January 30th, 2013/Productivity/By /

Productivity: TRIPLE Your Productivity With the 30-Minute Method

half-an-hour Most people really underestimate what they can accomplish in 30 minutes with complete focus.

Feeling overwhelmed with too many things on your to do list? Too many days where you feel like you’ve accomplished nothing?

I get asked quite a bit about my productivity systems and how I handle my workload throughout the day. This is a method I stumbled upon a while back, and I’ve adapted it to my own use. The best part is there’s no expensive software needed and it’s extremely simple. Try this out for a week and watch your to do list slowly shrink & your banks account grow.

The 30 Minute Method

Step 1: Gather Your Tasks for the Day

Ideally you already have a task manager where you list everything you need to do. I use Omnifocus.

The first step in the morning or night before is to collect the tasks we want to accomplish for the day. It’s important to create day by day because our priorities frequently change.

If you’re unproductive in general then I recommend keeping it simple by focusing on just 3 tasks. It keeps you from having analysis paralysis from seeing too many tasks and procrastinating. Once you accomplish the 3, then simply add more tasks. I usually do 6+ tasks (I’m a black belt at this stuff), so I’m going use that many in the example.

For the tasks we want to make them specific. Having a task like “Find a job” is bad. We want to break it down into: location 10 potential jobs on monster.com, create cover letters for jobs, submit job applications, etc. I also like starting each task with an action verb.

Here’s an example of a good to do list for the day:

  1. Write Blog Post for 30 minutes (Work)
  2. Upload Facebook ads for Dating offer (Work)
  3. Read for 30 minutes (Personal)
  4. Interview on Elance for Virtual Assistants (Work)
  5. Call Bob to negotiate higher payout on offer (Work)
  6. Book flights & hotels to Asia (Personal)

Next we’re going to organize them into most important tasks. What makes a task important? A combination of how important the task is, and it’s due date. So putting these tasks in order it would look like.

  1. Upload Facebook ads for Dating offer (Work)
  2. Call Bob to negotiate higher payout on offer (Work)
  3. Interview on Elance for Virtual Assistants (Work)
  4. Write Blog Post for 30 minutes (Work)
  5. Book flights & hotels to Asia (Personal)
  6. Read for 30 minutes (Personal)

Step 2: Track Your Progress

30 Minute Method

Now we’re going to break our workday into 30 minute increments, and track what we actually accomplish in each block of time. I keep it simple by using a spreadsheet.

I create a sample sheet in Google docs here so you can take a look. Just copy & paste it into your own spreadsheet software.

Productivity Tracker

I love working in 30 minute blocks because there’s a built in Pomodoro timer. The first 25 minutes of each block I’m working, and the last 5 minutes I’ll take a small break. Every 4 work sessions, I’ll take a 30 minute break to relax.

I make one file for each month (Jan_13_Worklog), and I’ll make a separate tab for each day.

Step 3: Reflection

At the end of each day I like to look at my log and see how I did. Did I take too many breaks? Did I take enough breaks? What is one thing I can do to improve for tomorrow? Don’t worry if your workday isn’t what you want it to be. The idea is to improve each day until you get there.

I also like to give myself a score on my productivity: either a 1, 3, or 5. Too many 1’s and 3’s lets me know I need to make changes.

Why I Love This Method

  • Momentum – When I’m completing tasks and logging them, I feel good. It’s a shot of good dopamine and makes me want to accomplish more.
  • I Value Time More – By consistently working in 25 minutes, I understand how much work I’m capable of. I rarely waste time anymore knowing the value of 30 minutes. It’s easy for someone to check Reddit or another time wasting website for a few minutes, and it somehow turns into hours. Imagine writing 10:00 am – Reddit, 10:30am – Reddit, 11:00am – Reddit…I would feel like shit and want to switch gears.
  • A Database of work – Do you know what you did 5 Mondays ago? I can look at my Excel sheets and know exactly what I was doing that day.

Important Concepts

  • Be honest with yourself –  If you wasted 8 hours on Facebook today, write it down. The first step in improving is to be aware that there is an issue instead of being in self-denial.
  • Focus on Progress – You just tracked your first day and discovered you only did 2 hours of focused work? That’s fine! Tomorrow try to do 2.5 hours of work. Self-discipline is a muscle that gets built slowly. If you’re new to bodybuilding you probably shouldn’t try to do Arnold’s old workouts immediately.
  • Be Consistent – Track everyday. You will be amazed at how different day 1 and day 60 look.

Back to work for me, this article took quite a few 30 minute excel cells to write.