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Ten minutes a day (medium.com)
355 points by alexallain 86 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments

So if I time-slice the 8 productive hours of my day into 10 minute slots, can I write 48 books in 499 days?

Of course not.

I've tried working on pet projects for 10 minutes before going to work each day. The problem I find is that while I might only do active work on the task for ten minutes, my brain is thinking about it for much longer.

Spending those ten minutes in the morning reduces my ability to do my day job because I've used up a significant fraction of my day's useful thinking budget. I find I can only sustain these pet projects when my day job is in a boring/easy phase. (This might have something to do with getting older - I'm 42, or it might be because my job isn't boring/easy much these days).

> Spending those ten minutes in the morning reduces my ability to do my day job because I've used up a significant fraction of my day's useful thinking budget.

Like the term “useful thinking budget” - will steal that if I may. To me that type of thinking is usually deep and involves much lateral thought than logical. It’s usually where I establish “focus” on something I’m working on and usually where creative breakthroughs happen on things blocking me.

But it only happens when I’m alone, relaxed and undistracted which is usually the shower in the morning. Going for walks also helps. Also it seems to require feedback “did this idea work in practice?” which creates positive reinforement that my ideas are worth having. Just endless producing ideas without testing them is undermining - used to do that in my early 20’s

No, if you read what he wrote, he said during the time he isn’t writing he would be constantly working and think about it in his mind. So practically, he works on it like a few hours a day. The writing just takes ten minutes, the design takes the rest.

So, something like: "Think really hard, then execute really quick."

I wouldn't say that it felt like I was thinking really hard in times I wasn't writing. It's a bit like the technique of putting down a crossword for a little while when you get stuck - you might not be thinking much about the puzzle, but somehow you're turning it over in your head.

FWIW, I do agree with the original comment at the top of this thread that this technique couldn't yield 48 books in 2 years - there's only so much headspace available, and this technique is one that taps into that headspace effectively for long-term projects, but it's not magic.

In the book Psycho-cybernetics, auther talks about delegating the details to subconscious mind before sleep and downloading the processed material tomorrow morning. I read the book and dismissed the idea but maybe it some value. I shall try it again.

One problem with this that I have is I lack the self control to limit to merely think before sleep. The other problem I have is these thoughts actively prevent me from sleeping by making me feel the need to work right then. My solution is to prevent myself from thinking about work while trying to fall asleep but if I happen to get a good idea I'll put enough into a note or on paper to jog my memory when I can flesh it out the next day or whenever.

What do you do? (asking for research purposes)

That was a legit question. I'm quite interested in why you find your job not boring/easy compared to when you were younger.

Is it because of the technology you work on, or is it the age factor?

I've not programmed long enough to actually feel this effect.

I have a 10min attention span for intense activities like reading. I use this to my advantage to do I might otherwise not do.

* Reading: I take my Kindle to the toilet.

* Solve quiz on Brilliant.org during office commute

* Listen to audiobooks before sleep

* When waiting for the next meeting, I read bookmarked articles.

--- My Lessons: ---

* It is very important to stop doing something once I realize I have no more juice.

* My total learning time per day is around 1hr on best days.

* Takes 1hr to reach office. So during cab rides, after a quiz is done (10-15min), I nap.

* When zoned out in and realize I'm doing random wild-wild-internet-reading, I immediately turn tech off. I just talk to people (work or casual chat).

* During times of silence, I observe things around me. I learn new things about stuff that has been around me for a long time. I put these observations to use when I draw (I use Procreate app on iPad). For example: I observed reflections in water and attempted to draw a reflection https://www.instagram.com/p/BrxmF1enz87/

> Writing every day kept ideas top of mind. When I finished writing, I’d carry the puzzles to my commute or the shower, and I’d talk to people about them. My ideas were always nearby, making it easy to jump back in.

This sounds like the main takeaway. Even though the direct time spent on an activity may seem small, the total effective time spent on that activity shoots up if it is performed daily (v/s weekly or longer).

I also liked this: "... today might not be a good day, so let’s use it for something I have to do anyway."

The idea transfers well to coding. Maybe you're not feeling inspired today, but there's probably something mechanical that needs to happen to your project -- resolve a TODO, update the docs, triage a bug report. So do it, and even if that doesn't snap you back into the groove, at least you got that one thing done.

“You have to move forward a little bit, every day. It doesn’t matter if your code is lame and buggy and nobody wants it. If you are moving forward, writing code and fixing bugs constantly, time is on your side.”

— Joel Spolsky, Fire And Motion, https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2002/01/06/fire-and-motion/

"If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward"


I've been using a technique similar to what I described in the original post to teach myself Haskell, and your comment 100% resonates with me. In the case of learning a new language, just getting a piece of code to run and testing it out has been a great way for me to get into the groove. I suspect that writing unit tests might be another good entry point.

Recently I have start workout for 10 mins a day including warmup.

