the Ultimate Guide to Productivity Group Writing Project Meme.

ultimate_guide_prod.jpg

Ben kicked it off by tagging Alister Cameron, Adam Kayce, Chris Brogan, Guy Kawasaki, Andrew Wee, David Armano, Tony Clark, Mike Sansone and Chris Cree. As of tonight, Adam and Andrew have responded with some solid tips. I’d love to hear from everyone else Ben’s tagged.


You’re probably wondering how did I get here then? Well, Adam tagged me along with Dave Schoof, Char, Chris Garrett, and Karin H. H. Each should have some great feedback.

So are you ready to hear one of the ways I stay highly productive?

Focus. No, not you – if you’re reading you’re focused enough. My productivity tip is focus. For every 60 minutes of the workday, I stay micro focused for 50 minutes. Then I get out of my chair, away from my computer and out of my office for 8 minutes (give or take). The remaining two minutes I settle back down in my chair, look over my next todos and look at what I can accomplish in the next 50 minutes. Then I’m off to the races again.

During my 50 minutes of focus, I do nothing except what is on my todo list. If I’m writing code, I code for 50 minutes. If I’m returning phone calls, I do that for 50 minutes. If I’m writing a blog post, I do that for only 50 minutes. I keep a timer running in the background with an alarm so I don’t have to watch the clock.

This sounds similar to what Ben suggested about working in bursts. I take a bit different approach then being single tasked for a length of time. For me it’s all about how much I can get done in 50 minutes. Like Ben, I stay focused to one task at a time. But if I complete that task in under 50 minutes, I move on to the next task that needs to be done. Sometimes I can get dozens of tasks done in 50 minutes. Sometimes, like with coding and styling a website, I may work an entire day at 50 minute intervals. They key, for me, is in working uninterrupted for 50 minutes.

Also, during the 50 minutes I don’t answer the phone, I shut down my email client and turn off my feed reader. I minimize all programs that don’t directly relate to my task at hand. Not answering the phone and shutting down my mail client are TWO MAJOR KEYS to making this work.

So when do I answer email or return phone calls? Well, that happens in its own 50 minute block. As does scheduling coaching and consulting sessions with clients. I just don’t do these things during a 50 minute block where they’re not included.

One other trick to this…you have to walk away for the 8 minutes. Regardless of how little or much you’ve gotten done, stop at 50 minutes. Walk away. And then come back. That short break every hour has helped me stay even more focused during my 50 minute blocks. And, I find that I’m more refreshed at the end of the day.

So that’s it. This process has probably increased my productivity two fold, minimum. Probably more.

To summarize…

  1. Begin with a clear task list for the day based on all the projects you have going on (I’ll let someone else tackle creating task lists)
  2. Work through your task list in 50 minute intervals. Remain highly focused on the one task you’re working on.
  3. If you complete your task in less time, move on to the next one. If not, stop at 50 minutes anyhow and pick up where you left off in the next interval.
  4. At the end of 50 minutes – stop what you’re working on. Get away from your work, leave your computer/office for 8 minutes. Get some water, do something completely unrelated to work. Breathe…
  5. After 8 minutes (or so) return to your office and spend the remaining two minutes preparing for the next 50 minute interval.
  6. Repeat.

So now it’s time for me to tag some folks I’d love to hear from. I’m tagging Dave Taylor, Liz Strauss, David Airey, Ted Demopolous, Andy Beard, Mike Sansone (again), Edward Mills, Drew McLellan, Valeria Maltoni, Sarah Lewis, Doug Karr, Easton Ellsworth, Aaron Potts, and David Armano.

I’d love to hear feedback on anyone else who’s using or trying this method of working. It’s worked great for me.

I’d also love to hear your ideas for improving on it or adding to it with other productivity tips. So please, share your thoughts, ideas and tips.

And remember to visit Ben, Wendy Piersall, Kathie Thomas, Harrison Loke, Ploop, Engtech, Lorraine Pirihi, Janet Barclay – who have already shared their gems for productivity.

