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50 minute work segments: my key to maximum productivity

50 minute work segments: my key to maximum productivity

What do I do when I really need to get things done? I get things done. How? Through 50 minute work segments.

I’m always entertained by the countless applications and ‘hacks’ geared to accomplishing more in a workday, because for me, it’s simple. If I need to write, then…I write. If I need to plan, then…I plan. If I need to figure something out…I figure it out. And the way I guarantee my own focus and productivity is by working without interruption or distraction for 50 minutes at a time.

Here’s what my 50 minute work segments look like:

  • Choose a priority task (usually copywriting) that must be tackled.
  • Set a timer (on my phone) for 50 minutes.
  • Start working on that task and only that task until the timer goes off.
  • Stop working and take a break when I hear the timer.

I’m not sure where I picked up the 50-minute length, but I know it was in my early days of self-employment, back in 2008. It’s no doubt inspired by the pomodoro technique, but frankly, 25 minutes is not long enough for me and I’m often just getting into a groove at that point. Sometimes, the last 20 minutes are a bit of a push, but a push toward producing even more, which is very satisfying and well worth it.

50 minute work segment rules

During the 50 minutes, until the timer has gone off, no distractions are allowed:

  • No looking at email
  • No social media (unless the work is pre-writing or scheduling updates)
  • No answering the phone
  • If web searches are necessary to complete the task, no getting carried away on a tangent or getting enticed by a fun distraction

It couldn’t be simpler, but I’m often amazed at just how much progress I can make during one of these segments, especially when it comes to writing.

Scheduling 50 minute work segments

I start virtually every day with a 50 minute segment before opening up email, checking in on social media or allowing any other distractions to start creeping in. It’s an amazing way to ensure a fruitful start and often creates momentum that carries me through the rest of the day. Depending on my workload and other commitments or scheduling, I’ll fit in anywhere from three to five of these segments per day.

Will you try 50 minute segments?

I realize that I have the luxury of a quiet home office. Would 50 minute segments work for you? When I worked inside a busy nonprofit, I used a similar approach, taking my work into a meeting room.

Will 50 minute work segments give you the productivity boost you need? How might you put these segments to work (booking a work from home day, a note on the door if you have one, working in a coffee shop, etc.)? Please share in the comments.

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Posted November 19, 2014 / Filed under Productivity / 9 Comments
  • I’m using the Pomodoro Technique, but I’ve always thought the 25-minute segments were too short too. I’m going to try your lengthier one.

    • Do it and let me know how it goes! I have to admit: I do take longer breaks (20+ minutes) between my segments than prescribed by the pomodoro technique.

  • bethkanter

    Thanks for your contribution to the nonprofit blog carnival – excellent post http://www.bethkanter.org/productivity-carnival/

  • Peggy Myatt

    My issue is in the world of cubicles. How to keep people from just dropping in and taking you off your 50 minute work load?? Any suggestions? Peggy

    • Peggy, that IS a challenge! It’s one that I’ve been blissfully free from for seven years, but was once VERY familiar with. Would you be able to work from a meeting room for your 50 minute segment? Or work from home for a day or morning when you really want to do this? Other tactics I’ve used when desperate: sign on the back of my chair, earbuds in with no music (for some reason, people are more courteous about interruptions even if they just think you’re listening to music)!

      • Peggy Myatt

        Good points…Might try warning tape next time. I have tried music buds but still get interrupted. A sign might work, but meeting rooms are hard to come by in our office.

        • Haha! Love the warning tape (and wondering what it would say…)

          • Maybe tape an outline around your cubicle where walls should be and make people knock, like Les Nessman did on WKRP??