Goodbye Distraction, Hello Perfect 15-Minute Day

Has this ever happened to you? You sit down to work, hear your email ping and open it, and poof — a half-hour is lost to the virtual realm. The lost time is bad enough, but the additional cost of forgetting what it was that you were working on makes the whole ordeal terribly inconvenient. This process is so common in the modern day workplace that scientists have given it a name — prospective memory. A study published in the American Psychological Association found that people forgot what they are supposed to be doing only 8% of the time in standard conditions, but when distracted, people forget their intended task up to 40% of the time. This means that, while we may have the very best of intentions for our work, if we become distracted from these thoughts, we might not return to them until much later. If we set such high expectations for our work day, why do we continue to let minor distractions derail us? This short video depicts what our interrupted life might look like:

In this age of digital distraction, it is more important than ever to back up our good intentions with external signals. For this I use a notebook journal. When I work I use it to record whatever task I am currently working on. Realistically, distractions cannot be avoided in the 21st century, so I don’t avoid them. Instead, I record them. These include people, thoughts, and emotions, too. If a distraction is important enough to warrant my attention, I don’t resist it, but spend time on it. For example, if an intern needs some feedback, I will record that in my journal and step away from my work. When I return to my desk, my journal will remind me what I had been working on before I got called away.

Specifically, I record my current tasks on a page that I dub the NOW page. Each task is tagged with a NOW tag, so I know exactly what I am working on this moment. And, if I am derailed by a distraction, I know exactly where to return. If the task is complex and/or involves multiple steps I will also break it down into smaller steps, record these in my journal, and check the steps off as I go. I call this creating a MicroPlan™. With the MicroPlan™ I know exactly where I am in my progress, and when I return to the task after an interruption I can avoid having to retrace or repeating steps.

I call this method for boosting focus and productivity the Perfect 15-Minute Day Method, or PDM for short. I’ve begun sharing it with other professionals, and the response has been amazingly positive. Over one hundred people have tried the Perfect 15-Minute Day Method and have sent me their impressions. One user says that the method gives them “a sense of calm and control”, while another user says, “[The method] helped me prioritize and focus on the things I really wanted to get done.”

I am thrilled that so many people are benefitting from the method and using it to reclaim their work day and I want to share it with all my readers. All you need is a journal, a timer, and the method. When you start to work on your next task, write down the tag NOW followed by the name of your task and set your timer for 15 minutes. Stay fully focused on this one task for 15 minutes. When 15 minutes are up, you can decide to continue for another 15 minute increment, or switch to a new task. If you are interrupted by an important issue that requires your immediate attention, note it down and take care of the interruption. Then when you are able to resume your previous task, check your notebook to remind yourself exactly where you left off. No longer will distractions be a hindrance to your productivity. The PDM is a simple yet effective way to manage the daily distractions of our work.

Stay tuned for more tags and more techniques related to PDM in my upcoming article. These include methods for managing more internal interruptions, like thoughts and emotions, and how to effectively manage your inbox. Meanwhile, let me know how it goes in the comments below!

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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