Productivity begins with you. Once you’ve made the decision to be more productive, you’ll be a lot happier with your job, your life and yourself in general. That’s what many business gurus believe, ChooseWhat Research Analyst Adam Malden included. For Adam, personal productivity had been dismal until the day he, then a college student at the University of Texas at Austin, discovered the secret that would change everything for the better: (10+2)*5.
What is (10+2)*5? Simply put, it represents an hour of time in your workday. As the rule goes, for every 10 minutes of work you do, you should take a two-minute break afterwards. Repeat the process five times, and you’ll find yourself at the end of the most productive hour you’ve ever spent working (or studying, in Adam’s case). That’s the theory detailed by Merlin Mann at 43Folders.com, and Adam swears by it.
“This method can apply to any project or task at hand, and anyone, including employees and business owners, can use it effectively,” says Adam. But, in order for the trick to work and for productivity to increase, he admits that the person using it has to be in the right mindset. “You have to understand why you’re doing it,” he says.
To make the most out of (10+2)*5, he recommends keeping the following in mind:
Anyone can and should increase their productivity.
Much ado has been made over the years about the steady decline in workplace productivity, due to the advent of the internet, social media sites, plugins, widgets, apps, etc. It’s a growing problem that larger companies have to face all the time and that forces them to block their employees from accessing certain sites (and even Gmail).
“Fortunately, we don’t have to do that here,” says Adam. “Small businesses like us have the benefit of having a relatively small number of employees to manage, and the bosses are able to spend more time with employees.”
As a direct result, small business owners are able to separate the wheat from the chaff much more easily and weed out unproductive, uninterested workers. But a problem arises when a group of eager, autonomous small business employees are left to their own devices and given the space to work on individual projects and tasks. Everyone has succumbed at one time or another to procrastination, Adam surmises, especially when faced with a long list of to-dos.
“You might consider yourself a responsible, focused worker, but you know that sometimes sitting down for two hours and forcing yourself to plow through a large, complicated project just doesn’t work,” he says. “That’s when you need to stop and take a break.”
He says that once you realize you’re slipping into procrastination mode, you should be proactive about increasing your personal productivity. The beauty of (10+2)*5 is that it helps you hold yourself accountable when no one else is there to rebuke you. “It’s a tool that helps you get where you want to be,” he admits.
“Goofing off” is good for you.
“Goofing off” isn’t just OK; it’s necessary. The reason why we crave the breaks, he says, is that we’re most likely on the verge of a burnout, which, in turn, becomes the catalyst for procrastination. It’s a vicious cycle of giving 150% of yourself to the task at hand, followed by a period of procrastination, followed by a race to finish another mountain of work before an impending deadline.
Rather than experience sporadic bursts of productivity, we should instead maintain a steady flow of productivity that results in an overall productivity increase. As a small reward for accomplishing something, the breaks give you the motivation to forge on with the work—at first.
The mind hack: You actually don’t want to take breaks.
Adam says that when he started applying the Procrastination Hack, he wasn’t immediately able to commit to a full 10 minutes of uninterrupted work. But the two-minute break at the end made him look forward to finishing. As time went on, the more work he did during the 10-minute intervals, the more accomplished he felt. Eventually, stopping every 10 minutes to take a break becomes annoying. According to Merlin Mann, the breaks are meant to happen less frequently as you become more productive.
You realize that you no longer want to take breaks at the point when the feeling of pride an accomplishment derived from the 10-minute work intervals surpasses your need to goof off.
Set your own rules; follow your own rules.
Adam admits that (10+2)*5 might not be for everybody, but he implores people to at least try it. He also suggests modifying the numbers to find what works best for you. For example, ChooseWhat.com SEM Analyst Koby Wong has modified (10+2)*5 to come up with his personal 50+5 method. He works for 50 minutes, and then takes a five to 10-minute break.
The most important thing to remember is that you’re using the Procrastination Hack to move your brain out of the inert state it’s in, so that you’ll want to become more productive. You can use whatever method works best to help you achieve that goal. You may even want to go beyond just the timing aspect and set rules that specify how often you can look at Facebook or Twitter per day or how often you can check Gmail. Maybe you want to force yourself to spend at least one of your breaks stepping outside the office and getting some fresh air.
One thing you can do that I’ve found helpful is to disable or log out of your plugins and RSS feeds and reduce the number of pop-ups, alerts and other interruptions that hinder productivity. Attempt to silence the noise and chatter that takes you out of a productive state of mind. (Merlin Mann wrote the (10+2)*5 Procrastination Hack in 2005, and Facebook was launched in 2004. I’m not sure if he was aware of the problems it would cause or could predict them at the time. But I’m sure if he did, he would have advised something similar.)
Tools Designed for (10+2)*5
The following tools were designed to help people apply the Procrastination Hack written by Merlin Mann:
- Instant Boss: a timer application for Windows only
- (10+2)5 widget: a simple timer application for the Mac OS X Dashboard
- (10+2)x5 Procrastination Hack: an iPhone application