“Where did the day go?”

It’s happened again.

You started work today with the absolute best of intentions. “I’m going to be really productive today,” you thought. You may even have jotted down a detailed to-do list, and looked forward to knocking each item off with a pen stroke until you conquered them all like some mythical knight.

But reality intruded upon your day. This person called, that person left an email, there’s a meeting later on, etc. You figure, “Well, before I dig into what I really want to do, I’ll just take care of a few of these and get them out of the way.”

Before you know it, the calls have gone long, sometimes drifting into unproductive conversation, and your intended five or ten minutes answering emails has turned into an hour or more. And what is that interesting link to a website someone sent you?  “Hey, might as well check my favorite news sites wile I’m here.” “Maybe I’ll just take a second and see what interesting videos have shown up on YouTube.” “I may as well take a quick peek at Facebook. Then I’ll jump full bore into work.”

Just like magic, POOF! The day is gone. What’s worse, you hate yourself for not getting as much done as you wanted to. It is deceptively easy to find yourself caught in this daily loop. Like wringing out a dishrag, you wish you could somehow squeeze more hours out of your clock.

The common mistake we all make is shoving everything in our day into a big funnel stamped “Work.” In reality, it’s not all truly work – like spending half the day answering emails. That is not a proactive activity; it is a reactive activity. Let’s explain:

Most “work” falls into one of two categories.

Proactive work is that which is actually moving your personal goals forward, like creating a website, writing a report, composing a press release, etc.

Reactive work advances someone else’s goals. You are reacting to their goals by having to make calls, compose response emails, send attachments, etc. It is anything that is distracting you from accomplishing your goals.

The rest, like peeking at Facebook or surfing the net is time wasting (but, on some level, you already know this).

So the key here is not letting the reactive work pull you from your proactive work.

Here’s How to Do It


First, make a list of your proactive work, and make a separate column for your reactive work.

Now, let’s implement “The 50 Minute Rule.”

Choose one and only one proactive chore. Now, for the next 50 minutes, you are going to work as hard as you can on that one chore. It’s helpful if you have a timer like a desktop app that you can set with an alarm. I myself find that using an ordinary cheap kitchen timer is the best (you can get these at any supermarket).

Stay on task until the timer rings. You’ll be amazed at how much you actually get done in those 50 minutes. The beauty of this system is that doing 50 minutes instead of an hour tricks your brain into refraining from thinking about the time, which is an enormous source of wasted mental energy (ironic, huh?).

Now, to positively reinforce the technique, once you’re finished with your 50 minute work session take 5 minutes or so to look back at what you were able to do. Feel the sense of accomplishment. Treat yourself to a soda or coffee, take a walk over to the window and look at the sun outside, do any small thing that will create a sense of joy – this will, over time, help you stay on task and look forward to your 50-minute work segments.

Next, to “cleanse” your mind, don’t jump right into another 50-minute chunk. Rather, take 20 minutes to do some of the reactive work, like email. But once that 20-minute period is done, it’s done. Prepare to re-establish the 50-minute rule on your next item.

Experts say it takes 21 days of repeating an action to make it a habit. So use the 50 minute rule whenever possible, and then let yourself be amazed and joyful at your new level of productivity.

Your formerly strangled clock will thank you!

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