by Asim Jalis
Here is a technique for getting things done, that I have been
using for some time now. Here are the main elements:
1. Physical Exercise. I know this seems irrelevant to getting
things done, but it has this effect of making me extremely
proactive, and not passive. When I tell my brain or my body to do
something it just does it. In my passive state it analyzes and
perceives and postpones action, which is disastrous for getting
2. 30-Minute Tasks. Here are the main points of this approach:
(a) I break the work day down into 30-minute chunks. I am now in
the 8:00 to 8:30 chunk. I keep them in phase with the hours of
the day to keep the arithmetic easy.
(b) I work on a task for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute
break in which I walk around the building and reflect on what I
did and what I am going to do next.
(c) Every 30 minutes I switch tasks. Usually I have 3 or 4
different things I am working on and I cycle through them every 2
hours. At the end of the day I have put about 2 hours into each
(d) I know all the arguments against task-switching. Context
switching is expensive. You don't get into flow. Etc. These are
all valid. Task-switching still works because there are other
things it enables which more than compensate for the costs.
3. Here are the things task switching enables:
(a) It allows you to do 4 things at the same time. If you get too
engaged with one task then you will only get one thing done at
the end of the day. Frequently, it is important to get more than
one thing done.
(b) It allows the subconscious mind to work on the tasks. I
frequently come up with my best solutions after disengagement. It
lets me step back and prevents me from getting stuck in a rut.
This happens to me so often that I believe that by task-switching
I actually solve problems faster than if I stay engaged.
(c) It forces me to nibble at tasks and take on things that I can
do in 25 minutes or less. I am forced to work faster, to cut
corners. This way I get done. Later I can put more sessions into
a task to improve the quality if I am not satisfied with it. This
approach forces me to iterate.
(d) It allows me to get into new or unpleasant tasks. I don't
want to do bills today. But I don't mind spending 25 minutes on
bills. That's a hard deadline. At the end of the 25 minutes I
force myself to stop.
(e) It prevents me from getting engaged in tasks that can easily
consume the whole day. For example, It is now 8:12. I know I must
wrap up this thought in about 13 minutes.
4. There might be other tweaks and variations on this that make
it work even better.
5. In graduate school I used to work in 45 minute chunks with 15
minute breaks. This worked really well because I was usually
working on at most 2 tasks at once. But now that I have to juggle
4, 5 or more tasks at once, I have split up the time into smaller
6. An interesting experiment would be to split it up even
further, into 10 minute chunks with 5 minutes break.
7. The main reason this works is because disengagement allows the
unconscious mind to solve the problem. It allows me to look at
the problem in a new way. It allows me to see serendipitous
connections and to have insights. If you have experienced this
then this will immediately make sense. Otherwise it will seem
like a ridiculous way to work. The context-switching will look