Seven-Minute Egg Timer Method

Earlier this month I saw this 99U post about beating procrastination by working for five minutes — and no more. And it reminded me about the piece (below), which I wrote several years ago. 

Yesterday I came across some materials from my time at Noah’s Bagels (back in the glory days of Noah’s in the mid-‘90s, before I got into the internet biz). It was a piece of Franklin Covey material about project management that described how the brain works best in five- to seven-minute intense bursts.

Now, I can’t vouch for the neurobiology in these claims. It could be as valid as the thing about how if you swallow gum, it takes seven years to digest, or that if you eat pop rocks and drink soda, you’ll explode.

But let’s assume it’s true.

systems-thinking1Henry Ford once said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”

It sounds like a sarcastic comment about the intelligence of most people, but in fact, it’s not. It’s sarcastic about the laziness of most people. It takes real effort and strain to focus your mind on a problem for a long stretch. It takes discipline not to simply drift through a workday handling whatever trivia comes up rather than taking charge of your personal agenda and getting the right things done.

Personally, I know I’m most productive when I set aside 45 to 60 minutes to work on my biggest, most valuable issues by pacing up and down in front of my white board and scribbling down notes. Often times, I find I can either resolve some decision or come up with a solution to a problem or identify some important opportunity in one of these “thought sessions.”

There’s an issue that I’ve been trying to get some clarity on for a week or so now. So I decided to get a countdown timer and try this Egg Timer Method. I set aside the seven minutes and just wrote my thoughts on my whiteboard as they came to me. I alternated between seven minutes of intense focus and note taking with a few minutes of relaxing and regrouping my thoughts. But during the seven minutes — total and complete focus. It’s easy to let your mind drift when you’re in a meeting with yourself, but if a seven-minute timer is running, you can maintain focus.

At the end of the seven minutes, I had discovered an angle on the problem that was completely new. I hadn’t solved it — lots more to solve, but I did discover that I had missed a whole way of looking at this problem because I’d simply been thinking too conventionally.

In fact, I had set aside just 30 minutes to think about this issue, but the initial direction my seven minutes of concentration took me gave me so much more to think about that I stayed on it for closer to 90 minutes.

I recommend you try it and see where it takes you.

BTW, I didn’t actually get an egg timer. I realized that my iPhone doubles as an excellent countdown timer.

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