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Comments

  1. Adam Kayce : Monk At Work says:

    Good one, Dawud. I’ve tried a few variations of the “burst” philosophy (like 25 minute spurts), but they’ve been too short to really sink in to a rhythm.

    I’m going to give 50-minute bursts a shot today, and see what happens.

    (Bursts vs. Spurts. Sounds like a pee-wee soccer match. :-) )

  2. David B. Drake says:

    Dawud,

    Thanks for sharing. I find that a big drain on my productivity is the transaction costs of moving in and out of the “worlds” surrounding my individual tasks. For example, editing an article I’m writing requires re-entering that space to provide context for my thoughts. I’ve been having good experiences with clustering my day/parts of my day around the key “worlds” I need to address that day. For example, today’s focus is my thought leadership around the future of coaching; the main tasks are to edit my book chapter on the topic, write a proposal for a conference workshop on the topic, review plans for my new blog on the topic, and clarify my goals/make plans for a conference call with colleagues to plan next steps in our collective work in this area. Doing it this way as often as I can limits the time it takes to get up to speed on a task. With that said, I wholeheartedly agree with your strategy to take regular short breaks to refresh my mind and body.

    David

  3. Dawud – thanks for sharing.

    Your approach is quite amazing. I never thought of regimenting things down to 50 minute bursts but it makes sense. I can just picture myself with a little timer though.

    But not working on the weekends sounds nice! So I may just give “working in bursts” a more structure try with your approach in the very near future.

  4. Benjamin,

    Thanks Ben(jamin). Take now, for instance. I set aside time between 8am & 8:50am to blog comment, read feeds, etc. I do as much as I can in that stretch and then leave it.

    The truth is really, I cheat with blogging a bit – squeezing comments and return comments into a number of blocks during the day. Yet I still stay singularly focused and stop at the regular intervals.

    The key, really, is to work hard, uninterrupted, fully focused for 50 minutes on one thing at a time.

    As for working weekends…I’ve had my share of that. It also means that things take me a bit longer to complete sometimes – especially my own projects. Being happily married with two young kids I balance my time between being a solopreneur and daddy/husband. So I really ‘can’t’ work on weekends – it’s not fair to my family.

    Let me know how this works for you. I’d love to hear. And, see you at SOBCon.

  5. Adam,

    Thanks. I’ve tried a lot of things too. During the 50 minute intervals, I work intensely. Then when the alarm sounds, I walk away. It works great – as long as I don’t let myself get distracte.

    David,

    Funny, I was going to tag you, but forgot. Nice that you showed up anyhow.

    I’ve had times when I’ve specifically focused for a day on one thing. It’s so great to get immersed in something like that.

    I, too, understand the need to get into a space to get certain projects done. Writing is like that for me. I can’t seem to write unless I’m in the space too.

    Thanks for sharing your insights. Consider yourself tagged.

  6. Dawud,

    Thanks for sharing your tips! I teach a method similar to yours to my clients. For the ultra-busy, I suggest that people estimate the amount of time a task will require, limit distractions, set a timer and work like crazy for the period of time they’ve set aside.

    The other suggestion I have is “working the in time available.” One of the reasons people procrastinate is because they over-estimate the amount of time that tasks take. Challenging yourself to see what you can get done in the five minutes you’ve got often does the trick.

    peace be with you,
    Tara

  7. Dawud:

    It reminds me of school: 50-minute class, followed by a 10-minute break. We had more 55 minutes of lesson and then 5 minutes of break and it was a good rhythm.

    To be completely productive when I sit down to write, for example, I do the thinking during another activity. For example, I come up with the idea for my post during my morning run. I do the research and jot notes over breakfast, and the writing comes together nicely.

    On Saturdays I think while cleaning and setting things in order: changes of season and deep cleaning yield amazingly creative results. Then Sunday I put my thinking to action in writing, plans for the week, etc.

    One more tip for when you’re in a rut. If you’re upset, do some hand labor; I recommend scrubbing tile floors as great therapy. Clean your office, air the room, and consider rearranging your desk and space.

