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30 minutes a day (mindfolder.com)
236 points by drschwabe on May 13, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 47 comments

See Rich Hickey's talk on Hammock Driven Development (http://blip.tv/clojure/hammock-driven-development-4475586).

Rich talks about how thinking about something transfers the idea from your conscious mind to your unconscious mind (your big brain) where the real horsepower is. In another talk he mentions that he has been able to spend a year doing this three times in his life: one was for Clojure, one was Datomic, and one other yet-to-be-named project.

John Cleese also talks about this in his lecture on creativity (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VShmtsLhkQg).

Also note that the Feynman method is rooted in this. In his book "Indiscrete Thoughts", the mathematician Gian-Carlo Rota said:

"Richard Feynman was fond of giving the following advice on how to be a genius. You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, 'How did he do it? He must be a genius!'" (http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?FeynmanAlgorithm).

That's a really great clip!

This is the best part of having a dog for me, especially one like mine who is perfectly happy strolling along smelling the flowers. It's always an excuse to go out, mostly at night when it's quiet, and mull over ideas.

True say, I've found walking the dog to be a great time to think. Not only is it time to yourself, it gets the blood flowing and of course the fresh air is great.

I hadn't seen the John Cleese lecture before. It's definitely worth watching and having a think about. Thanks.

The John Cleese video is a must watch. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks a lot for the Hammock link. I'm watching it right now and it is already very inspiring!

Just my own experience here. I commute every day, it's a 1 hour train trip in both directions. So I get 2 hours a day just for me. There I work on a side project. It means 8 hours a week. That's not much and a lot at the same time. The intersting thing is that I had to get used to it. Now I just do those two hours no matter what happens. It has become a routine and it's not that exhausting. Also, since 2 hours a day is not much, I have become very picky about my tools. In a one hour trip, I cannot aford to have my Eclipse to be up and running in 3 minutes => I changed editors. I cannot afford to spend 10 minutes trying to understand code I've written months ago, therefore I write my comments as I should, I write things as simple as I can. Since I only have one hour on a trip, it means I must solve my problems in that hour (if not, the time to start the task becomes too long). Therefore I choose my problems before getting in the train and I use a lot of "BUG", "FIXME" notes to put aside non urgent matters. I also don't have any web access in the train => impossible to get distracted (but then I need very good documentation to help me out when I need some information). The biggest hurdle to me is that moving from prototype to production-level takes a huge amount of time => sometimes a I set to work in the week end in order to have say 2-3 hours in a row to solve issues spanning across the whole code.

About choosing tools. I've selected ruby first, but ruby + Qt is not stable enough (I cannot afford to look for a strange bug in a C++ binding). So I moved to Python where things are better in that regard. I started with Eclipse (because it had a good and free Python IDE) but it takes too long to boot => now I'm in emacs. So although I prefer Eclipse or Ruby, I've deliberately chosen other tools to shave a few minutes here and there. (3 minutes is 5% of the time I have so that's important)

my ten eurocents

Couldn't upvote this more.

The post addresses the biggest problem when starting side projects. After a idea is born, a prototype is built in one or two intensive days, usually at the weekend. Afterwards it's so hard to carry on, your main jobs (which is a welcome excuse to not work on your side project) takes too much time and suddenly ten days passed and you haven't worked one minute on your side project—it dies. It's difficult to pursue multiple opportunities, I usually focus on one big project and I know it's wrong.

I recently made a list of partially-done side projects. It's long. I set a target to not start any new projects. Unfortunately, the fun part is the first part. Taking something that works 90% and dealing with edge cases and polishing it is (for me anyway) far less exciting than hacking together prototypes.

I'm not alone?


Guess how many of those are finished.

Edit: And that isn't even including the ones from this year!

Hey, me too! Half-finished game concepts, crappy little tools I never ironed the bugs out of, random ideas that never even got as far as compiling...

You've got way more unfinished projects than me, but they sure do pile up quicker than you think.

Can't articulate my inner feelings since I saw that image.

That's the truth for everyone who hacks around in their spare time, but: don't stop starting new things! I've got a folder full of half-finished crud, which will probably never be finished. I've become OK with that. I do, admittedly, keep one or two larger ideas on the go now, that I do try and work on, just a little, everyday... but the "not starting anything new" goal is a bad one. It led me into one of the most depressing years of my life; I'd constantly feel self-pressure to work on the "big stuff", rather than hack away on little things, which led to a (severe) degradation in my happiness, and in my work performance.

So, yeah. Definitely try and finish one or two that you deeply care about, but creating new stuff is what we do, and there's no shame whatsoever in a folder full of unfinished ideas.

