When I was younger and did not yet have a family, it was a lot easier to grind my way through work in order to ensure success.
This, of course, meant putting in near countless hours of effort towards something in order to make sure it was as close to perfect as possible. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those hours that I was able to invest were a luxury (and also a curse).
I can look back all the way to my undergraduate years at Wentworth, where I studied electronics engineering, and wonder how did I even get through that? Like any engineering program, the curriculum I was given was intensely demanding in math and physics in a way that weeds out people very quickly who aren’t dedicated to completing it. I had the passion, the focus, dedication, but more importantly…the time to put towards understanding these concepts and achieving good grades. With maybe 20 hours a week of class/lab time, I was easily putting in another 30-40 hours a week in order to complete homework, lab reports, participate in study groups, design projects, research, networking to lay the foundation for my career, and the list goes on.
Ultimately, I put in the 50-60 hours a week all semester long, for 8 semesters over 4 years, and received my Bachelor’s Degree. Then I did it all over again to get my Master’s Degree. There’s even a picture of me taking a final exam remotely for my Master’s program on my laptop at the hospital the day my son was born. It was shortly thereafter when I looked at that picture I suddenly realized that time was no longer a resource I had in excess supply. In fact, time became the most valuable resource on the planet to me.
As my son has grown and time has become even more precious to me, I have developed a system that has allowed me to be the most efficient version of myself and conquer things much larger and more complex than earning an engineering degree. The best part, is that I have found a way to do this all while utilizing smaller windows of time to work. I call these small windows of time “micro-sprints”. I don’t know if anyone else uses this type of approach, as I came up with it on my own. Of course it is always possible that someone before me has done this, but it is a strategy that I have found works absolute wonders in terms of being productive on a daily basis when kids, family and other responsibilities seem to chew up a significant portion of free time.
I define a micro-sprint as a short span of time that is set to be a period of uninterrupted, hyper-focused productivity with a defined start and end time. This time frame is different for every person, but I do feel that it should not be any less than 10 minutes or any more than 20 minutes. The intent is to identify the exact amount of time between 10 and 20 minutes where you can tunnel vision towards one particular task at a 100% level of focus in order to make significant progress on it. I have found a short burst of time to be incredibly successful at promoting this level of effort for 5 major reasons:
- Everyone can carve out 10-20 minutes of time each day
- Knowing you only have 20 minutes to work will naturally promote a sense of urgency
- Working in small windows of time provides a feeling that “work is almost done”, which feels rewarding
- Focusing intently to the point where something gets completed or serious progress is made provides a sense of accomplishment, which will stimulate the drive to keep pushing forward at that time and beyond
- After working this model for a little while, it is very easy to start scheduling in micro-sprints periodically throughout the week which WILL improve your productivity throughput
So what is the ideal duration for a micro-sprint?
This is something you (AND ONLY YOU) can determine. I have provided a worksheet to help with this process. This worksheet is the same formula that I used to determine my ideal micro-sprint time (13 minutes in case you were wondering), which I still use 7-10 times a week on average. I tried a variety of durations and eventually settled on 13 minutes. When I sprint for 13 minutes, I am more productive then I am at 14, 15, 16, all the way to 20 minutes! Why? Well, I did a lot of testing and analysis on this, and here’s my conclusion:
The way my brain is wired is such that when I set a 13 minute timer and focus intently on a task, I push at 1000% for that entire 13 minutes. When I set that timer for 14 minutes, I subconsciously relax my efforts because I feel like I have more buffer room on the back end of my work window. Even though it is only an additional 60 seconds, I can’t help but feel like I have a huge excess span of time, and as a result, I just work at a pace that doesn’t accomplish as much. Alternatively, when I reduce the timer to 12 minutes, I have found that I subconsciously feel stressed because I constantly feel like I’m behind. Again, even though it’s only 60 seconds, a switch is flipped very deep down that tells me I’m running out of time faster than I’m comfortable with and it thwarts my progress.
I wanted to believe that some of this is dialed in by force of habit. You know, like force yourself to do something for 30 days and it becomes engrained in you habitually. Well, I tested this as well. Last year I spent 30 days following my same weekly regimen of 7-10 micro-sprints per week, except for this exercise I used a 15 minute duration instead of a 13 minute duration. The result? I sent fewer emails, wrote fewer words in written content, produced less overall content in strategy architecture on one of my projects, and overall didn’t feel good about my progress. I thought this could be coincidence, but then I went back to 13 minute sprints and WHOA, the productivity went up and I felt more accomplished because…well…I accomplished more!
Whether you are tied up with a job, kids, other projects, or are just looking for a way to incorporate something new and different in order to improve results, introducing micro-sprints into your schedule will undoubtedly help. Give this tactic an honest attempt and you will be rewarded with productivity.
Get your free 5-step guide to determining your micro-sprint duration and crushing your goals around YOUR busy schedule – HERE