    As you suggest above, we’re all mind, body and spirit. Take care of all three and you’ll be fine.

  8. Tara,

    Great advice. I agree totally. People most often over estimate tasks. And, they get distracted while they work – which leads to even greater time to complete tasks.

    I’d love to hear more about how you help your clients discern how long task will take them.

    Valeria,

    Interesting. I’ve never really thought of comparing it to school. I actually got this from a speaker somewhere once (can’t remember who).

    I do the same thing…I’ll often process client problems and blog posts while I’m doing other tasks unrelated to my work. I try not to get obsessive, however. I really want to be fully present with my family and leisure activities as well. Balance…

    And yes, whenever I’m stuck vigorous chores or exercise are highly helpful. When I’m stuck, I often go for a stenuous hike in the enormous wilderness area that’s nearby.

    Do you meditate or have any practices for centering or quieting your heart and spirit?

  9. Hi Dawud,

    Thanks for your kind invitation to say more.

    One of my favorite tricks for getting more accurate at determining how long tasks take is to make an estimate, write it down, and then time myself.

    When I first started doing this, I was not very good at it. I often overestimated, particularly for tasks I don’t enjoy. Now, I am far better at looking at my schedule and knowing how much time to budget (I still use my trusty timer to keep myself honest, though).

    I thought I had written a blog post on this, but apparently not. Maybe I should, huh?

    Thanks again,
    Tara

  10. Dawud,
    You do such a beautiful job of everything you do here. I can see your productivity at work. That 50 minutes pays off. I have a feeling that, too, it works like gardening, setting up a place where you can enjoy the fruits of your labors all day long. I know that I enjoy them when I come here. :)

  11. Tara,

    I would say definitely. And link into Ben’s Project. I think your tip is a really good one – and often overlooked. If you write a post, let me know and I’ll be sure to link to it. Also, you can leave another comment here about it if you like – you’ll get link love.

    Liz,

    Thanks Liz. I’m working hard – in those 50 minute intervals – to create good conversation in the blogosphere. I think you’re sensing my care for my readers. I want to give them the best content I can – and offer them a place to share their ideas and thoughts, their concerns and their own blogs. And, it just so happens that I love what I do.

  12. Very nice concept. That phone calls and mail stuff really kills the day.

  13. Bashar,

    That’s certainly been my experience. Is there anything you specifically do to combat this?

  14. Excellent post, Dawud.

    I’m running out the door as I type (which is some feat) but I’ll make a little note to follow-up on this one soon.

    I hope you have a fantastic weekend!

  15. Yvonne Russell says:

    Hi David
    Thanks you for these excellent tips. I’m definitely going to try your 50 minute method.

    Scheduling a separate block for emails is a great idea too. I’m often tempted to deal with emails as soon as I read them which takes me off track and out of the mindset.

    I’ve been tagged for this meme too, and have learned a lot by reading what others involved in this project have said.

  16. David,

    Thanks. I hope you’re using a laptop since you’re running out the door as you were typing. I can’t imagine you carrying a desktop and typing at the same time.

    Have a great weekend as well.

  17. Interesting idea. I will give it a go this week and see where it takes me.

  18. the baldchemist says:

    You know, this focus thing is very counterproductive for life and your brain.
    Focus means that you dont bother with what is going on around you. What one fails to realise is, that what is going on at the sides of your target is what causes the clarity of vision.The sum of the parts!It puts even more pressure one you to be productive 50 minutes every hour doesn’t it?
    How do you feel when you are not productive ? How do you catch up?
    Nah I reckon there are better ways.
    Good read though Thanks

  19. Hi Dawud

    As a known organised person I’m sorry afraid to say that strangely I couldn’t work with your burst of fixed time – too much of a multitasker I think. I love having two, three things ‘on the go’ at the same time.

    My own contribution to the guide is just gone ‘live’.

