Thursday, May 20, 2010

Harnessing the Power of Procrastination

One of the things that I do to unwind and spend a little time to make my brain think on other things is I download podcasts. I have somewhere around 200 hours of podcasts on my Zen, and one that I return to over and over is Merlin Mann’s 43 Folder’s interview with David Allen (of “Getting Things Done” fame). During their interview sessions, I found David’s advice regarding procrastination to be very revealing. David tells Merlin what he does when he is procrastinating; he creates other projects to do that require attention, but don’t get to the heart of what he really should be doing. His explanation for this is that, if he does find that he is procrastinating, at least he is procrastinating productively.

I realize now why I find myself listening to this particular podcast over and over… I am a serial procrastinator. I don’t particularly want to be, but sometimes I just find it hard to get into that flow that I want so badly to get into. As I mentioned in a previous entry, my mind tends to want to wander, and while I find it helpful at times to let it do just that, there are other times where I just have to stop what I’m doing (or not doing) and get back into the rhythm of what I need to be doing.

To this end, again, I owe a debt of gratitude once again to Merlin Mann for talking about something that really does work for me if I allow myself to dive into it. It’s what he calls “Procrastination Hack (10+2)*5" or otherwise known as “work the dash and take the break”. Here’s how it works. Get a kitchen timer, or you can use your computer and use Outlook or some other time tracking tools. Whatever it takes, just get something where you can reliably measure off 10 minutes of your time. During those 10 minutes, focus your attention like a laser on the task at hand. Commit to removing any and all distractions that will take you away from your purpose for those 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, set it for two minutes, and take a break from that task. Whatever it is, focus on something else, but only for those two minutes. When the alarm goes off again, set the timer for 10 minutes again, and go back to that laser focus. Repeat this process 5 times. At the end of that 5th cycle, at the top of the hour (or your hour, whenever you started this) start the (10+2)*5 process again.

This may sound trite and silly, but for those who have challenges with keeping focused on less than pleasant tasks, whatever they may be, this is a great method to get more done than you might otherwise. Give it a shot and if it works for you, head over to and tell Merlin how much he rocks (it’s his idea after all, I just really like using it :) ).


Geir Gulbrandsen said...

Hi Michael,
you might enjoy checking out Francesco Cirillo's Pomodoro Technique. It seems to be variant of that "Procrastination Hack". I currently reading Staffan Nöteberg's book: Pomodoro Technique Illustraded and finding it interesting so far.


Michael Larsen said...

Geir, thanks fot the comment and the book recommendations. I will definitely check them out :).