To go for an hour in the gym it's much harder because it take +30 mins to commute +15 min to shower. After 1 hour of gym I feel exhausted and I don't want to do it again next day.

But with 10 mins per day, I don't have to convince myself to do it, it's such an easy task and I feel better after doing it. I don't lose my time in commute and I do it every day which is much better than 3 times per week.

Most days I do 10 mins of meditation and with that I have two great habits that takes most 30 min from my time.

I have found cycling to be a good daily exercise. It becomes my commute so it takes no time out of my day also there is no way to give up. I can stop at any time at a gym but if I stop on my bike I still have to get back home.

I have a pretty brutal uphill way back home but I feel great after which makes me do it again the next day.

I miss cycling to and from work. I used to live 27 miles away from the office and I'd do that ride 5 days a week. Yeah it was 3 hours out of the day but the alternatives didn't add up to a whole lot less than 2 hours anyway so I didn't mind. But my fitness was incredible. I could jump on the bike at the weekend and do a hilly century no problem. I once did an Everesting challenge which amounted to 13 hours going uphill and I held several KOMs on local Strava segments.

But I had a bad collision which has kept me off the bike for 15 months now. When the doctors were attending me in hospital they had to double check my birthdate because they assumed I was 20 years younger. They wouldn't make the same mistake now -- I really feel like I've aged 10 years in that time.

Yep, it's great unless the uphill is actually on the way to the job, then it becomes not so great :-)

In that case I'd use an ebike. Still decent fitness but not super intence

Get a dog. You'll be forced up exercise everytime it needs to go. Whether you want to or not.

I have a demanding baby, its enough!

The Canadian government sponsored the development of the 5BX program, which is designed to give you a decent fitness level in 11 minutes per day.

Have you ever tried this program?

No, I haven't. I bought an ebook about body weight training and I follow that. It is 90 sec warmup and after that it's 30 rest and 30 sec per exercise. It's about 10 exercises so it add up to 11 min.

The most exercises you would have encountered them in yoga, pilates or other gymnastics and are nicely combined so you wont get hurt and got bored.

Its nice to hear that 5bx claims max personal fitness with 10 mins too. That means that it might work.

I like the pomodoro technique [1], which breaks tasks up into 25 minute work chunks with 5 minutes break between parts. I find I'm able to get more work done because I'm focused on one task.

10 minutes seems like not enough time to really get meaningful work done since it often takes me a few minutes to get back into whatever it is.

I think 10 minutes just isn't quite enough time, so I think I'll just include it as a pomodoro internal. I like the idea of forcing myself to do something everyday, so perhaps I'll schedule two small tasks for the internal, and if I'm making really good progress on one, I'll reschedule the other task.

But I definitely like the main idea here, since I often let things languish because I'm worried about them taking too long.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

What if what you're working on is going to take longer than 25 minutes, and then taking that 5 minute break breaks up your mental flow?

That is, after returning after 5 minutes it takes a couple minutes to re-orient yourself to the problem at hand?

For me, Pomodoro is a technique to help you get started, and to focus. Vs procrastinate all day.

For the case you mention, I would adapt the technique to whatever benefits you the most. If you're in the flow, defer the break. If you defer too much, and start feeling burned out, adjust.

For some people, 25 minutes is too long. Find what works for you.

Writing for 10 minutes a day is great and all, but if you're not the type of person that can easily switch tasks and be immediately ready to perform then it's not going to work out for you. Similarly, if you get stuck on a task and just want to keep going until you're done, you're going to have a hard time stopping. When I was doing NaNoWriMo I generally tried to go for the estimate of ~1337 words a day, but some days I had good ideas and kept going. Other days I didn't and spent a lot of time thinking about where to take the story and didn't write a lot. I don't believe at any time I spent less than 30 minutes working. And even then, it was always on my mind. Different people have different abilities, I don't believe that this is generally applicable and different people may have different minima/maxima for how much time they take to start up a task.

Conversely Hemingway recommended to stop when the writing was going well:

> The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.

This is a great advice!

The post concisely explains the power of taking small steps in terms of productive work and projects. One thing I do is the pomodoro technique every day. I track and graph the amount of pomodoros I do, so ostensibly I could go back later and measure how many pomodoros it took me to complete some specific project.

The author has sewn together the concepts of non-zero days, the Seinfeld method plus a tweak to the pomodoro technique and then measured his progress. This could work for anyone, it's a good combination, simple to implement and with a little patience almost certainly leads to powerful results over time.

Some of this reminds me of how I wrote my thesis. I lived in a duplex, and my neighbors moved out. I'd been sharing their internet, so that went away with them. My spouse was supportive of my decision to not get our own internet connection until my thesis was out the door.

I uninstalled all of the games from my computer, except one. I embarked on a weird quest in the online game I was playing; which was accomplished by running a daily script on a cron job and effectively shut me out of the game. The game I left on my computer was XCOM: Terror from the Deep -- which I was playing on the hardest mode.