Indeed, and is why the daily checklist is helpful. It scales up within reason, you can add multiple projects. But its important to note distinction between a 'task' and a 'set amount of time for pure focus'. Task lists are useless. Consider:

on your list..."do x" is less powerful than ..."focus on x for xx minutes"

You're far more likely to complete the latter. No inherent expectations - just clear focus needed.

If you want to write a novel, most of the advice I've seen is essentially "do it". Almost any project will benefit a great deal from dedication. Procrastination is the real cause of most things that don't happen.

Saying that, I take real offense at the equation given in the article. "Focused energy + xx minutes + once per day = idea manifestation"?

Should it not be (focused energy + xx minutes) * once per day... Or perhaps even focused energy * xx minutes * once per day.

If you set any of those variables to 0, the outcome is 0. It's clearly a multiplication problem.

Nice call, equation updated. I'm a designer not a programmer :)

Regarding your point, I completely agree. And is why I shared this little strategy. I suppose its a form of scheduled anti-procrastination.

I think years of math classes has made me a little bit too analytical...

Otherwise a great post. The real challenge is actually doing it in practice!

I particularly like the comment about discipline. I've read the arguments that we are in a current period of technological stagnation, and if that is actually the case I think one of the big detractors is our lower levels of discipline compared to people in the 20th century.

Over the last 30 years or so, the media has gotten much more effective at making us slaves. We are more compelled to watch mind-numbing programs on TV, and now today play mind-numbing apps, and view mind-numbing content on the internet.

Even 'thoughtful' content like that on HN has the effect of scattering our minds and making it harder to focus on a particular task.

I think times like these 30 minutes, where you buckle down with no distractions can be very beneficial to overall productivity.

Discipline is something I lack and need to force upon myself.

I tell myself I do programming in my free time. I tell myself that.

But then I look at my free time, and I realise I spend it all browsing HN/Reddit (occasionally)/BBC News/Forums. I don't do much programming at all. Because I get distracted far, far too easily. Sometimes I'll look back on the past week and realise I've done absolutely nothing of any value.

I've set myself 30 minutes tomorrow to work on something. Perhaps I'll finally learn Lisp and venture into functional programming, after all. Maybe I'll improve my programming skill again.

my fears exactly. I would have never thought I'd actually say this; but if humanity wants to continue its venture in the 21st century, we'll have to learn discipline again.

Instinctively, I'd agree with this kind of stuff but after reading through I want to say, "Where's the evidence?" If you're claiming this stuff, tell me how it's worked for you and others in terms of reaching success, and don't cop out and say it's "perfectly logical" - there's nothing logical about being human.

I used to play around with these kinds of hacks all the time. They didn't get me all that much ahead though.

It wasn't until I learned to push myself to give my day job a top notch performance and eke out four more hours of coding at night, that things really started to take off.

It is similar to losing weight for me, in that all the mind tricks and fancy diets didn't do a thing until I learned to accept the hunger that comes with actually losing weight.

Can you elaborate?

Can't speak for the parent but I think I understand where he's coming from. For me, it was reading the section on procrastination (which requires reading the preceding sections on dysfunctional thought patterns) in David Burns' "Feeling Good" that did the job.

Once you see all the possible reasons people procrastinate listed in front of you, and a plan of action for each scenario, it's pretty difficult to procrastinate because every time you find yourself in a potential procrastination scenario your brain goes "oh hang on, I know what I'm doing, it's X from Feeling Good". At that point you can execute the anti-procrastination plan, or, as in my present case, I don't even bother any more because I've done it enough to know I'll invariably end up getting to work and so I just go right ahead and do it.

The key thing here is you need to (a) be committed to change and (b) you need to study the book and do the exercises. Refreshing my procrastination pattern matching memory from time to time by rereading the section is critical. Many people aren't ready to stop procrastinating because they're not ready to take action. But just like debugging code, you just have to follow the chain of dependencies until you deal with successive root causes. Prochaska's "Changing for Good" put me on the path of awareness in this regard. Once you know what your brain is doing it's pretty difficult not to make progress.

I love this skeptical and evidence-demanding attitude.

You may find evidence to support this (and other information about habits) in The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. http://www.amazon.com/The-Power-Habit-What-Business/dp/14000...

From personal experience, I've found the Seinfeld Calendar to be powerful, which is similar to the idea the author wrote about. http://lifehacker.com/281626/jerry-seinfelds-productivity-se...

But is that correlation vs causation? As someone who dedicates some time each day to what I want to succeed in, am I just aping some of the habits of the successful without really doing what matters?

And rightfully so. You know, I'd love to point to some monumental success but honestly it hasn't happened yet. So let me prove it for you in the near future - hope you'll follow Mindfolder's progress ;)

It sounds good on the surface but I don't know how feasible it is on practice. Creative work is not something you can turn on and off on command. You tend to think long and hard about a problem throughout the day. You think about it in shower, while driving, and during eating. There are fair amount of ramp up time to get back into a project. The things you have done, the tools you use, the libraries for the project, the API, all those need time to refresh in your mind. Context switch into a project 30 minutes a day would be difficult. If you can do it, that's great!

