50 minute work segments: my key to maximum productivity

Nov 19, 2014

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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