That XCOM game is frikkin impossible. So I hacked the save games, extracting them into spreadsheets. My spouse would ask, "Are you playing the spreadsheet game again?" So that wasn't very engaging for long. I'd get bored and go back to work on my thesis.

All that was a success, in the end. When the content was finished, I spent about a week on minor tweaks. I got sick of that, and turned my thesis in two weeks before the deadline. And to be honest... once we got internet hooked up, all my bad habits came flooding back. sigh

I find it relatively easy to stick to doing productive things every single day if I do them the first thing in the morning, before I have breakfast. Later in the day things always get in a way and it is much harder to concentrate on non urgent things.

I started using the Pomodoro technique a few years ago, and I've successfully shipped 3 (almost 4) FOSS projects since then. The hardest part is getting started. It's surprising how much work gets done with only 30 minutes a day, over a few months.

On an unrelated note, like the author, I also keep track of how much time I've spent on these FOSS projectss. But it's disheartening to see how much time I've spent on FOSS, and while I have users (they want support/features :) -- potential employers spend almost no time looking at my work, but will still ask me to spend hours on their tech challenges (averaging ~20 hours per challenge).

> The hardest part is getting started.

This is a big problem for me as I age. Personal problems etc take up my mind space and it is very hard to motivate myself to work. Also constant interruptions which I have to attend to makes things really miserable and have stopped my progress of personal projects.

What do you do to handle starting up?

As a hobbyist coder, I've tended to have a lot of success doing the same with coding. I try to have a contribution on GitHub every day. Doesn't have to be a big new feature, maybe I fixed something, maybe I edited some comments somewhere. But I'm touching my various projects frequently, which by that nature, tends to keep me on a track of progress.

When I fall off of the routine, sometimes I have a gap in working on my code for months.

I never got into a place the 10 minutes a day would really help me accomplish anything. I do know it is possible, one day I would like to replicate something like [1], splitting a work-weeks worth of work into several months of pomodoro a day.

It kinda worked when I was attempting to write a blog, but even then I never really figured out how to make the routine stick and often it took me half of the designated time to even start writing.

This time-to-start was even worse when programming.

Well, one day!

[1] https://mikekchar.github.io/core-wars-kata/

I try to take inspiration from this article: https://fs.blog/2018/06/succeed-at-work/

I think a 15-minute resolution is more reasonable than a 10-minute resolution. If you assume that you allocate each block to a unique activity that means doing six different things per hour instead of doing only four things in the same timeframe.

There's nothing stopping you from using four blocks in a row for an activity, or two, or three, but the minimum amount of time to spend on something is 15 minutes which I think is more worthwhile than 10 minutes.

The only downside is it doesn't let you do two pomodoro blocks per hour, if that's something you want to incorporate into your routine.

The email trick seems like a great way to avoid procrastinating, and get started:

> The other thing that really helped is that I didn’t allow myself to check my email until I worked on the book.

I use http://dontbreakthechain.com and have a few different 10 minute things in there.

I'd love to hear from full time parents how they do routines like these.

I'm sure it's absolutely possible but between a 2 month and 2 year old I don't come close to finding the time to think about extra projects.

Short answer is that, like everything in life, it is harder as a parent.

I've meditated for ten minutes a day for a few months now and written 500 words a day so far this year. The chain method absolutely works (I'll stay up late at night staring at a blank page until I get to my 500 words) but it can be a chore. I go through with it because I know that once I break the chain that makes it easier to break it tomorrow.

I'm hoping that my current work craziness calms down a bit in a few weeks at which point I'll be scheduling these two things on my calendar in the morning and not start the rest of my day until they are done.

Parent here.

Get the spouse to hold the kids. Even if you're a full time housewife, many husbands are willing to hold the baby for a couple hours each evening. Maybe take them for a walk, bath, watch YouTube together.

My wife's flow activities is experimenting with cooking and child care. We've actually got a couple of apps in the works for this.

Just curious, if I wanted to setup several working environments and make it as quick as possible to switch between them (programming vs video editing vs photo editing). How would I go about doing that on a Mac to be as quick as possible. Several different programs would need to be open and closed automatically.

I have a several ".command" files organized in a stack in my dock. Each one of them is a bash script that opens all the files I need for a project. When I'm done, I manually close everything.

I think my problem with the 10 minutes day is that maybe my ideas wont come until minute 9 and now I'll need to put them down, which will take me another 15 min. This probably works for things that don't require imagination, like exercise or labor work.

Surely, 10 min is a lower bound. If it takes more time, I guess, it's even better.

> When I finished writing, I’d carry the puzzles to my commute or the shower, and I’d talk to people about them

I do find myself shower-coding most days, but I never talk to people about it. There's never anyone else in the shower.

Get a rubber ducky. It's not a person, but then again, I meet very few people who know enough about what I'm working on that they're helpful in giving advice, so they might as well be a rubber ducky.

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