Can you measure what you do 4 times a day?

I’m writing this post on a timer. I am doing this as part of a practice suggested by Jason Womack in “Your Best Just got Better” – the basic idea is to measure what you do so that you can improve your ability to use the time that you have effectively. The other, overarching idea is to really focus on what you are doing so that even under duress you can get your most important things done and not get distracted by “what just happens.”

I think this idea has really good applicability to our “everyday work lives.” Think about it for a moment – how many times during the day do you stop what you’re doing – just to check email – and then return to what you were doing (answering a question, talking to a customer, or just not “doing” anything). Yes, I know – you say – I’ve read all of the studies (or at least skimmed the RSS feeds or tweets about them ) that demonstrate that breaking your flow of conversation can rob you of at least 15 minutes and perhaps up to 3 hours (three hours!) of productive work. So how do you actually do it?

My personal commitment is to try Jason’s method of using a timer to measure 15 minute blocks – you only have about 96 of them in a day, not including sleep – and to time 4 of me a day to start, to really measure what I am doing (the how I am doing it will naturally follow, I think.) This is really easy with a finite task (answering all of the customer questions in my queue) and much harder with a less well-defined problem.

Do I know what will happen with this practice? Nope. At first (and while writing this post) it seems a little strange, like using muscles I haven’t tried to use in a while. Over time, I’m hoping that it will better able me to use the blocks of time that I have (wherever I have them) to get more done in the time when I am working’ and remind me to use more blocks of time on the key things I want to get done (which also include sleep, exercise, and family time.)

What I do know so far is that using the timer as the boundary is sort of great. It frees me up to write without worrying about writing the perfect sentence and instead focusing upon the heartfelt one. It gives me the idea that a finite task is that – just finite – and that trying to focus until the end of the task before checking email may seem hard (I am addicted to email, after all) but that a bit of focus strung together will deliver a lot more focus over time. And how am I doing? In the 15:00 of the timer, I’ve had the time to read over this piece twice, write what was on my mind, and to feel quite mindful about doing it. Thanks Jason. (Cue alarm.)

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