  20. Hi Dawud,

    Here is my contribution the meme: Zugunruhe Ultimate Guide to Productivity: Time Budgets. Thanks for the opportunity to join this meme.

    peace be with you,
    Tara

  21. Yvonne,

    Great. Let me know how the 50 minutes works for you.

    Email is a God-send…and it can be a huge time waster.

    Thor,

    Again, let me know how it works for you. I’ve learned that I’ve needed to be unrelenting in focus for this to really work. So try to be as singularly focused as possible.

    the baldchemist,

    First off, love the handle.

    Not focusing on what’s around you is the point of this method. It’s about gettings done in a work environment. The stuff going on around me gets put on hold so I can accomplish my daily work in the least amount of time possible. Then I can handle other details, and have as much time with my family as I can.

    I’m wondering if perhaps you didn’t clearly understand what I was speaking too. It’s about being productive – which requires focus. Otherwise, you’re just floating about your work day dealing with whatever comes at you. I did that for years. And while I was productive that way, I am far more productive today.

    Love to hear more from you on this…

    Karin H.,

    I love to multitask too. And I still do so from time to time – like for mindless tasks. But when it comes to getting my client work done – I’ve found no better way then to work in this manner. That way I’m no distracted away from what needs to get done. And I’ve found I get more done then when I multitask.

    Tara,

    Heading over to read it right now. Thanks.

  22. Wonderful post. Thanks a lot. Working as a screenwriter this feels very familiar: I am also constantly trying to improve my productivity and will definitely try your method instantly. Sounds very promising, so thanks for sharing!

  23. FincherFanatic,

    I’ve used this a ton for writing. Great to have highly focused time that doesn’t drag on into exhaustion. Love to hear how it works for you.

  24. Weird. This link just now came in to Technorati. I never saw it before. Thanks for the link and the tag, the post and the conversation! I’ll see what I can come up with to add to this already excellent and well-developed conversation!

  25. Ed,
    I’ve had that happen too. Not sure why.

    Add away, my friend, add away…

    Ben’s also planning a PDF to distribute freely and promote all the contributors.

  26. Dawud,

    Great tips. It’s kind of funny that I was planning on writing a few posts about things I have been doing to increase my productivity. I guess I will wait to be tagged.

    As far as the fifty minutes… about 15 years (give or take 5 years) ago I remember reading in several books that you should learn things in 50 minute intervals and take 10 minute breaks because 50 minutes was the optimal amount of time that the human mind could focus. Is that why you chose the 50 minutes or was it something else?

  27. George,
    Oh, I definitely didn’t invent this. I just am unclear where I heard it. And it works for me. I get lots done when I follow it.

    One note, you may not want to wait to be tagged because I think this meme is a bit old now. And Ben, the guy that started it, is putting together a book. Get your entry to him before he finishes the book and I’m sure he’ll include it – with your credits and links.

  28. I approach my workday in a somewhat similar manner, yet due to the fact that I am an office manager, multi-tasking is key. I still split my task list into 3 major parts: billing, scheduling/follow-ups, and accounts receivable- during which I am constantly answering calls, emails and IM’s. Even breaking my day into three parts makes balancing 20 things at once somewhat a breeze. Great suggestions!!

  29. Brilliant! What you describe is my goal. I’m going to be more disciplined about it from now on!

  30. K Stone,
    Sure. I get so much done when I do this. And when I shut down my email client.

  31. Law of attaction guy says:

    Hi, although many many studies have shown that the optimal length for learning/concentrating is 50 minutes, I never got to implementing it.
    I really really need to start implementing this strategy as I think it will work.

    As from today, I am a fan of yours :-) (and subscribing to your feed obviously :-) )

    Olivier.

  32. Olivier,
    Give it a try and see what happens. And please, let me know how it changes your workflow.

    And thanks…please let me know if there’s anything you’d like to write about. And feel free to reach out and connect any time.

  33. It is really the break in between of the 50 minutes of focus that keeps the productivity boosted. I really like this, thanks.

