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Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco


The Counter-Intuitive Benefits of Small Time Blocks

Let's face it, the interruptions aren't going to end. A look at how to let go of the "perfect moment" mentality and take advantage of small windows of time.

It’s a common assertion that doing hard, creative work requires long stretches of concentrated attention. And if you have the luxury of big, open blocks of time, it is a great way to get things done. But what if you don’t? What if you get interrupted left and right by clients and co-workers? Is there a way to push creative projects forward in this non-optimal environment?I would argue that it IS possible. And not only is it possible, but – in certain ways – as good as or better than waiting for the “perfect” block of time to arrive. Why? Because resisting starting until the ever-elusive perfect moment often leads to extended procrastination. You never have as much time as you’d like to really “settle into” the work so you just keep putting it off – creating a vicious cycle of over-ambitious goals and little-to-no progress.If this sounds uncomfortably familiar to you, it may be time to own up to the realities of your schedule and consider a different approach.This “Short & Sweet” process developed in collaboration with one of my time coaching clients shows you how to invest the often-overlooked bits of time into your day in meaningful progress on creative projects.

Here’s how it works:

  • Write down all possible next steps involved in completing the project without worrying about whether the list is complete or in order. You don’t have to “think of everything” or make the “ideal plan.”
  • Schedule in just 15-30 minutes to move forward on the project. The point is to set aside a short enough block of time that you can commit to it without feelings of anxiety or hesitation about your ability to follow through. (Think baby steps.)
  • During that designated time, take action toward your goal by choosing to make progress on one or more of the steps you brainstormed. Don’t aim too high. Just tackle a small amount of work that you know you can actually complete in that time window.
  • At the end of the time, write down any new steps you discovered on your master list and schedule the next specific day and time when you will move forward on the project.
  • Repeat as needed, which may mean for the entire project or may just mean for the very initial messy stages when making a comprehensive plan or setting aside huge amounts of time to move forward is impossible or fills you with dread.

Now, some of you may be wondering: “Will I really get results when I work in these tiny chunks of time? Is it possible to really ‘get in the zone’?”

The short answer is: Any action is almost always better than none. But there are a number of reasons why working in small chunks might not only be practical, but also preferable for you:

  • Reduces build-up energy. If you haven’t made progress on a project for weeks, months or even years, even five minutes of forward movement is an improvement. You can choose to spend longer periods of time on a project, but the Short & Sweet method makes it excruciatingly easy both emotionally and mentally to break through the inertia.
  • Makes you like yourself & your project again. When you won’t work on a project until the “ideal” moment, you begin to feel a massive weight of guilt and shame that makes you not even want to think about the project that once brought you great joy. Taking small steps forward will help you to feel successful and renew your positive associations with the entire process.
  • Gives you time to get help. One of the scary parts of beginning a creative endeavor, especially with a new technology or a new client, is that you aren’t quite sure of the total scope of the work. By starting early and starting often, you have time to ask for help, get feedback, make edits or even request a timeline extension before it’s too late for you to do so without embarrassment.
  • Allows you to unleash your brilliance. As Fred Wilson so beautifully describes in his post on subconscious information processing, as soon as you give your mind a problem to solve, it starts working day and night on the project. By using short bits of time to move forward, particularly in the initial brainstorming phase, you give yourself a greater opportunity to unleash your genius than you could have done in a long single spurt.

Over to You…
Do you tend to do nothing unless you can get everything done at once? How have you learned to use short bits of time effectively?

Elizabeth Grace Saunders

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress and How to Invest Your Time Like Money. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at

Comments (52)
  • G.Crisci

    Elizabeth, you are a master of recognition, consciousness and comunication, my compliments!

  • Στυλιανή Βαρβάρα+

    While creatively working do not watch time but let time watch you cover your work which in no time can be destroyed, never recovered but better rebuilt face unpredictability!++++***&***++++

  • CAREhER | 妳真的沒有那麼忙-發揮最大時間價值的祕訣是「善用大石頭與小沙子」

    […] 零碎時間不僅能處理例行瑣事,把握幾個「短暫而美好(short and sweet)」的時段,也有助完成大型計劃。創辦時間管理顧問公司 real life 的 Elizabeth Grace Saunders 認為,與其期待高度專注、長時間不被打擾的「完美工作時間」,不如立刻展開行動:先寫下所有可能完成專案的「下一步」行動計畫;再利用每次 15~30 分鐘的間隔時間(block of time)推進,完成這些行動計畫中的一步或幾步;在每次間隔時間結束前,重新審視是否有新發現的「下一步」,並重複這樣的循環過程。Saunders 強調,即使只往前一小步,都強過原地不動,且及早開始,才能在過程中有較充裕的時間解決問題、調整方向,或者對外求援。 […]

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