In a recent article Steve Slaunwhite - an award-winning copywriter and author of The Everything Guide to Writing Copy (Adams Media) and Start & Run a Copywriting Business (Self-Counsel Press) explained how he uses the 50-minute focus technique in order to get more done in less time. He writes this about the technique:
“This technique, developed by my friend and marketing guru Dean Jackson, is called the 50-minute focus. You simply select a project you want (or need) to work on, get a timer and set it for 50 minutes, then work on that project intently for that period of time. You don't check email. You don't take a break. You don't let your mind wander to the BBQ plans you have for the weekend. You're totally immersed.
When the timer goes off, the "meeting" is over. You then completely unplug from the project for 20 minutes.
You can use those 20 minutes to take a break or get some minor tasks done (not related to your project) such as returning a phone call or sending an email.
Then, assuming you still plan to keep working, do another 50-minute focus.”
As a journalist, you have to learn to write under deadlines. When I wrote for a daily newspaper, if you didn’t have your copy into the Editor by the 11:00 p.m. bell, then your article didn’t run the next day. Rules were rules.
When I transitioned to a more flexible writing schedule “Have a 1,700 word article back to me in 2 weeks” I had to learn how to self-enforce my writing deadlines. Waiting until the last day to do the writing might have gotten the job done but it wasn’t going to be done well.
The problem is that when you are a journalist, you tend to get a lot of interruptions. People want to send you information, they want to talk to you, and they have great ideas that will just take up a “tiny” bit of your time. All of this is important to the job but if it’s not corralled, it can easily suck up all of your work time.
I had to figure out a fool-proof method of time management and that’s when I discovered the usefulness of timers. I’d make a schedule of 30-60 minute time slots on which to work on articles and then put that timer to use. During those periods I’d focus only on my writing (absolutely no interruptions) and more likely than not be able to bang out a first draft. Later in the day, I’d set it again and do another draft, or edit, or work on another project.
Since then I have always had a timer on my desk. I still use it almost daily to manage my time (30 minutes to read and reply to email) and I also use it as incentive (let’s see how many words I can write in 25 minutes). You don’t need to set it for 50 minutes for it to be effective, even a 10 minute dedicated time block can be worthwhile. It’s the resulting focused effort that is the prize.