  34. The Baldchemist says:

    I guess as I lve on Koh Samui, Thailand, weekends don’t count. Half the time I have no idea what day it is. Not that I’m off my face on something, but because I moved here to be away from strict routine.
    For me I have found that we, ( I say we ’cause I have several co-workers around me and I suppose my task is more of ” creative/art director”.
    Which means I have to shift between tasks quickly dropping with what I have on the go.
    I just hope that I have instilled enough of your method into our people.
    If you are interested, I have just posted an article on “Brands In Distress” which you might find useful. Its on our site. which I won’t link to here as this is your show.
    enjoy yourself and best wishes. The Baldchemist

  35. Блог о дизайне и веб-разработке says:

    I didn’t use todo list, and I still don’t understand why I need to use it ))

  36. That is a great idea! Thank you for sharing with us.
    I also feel that daily exercise is very important. If done in the morning it wakes you up for the rest of the day and helps to improve concentration and consequently productivity. Our company encourages exercise by providing free gym membership to employees. This move has not only improved business but staff are fitter and healthier – benefits for all!

  37. I seriously yesterday was about to crack. Hit send and receive and 20 emails show up, and then the phone rang, and then, it was lunchtime and my to-do list was not any shorter. Also, being a stay-at-home dad doesn’t help productivity.
    This was a great post. I already knew about “turing off email, and the phone” but I had stopped doing that. This post was a nice subtle reminder about this effective strategy.
    I am also going to try the 50 minute rule starting…now – and it starts with 50 minutes of playing with my kid. Maybe more!

  38. Thanks for these tips. I usually block off specific time for tasks by turning off all outside influences but I dont’ use a timer. Like that idea. Turning off all distractions is certainly key.
    Kevin

  39. Clinton Skakun says:

    Hey thought I’d leave a comment! You passed this along to me on Twitter the other day. I started trying it and it’s been working really well. This makes you kick excuses and continue working just because you have to.

    You can imagine, school, business, work all takes way too much time. Staying focused is one of the only ways to get stuff done effectively without needing to come back to it.

    This is a great technique and I’m going to use it all the time!

    Have a great one!
    Clinton

  40. I have some desktop software that the same thing as your timer. I input the activities I want to accomplish and during which times I want to accomplish them and the timer keeps track of it. It alerts me when I should start a particular activity and when I should end it and move on to the next one. I’ve found timers to be very helpful at keeping me working quickly because I know I’m under the time gun. : )

  41. Ed Martin says:

    I can certainly attest to the 50 minutes. I stumbled across it when I was working in a factory. I’d rather go for 50 mins and take a short break instead of going for 3 hours and taking a longer break. The idea works well in all kinds of situations. Thanks for pointing it out!

  42. i love when you said ‘I stay micro focused for 50 minutes’ coz it helped me too in a sense that I am on schedule and do the things that need to be done. Time management is key to being successful

  43. Surprisingly! It is like you understand my mind! You seem to know so much about this, just like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with some pics to drive the content home a bit, but other than that, this is informative blog post. A good read. I’ll definitely revisit again.

Trackbacks

  1. Ordinary Folk - Music, An Alien named Gummy and a boatload of rambling. » Blog Archive » A little link love - Week One. says:

    [...] If you scored above an 11 on Kali’s ADD screener, it may help you a little bit to check out Dawud’s article about How to Stay Focused for Greater Productivity. Dawud writes some excellent articles and this one is no exception. [...]

  2. [...] The secret is working with your own cycles. It seems to be a common theme for productivity – Chris talks about his flow time, Dawud describes his 50 minutes bursts, and Ben covers productivity rhythms. This is how I tend to work as well. [...]

  3. [...] Dawud tagged me over at his blog. He has a great post over there on How to Stay Focused For Greater Productivity. In it, he tells how he sets apart 50 minutes daily to focus and execute. [...]

  4. Blogging Productivity & Criticizing Goals | Andy Beard - Niche Marketing says:

    [...] Ben instigated a community writing project on productivity, and Dawud thoughtfully decided to encourage me to get involved, after also giving some great tips on how to be productive and stay focused. [...]

