Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The 20 minute problem

With the semester rapidly approaching it's time for me to start thinking about ways to address one of the biggest issues I ran into last year: the problem of what to do with 20 minutes. If you Google "20 minutes" you'll get millions of ways to improve your live in 20 minutes. I can workout, get a tan, sculpt my abs, make a million dollars at home - all in 20 minutes a day. But what I can't seem to come up with a good solution for is utilizing 20 minute chunks of time at work.

It's a bigger problem than I thought it would be and not one I really had to deal with on this scale prior to PIing. Unless I specifically block out time to do a task, where I clear the decks and close my door, much of my time to do my own work ends up being in short pieces between other obligations. 20 minutes between a meeting and a class, 30 minutes between talking with my students and going to pick up my daughter, 15 minutes between writing an incredibly entertaining blog post and saving the world while curing cancer and ending world hunger.... You get the idea.

Without a plan to do something during those small time slots, my day rapidly gets chewed up and I go home feeling like I didn't accomplish enough and I need to work after dinner. I try to keep the frequency of this to a minimum, so being efficient with the 20 minute problem is the best way I can see to maximize my time at work. I have enough writing on my plate right now, that I think my plan will have to be to tack;e small pieces of writing during those times. Usually I don't write this way at all, but if I can take it one paragraph at a time (outside of my morning writing time), it will probably get done faster than if I insist on using only hour+ time periods. I don't know how it will work, but my bet is that the more I try to do it, the better I'll get at it.


  1. 20 minutes could be a good lit search time chunk--especially if you do it through the Endnote Pubmed search window so you can just drag anything that looks relevant into a library and go back and look at it later...

    Or, like you say: a "force myself to write a paragraph" time. You can go back and refine afterwards in longer timeframes, but just banging something out for all your 20,000 words will probably make you feel like more progress is happening. (and the psychology of that stuff is half the battle)

  2. Its more than enough time to scold the grad students and may be a nice way to take the edge off the day. Seriously though, maybe read over and do a quick edit of what you have written in that 20 minute time period.

  3. I keep a "quick list" - stuff I have to do, that I can in a under 20 minutes. Return a phone call, answer an email or two that I expect to take more than a line or two, but that I shouldn't spend an eternity on, eat lunch (!)...

  4. That's not a bad idea. I'll make the list in the first 20 minute block I have. And it takes you a whole 20 minutes to eat lunch :)

  5. I call them scrap times (like food scraps) and usually just waste them browsing. But since I read this post I've been jotting down things on a "20 min or less" list. So far I have bought air tickets, pricelined hotels and moved my blog. Thanks for the idea.