The 10-Minute/2-Hour Strategy
Today for a tip on how to tackle multi-day projects without feeling like you “accomplished nothing” at the end of your workday!
Many of my current work projects require a fair bit of writing and design work that takes a few days and sometimes longer to complete. This was even more the case when I was writing a dissertation. At that time, work tasks could take years, literally.
Grad-school-era Lindsay, trying to feel like I actually accomplished things each day.
When working on big tasks, I’ve always found the final third of my work day to be a difficult time. Even if I’ve worked my tail off on the big project for hours in a row, if I get to the end of the day and am unable to cross anything off my to do list, I start feeling anxious and stressed out. Working from home can exacerbate this problem because no one watches you working all day and you spend your entire day trudging through a task that’s still not finished by 5 pm, then there’s no evidence at all that you accomplished anything at all!
However, nearly the entire time I was working on my dissertation, I worked secondary jobs that had much quicker deadlines. That meant that I was constantly negotiating between very lengthy tasks and typically much smaller work assignments. It was during that time that I developed my “10 minute/2 hour strategy” to ensure that no matter what I’d be able to cross things off my list at the end of the day and avoid feeling stressed at 4 pm. This has been, for a long time, my way to trick my brain into feeling less blah at the end of a workday.
So here’s the routine: I call it the 10 minute / 2 hour routine, and it has helped me complete my to do list, curtail procrastination, and generally make more time for creative projects during the day.
Whenever I start my work for the day, I begin by spending about 10 minutes doing as many small tasks as I possibly can. These days, short tasks include things like sending emails, writing thank you notes, doing data entry, and prepping for phone calls. Back in my previous work situation, this might have included making a catering order, scheduling event flyers to be sent, emailing students, and doing a few pages of editorial work. (I worked a lot of different jobs). I usually do these tasks semi-randomly: the goal is simply to get a bunch of things done in a short space of time.
After those minutes elapse, I select the biggest, most challenging task from my urgent list. Then I spend a dedicated period of time focused on that task. Two hours into this task, I switch back to another 10-minute period to accomplish a bunch of short tasks. What this adds up to, at the end of the day, is typically some amount of progress on your most urgent major task and a whole bunch of minor things crossed off the list. For me, this allows me to sleep at night without having a Rolodex of to-dos streaming through my head.
I’ll also add that this technique has also, for me, cut my procrastination time way, way down for two reasons:
I go into each day knowing that I’m requiring myself to spend a chunk of time working on a big, urgent task, and I am therefore more likely to just dive in.
I set a time limit for doing short tasks, which helps me avoid “wasting” time overthinking things that don’t matter (like exact wording in routine emails – just be nice, folks. That’s really what matters!)
Of course, with a baby at home, the 10-minute/2-hour strategy looks slightly, though not significantly different. More on that soon.
Spending hours reading this story in order to add an extra paragraph to a book-length work is an example of task that can make you feel blah at 4 pm.