Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

The Counter-Intuitive Benefits of Small Time Blocks

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?

More insights on: Motivation, Time Management

Elizabeth Grace Saunders

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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. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at www.ScheduleMakeover.com.
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