The 15-minute rule: Dancing with time

Although it is not something you would usually admit at a job interview (and if you do, I highly suggest you don’t), there is a procrastinator in all of us, most especially concerning tasks which we find boring or tedious. Thankfully, the 15-minute rule is here to rescue us from the hole. The “rule” is an effective way to minimize this procrastination, as it encourages you to do the most you can within a certain span of time.

In my job, I get more excited in the planning, tracking, and process-improvement aspects of project management. (Also in ordering people around, as my bitter half ruefully added. But that’s another story.)

Although in love with my work, there are parts of my standard job description which I don’t exactly look forward to:

  • Writing the weekly status reports
  • Reviewing and verifying change requests
  • Task reviews
  • Auditing the test cases and results

I would sometimes hold these off until the last minute (or until my boss starts taking a deep breath, whichever comes first). It drove me crazy — cramming gave me a lot of stress, and basically threw my sophisticated Outlook scheduling out the window.

It is by sheer luck (and a lot of procrastinated time on my hands) that I discovered FlyLady, who introduced me to the concepts of this rule.

The 15-minute rule: Shall we dance?

The 15-minute rule states that you should do a task within 15 minutes. After the allotted 15 minutes, you should stop working on that particular task. You may then proceed to another one for the next 15 minutes, or maybe even take a short break.

Sira ba tuktok mo? 15 minutes lang?” (Literal English translation: “Is your head destroyed? Only 15 minutes?” Hehe.). However, after trying it with seven other people in the team, I realized FlyLady isn’t as crazy as I thought:

  • There is a noticeable improvement in our productivity, and that’s saying something in a team which thrives on Spider Solitaire and Counter Strike. Our biggest problem was actually just getting started. However, with this rule, fifteen minutes just doesn’t seem like a big deal. That’s a lot less time as compared to our weekly Minesweeper Championships.
  • One of my colleagues is now a Time Management Evangelist, and boasts she can do anything in 15 minutes. She explained that the 15-minute deadline actually boosted her concentration, and gave her a surge of energy to work as fast as we could. (We always chide our boss it’s time to increase her workload.)
  • A guy in the QA department actually thought there was something wrong with his cellphone’s timer, because he keeps on finishing his test cases way before the alarm would go off

Right foot first, left foot next

Why don’t you try it?

Choose a task that you have been procrastinating on — writing that proposal, doing the laundry, wrapping a gift, or that pending status report.

Now, grab a timer (any timer with an alarm), and set it for 15 minutes. This is important, because the alarm is the big jolt telling you when to stop. We usually get carried away with one task, leaving no more room for more.

Now, do that task for only 15 minutes, and nothing more.

Notice the difference?

Now shake it

Here are some personal variations:

  • When I need to continue on the same task, I make sure that I alternate it with another one. Keeps me on my toes, and prevents burnouts.
  • When I’m feeling unnaturally lazy, I would do my revised “10-minute rule”, which is basically the same thing, except that I set the timer to 10 minutes instead of 15.
  • I noticed this rule is particularly useful in doing the Dreaded Client Routine Calls. Surprises of surprises, I discovered I only spend an average of 3 minutes per phone call — definitely something I should not have procrastinated on before.
  • Whenever I fall of the wagon and go back to my procrastinating ways (old dogs, new tricks, and all that crap), I would use a different timer for variety. Or sometimes I would ask a co-worker to use the same timer with me. Misery, and deadlines, love company

Let’s boogie

But don’t take my word for it: Browse thru the FlyLady website and read the inspiring anecdotes of how this rule actually helped people all over the globe. Now that you’re at it, might as well browse the other tips too, and with a little creativity, you will see how you can apply these tips to the workplace. (I especially love the article on zoning.)

Now let’s go crazy. Get that butt and timer rolling, and tell me how it works for you.

Showstoppers: When work just can’t happen

I screamed at our cat, and watched in delight as she scurried out of my way. This happened right after I slammed the phone down on my bitter half, because of an argument I obviously started. A few hours ago, I also scathingly replied to a mailing list post by some smart aleck who thinks that all websites should conform to his personal “standards.”

Someone needs to outlaw these menstrual cramps.

I consider cramps one of my “showstoppers,” which basically means a (seemingly) valid reason not to work.

Each person at work has his own list of showstoppers. The ones which are generally unavoidable, less frequent, and “reasonable” are usually tolerated. For instance, my boss finally considered cramps as valid showstoppers when a colleague found me crawling in the bathroom (although it’s not exactly a vacation staying at home and watching DVDs with a hot bottle on your tummy).

What’s in your Showstopper List? Here are mine:

  1. Menstrual cramps. A cramp, or dysmenorrhea, is a painful menstruation. Some women experience it, some don’t. Apparently, when the angels showered the women the blessings of unobtrusive menstrual cycles, I was locked up somewhere in a dungeon.
  2. Desktop computers. Not exactly a showstopper, but I have always considered it a major annoyance. Desktops are not only meant to take up the desk space, they are actually a form of Chinese torture meant to imprison me in my cubicle, to deafen me from the office noise, and simply to bore my brains out.
    Lest you think I had it going well in the workplace, I did experience working on a desktop in a previous job. Believe me, it was a major test of willpower. It was also a major test of resourcefulness — in the continuous search for office corners offering peace, quiet, and emancipation, and in figuring out the least eye-straining way to draft a report on a Nokia 9210.
    One good thing happened in that experience though: I rediscovered my handwriting, thanks to the numerous Release Bulletins I actually wrote in longhand while sipping a nice Chocolate Frappuccino in Starbucks.

There is no doubt in my mind that there would be more showstoppers to come. Stay tuned to this page.

And before I forget: what are yours?