Micro-timeboxing my tangents has quadzupled my productivity.

I’m in the zone. I’m laser focused on the top item on the next actions list of the highest priority project in my current context. Then it happens. The tangent.

  • I’m diving deeper than I should.
  • I’m polishing more than I should.
  • I see how this could really help that.
  • I see a shiny new thing.
  • I should write about that.

And the list goes on. I feel this welling of guilt as I just can’t help myself from straying off course. “This really will help me in the long run.” I tell myself, every time. But in the long run, all those tangents add up to not reaching goals.

Then the night came that to I was determined to finish that one project that was so important to me — to my very core. I had made every preparation to avoid distraction. I had alerts and notifications muted. I had my hyper-focus playlist playing in my drown-everything-else-out headphones. I had showered. I had eaten. My home office was clean and just the right temperature. I had coordinated the timing with my wife. It was the weekend and I knew no one would be emailing, let alone calling, about anything else important. And I was absolutely certain that making that minimum-viable proof-of-concept was my number one priority at that point in history.

Then it happened. The most brilliant idea came to mind about how I could really put the proof in that MVP, by being just a little less minimal. Innocent enough right? I really had to ask myself. Was it okay? Would everything be lost? Not being nagged by something is good for focus, right?

Determined, I came up with an idea. I would give myself the affordance, but at a fixed price tag. How much was this tangent worth to my actual goals, at that particular moment, when put in perspective? Twenty minutes, I decided. I started a timer and dove in.

Twenty minutes of bliss, and worth every second.

I returned to my outlined MVP without changing pace. No needing to stop and re-evaluate.

That night I did this two other times — one five minute micro-timebox, one 45 minutes. At the end of the few hours I had allotted for this work I felt like a kung-fu master of my focus. Had I ever been so productive? Yet I had taken three tangents. I had found a new way to keep my mind like water.

With 3:45 minutes to spare.

My timer has a new function and prominence in my life, and I’ve never been so productive. I have 10 minutes now to finish up this story, or else I’ll save the rest for later. Perfect. That’s just enough time to read back through it, edit a little, and create a new productivity publication to add it to. But will keep me from going so far as to add that forwarder to my gtd.zone domain name.


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