  5. [...] Apparently there is another group writing project going around the blogosphere that actually has some value, and after having been tagged by the MomGadget herself, as well as by Dawud at HealthyWebDesign, I thought it was worth my time and yours, so I've agreed to share some insight! [...]

  6. [...] How To Stay Focused For Greater Productivity by Dawud Miracle [...]

  7. [...] Now, I’m not swearing off memes all together. I will continue to participate in highly useful ones like Ben Yoskovitz’s Ultimate Guide to Productivity. As a matter of fact, my contribution on focus for greater productivity has created a nice bit of conversation. I see these type of memes, like Darren’s monthly writing project, not merely for traffic building. I see them as a community effort to share interesting information and perspectives on a topic. To me, they add valuable and interesting content to my blog. And that can lead to conversation. [...]

  8. Follow The Blue Link Road : iffect.net says:

    [...] I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but of late there appears to be an overload of bloggers discussing and sharing their routines and methods for productivity. Some set a 50 minute timer during their working hours to stay focused, some settle into a state of ‘flow’, and others live strictly to their schedules. [...]

  9. Maximising Productivity. - Blog Rumble says:

    [...] How To Stay Focused For Greater Productivity by Dawud Miracle [...]

  10. [...] Ponn from Empower Women Now – her Business Coach An excellent post from Alister Cameron for Passion and Productivity Blog Rumble – Maximizing Productivity Janet Barclay – Ultimate Guide to Productivity Engtech – 14 Tips to Get More Done in Less Time Reflections on Balance – Work-Life Balance and Productivity Wendy Piersall – Ultimate Guide to Productivity Adam Kayce – How Productivity Comes from Clarity Dawud Miracle – How To Stay Focused For Greater Productivity Tags:ADD ADDS ADHD Adult guide Inattentive Attention Deficit Disorder multi tasking productive productivity project ultimate                 [...]

  11. [...] All of them speak closer to what I feel is being missed in all this – The most useful memes are those that benefit everyone involved and your readers first. Memes aimed at just increasing links and traffic simply don’t add value to my readers. So I’m not going to participate in them any longer. Memes, however, that do add value by being content focused – such as Ben Yoskovitz’s Ultimate Guide to Productivity and Mohit Singhania’s Be Original Project – I will continue to participate in – and have (respectively). [...]

  12. communicatrix » Blog Archive » There’s only one secret to increased productivity says:

    [...] No, seriously, it’s deceptively simple, for it means spending some time identifying what’s tripping me up at any given moment. And yes, it also means I need to reassess from time to time, because my barriers to productivity shift, as well. What trips me up Monday—lack of sleep, say, or needing an injection of Karin H.’s fun after a weekend of too much work and not enough play—may not be the issue on Tuesday, when I’ll about needing to do some of the “sprints” that Dawud Miracle mentions, or Hump Day, when I’d give my right arm for some of Monk-at-Work Adam Kayce’s clarity. [...]

  13. [...] If my little rundown wasn’t enough for you, that’s alright. I am not too insulted… But I’ll tell you what; go read the lists by Andy, Dawud and the Practical Chick. And if that isn’t enough, then check out the full list of participants. And if your thirst for knowledge still isn’t quenched… well… tough cookies; I have nothing left. [...]

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  16. [...] today, I found the post about Writing Project, and found Dawud’s post for the meme entitled How To Stay Focused For Greater Productivity. Looking at both of these posts, I am getting the feel that Dawud is so successful not only because [...]

  17. [...] How To Stay Focused For Greater Productivity – Dawud Miracle @ dmiracle.com – I almost never work on the weekends. And I rarely work in the evening. So, then, how do I manage to remain a thriving solopreneur? How do I get my work done on time and under budget? Simple (mostly) through good productivity practices. (tags: Business Success work) [...]

  18. [...] recently read a great article over at Dawud Miracle’s Blog. He wrote a blog post called How to Stay Focused for Greater Productivity. In his article he gave his most powerful tip for productivity and this is it: “My [...]

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