Creative work is not something you can turn on and off on command

Actually - it is. Or at least it's often something you can often train to a reasonable facsimile of working that way.

You're right - of course - that those moments when you're not working on the project explicitly and mulling everything over are often the most important ones. But I think you often train yourself to get into the right working context very quickly.

As a scriptwriting friend of mine says "No write. No money." ;-) My musician friends - at least the ones who take it seriously - sit down and do that couple of hours of focused practice each day no matter how they feel.

I find the more often you put yourself in a situation that you need to do something, the easier it is to do something. You find ways to optimise your workflow and approach (e.g. I have a my project WIP in a vagrant VM and I write code TDD - so I spin up the VM, open the editor, see the failing test I left yesterday and boom I know what I'm doing).

If I sit around wait for inspiration - shit never get done.

Let me clarify creative work on new or multiple ideas is not easy to turn on and off on command. It tends to take a while to build up the domain knowledge, project specific tools, project specific API to be creative on the project. That's consistent with your emphasis on practicing day in day out.

The example you gave is for the main project you are working on day in day out. Yes, you can easily resume work the next day. What the OP advocating is working on multiple different projects for 30 minutes a day. It's just more difficult to context switch into multiple projects with such a short amount of time.

You're right. Just put in the hours regularly and so much can be done. I think the problem for most, me at least, is the regularly part.

I recently started Project Persist, involving an hour of side-project work per working day. It has gone reasonably well, with some decent strides made, but as soon as priority work emerges, often for days at a time, the side-projects wait again. Solo-founder issue, maybe.

But it's good to see others trying to buckle down, work systematically on creating something of value to all concerned. It's tough. But rewarding results don't come easy, I guess.

Edit: Forgot to mention, I appreciate your blog design. I'm no designer, but that's no ordinary minimalist design to my untrained eye.

Related is a great site I found through HN recently: http://chains.cc. It helps you track doing things daily and allows you to see your progress

That's an absolutely fantastic idea.

I upvoted this, because I think it's definitely a good way to stay focused (and I should be doing a better job of it, too). but the issue with his analogy is that brushing your teeth is fairly routine. you go about it at pretty much the same time every day, and you don't have to think about it.

working on your idea, however, is different each and every day. some days, the challenges are greater. some days you may need more than 30 minutes.

point taken though, and I'll be trying harder to stick to it.

Exactly man - great point on the analogy, your dream project is certainly no routine thing.

Yet you can make it more 'routine'; engraved into your daily schedule. By not approaching the specific challenges, but rather - just the minimum amount of time you have agreed with yourself is appropriate to invest. Anyone can convince themselves to do that much. And the funny thing is - the challenges then seem to work out themselves.

So in the time it takes to brush teeth, take shower, roughly 30 min daily, it is possible to build a dream project, a business?

It takes 15 min to fully focus again on work, which was interrupted by a phone call, colleague question. That's our reality.

I would suggest to spend these 30 min on some physical activity and you'll much happier.

good read. reminds me of this article on staying focused: http://www.informationdiet.com/blog/read/how-to-focus

I tried the equation. It's 113/watts per 30 minutes of idea manifestation. My notes are at http://pastebin.com/MG0z5u6M

Corrections are welcome.

I love this as ultimately it shows what nonsense the equation really is.

I detest people doing "science-y, maths-y" things to try and give credibility to an idea. The idea here is fine, the equation utter bilge.

For me it goes back to hearing Jeff Dachis of Razorfish doing a talk in which he mentions boolean postulates which left me in little doubt that he knew precisely as much about mathematics as you'd expect from someone with a bachelor’s degree in dance.

BTW - On the last line you mention "watts per half hour". This makes no sense here - a watt is a measure of energy over time, watts per half hour would be a measure of energy over time over time, or more neatly change in power.

Helpful post. It highlights how fragile an idea is and how much energy and focus is needed to advance the idea forward. I face this often, and it's helpful to work in a group/team of people. There's something about a team that naturally progresses ideas forward if the leader of the group keeps the idea is discussion.

I found that even 10 minutes are enough if you are oscillating between different ideas all the time.

I have exactly this pattern. I have a bunch of

    @Daily      30m: [Something or other] 
tasks in my todo.txt to make sure that I actually do something on those projects every day.

30 minutes is not efficient at all, it takes time to internalize something complex, and get into "the flow", pg talks about this in his essay about "The Maker's schedule".

Flaws in the equation aside.. pretty inspiration stuff

This is great, and is true for so many things in life.

Brilliant. I am having a tough time focussing on a few of my ideas. Even if I get a good 30 min day, I will be so happy.

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