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Procrastination hack: '(10+2)*5'

Following on the idea of the procrastination dash and Jeff’s progressive dash, I’ve been experimenting with a squirelly new system to pound through my procrastinated to-do list. Brace yourself, because it is a bit more byzantine than is Merlin 2005’s newly stripped-down habit. It’s called (10+2)*5, and today it will save your ass.

Who it’s for


  • procrastinators
  • the easily distracted
  • compulsive web-surfers
  • people with a long list of very short tasks (a/k/a “mosquitos”)
  • people having trouble chipping away at very large tasks

What you’ll need

  1. a timer
    • must be easy to reset
    • electronic kitchen timer is particularly good (pref. with multiple alarm memories), or
    • an app like Minuteur (get the newest version—several cool new features)
  2. a reduced subset of your to-do list
    • tasks that can be worked on (not necessarily completed) in blocks of 10 minutes or less
    • GTD people: next actions only, please
  3. an hour of your time (less is potentially okay, but it’s non-canonical)
  4. your sorry, procrastinating ass

How it works

It’s called “(10+2)*5” and here’s why:

  • 10 - Work for ten minutes with single-minded focus on moving toward completion on a single task. Ten minutes, and that’s all you’re allowed to do is work, work, work. No cheating, because (DING!) you actually get a break when you’re done…
  • 2 - After ten minutes of sweaty, dedicated work you get a 2-minute break to do whatever you want—drink coffee, read 5ives, call your bookie, whatever. When the two minutes are up, it’s back to work on the next task on your list. This is important.
  • *5 - You’re going to iterate this four more times for a total of one hour’s working/breaking

Important squirrely rules

  • You do not need to finish your task or your project in ten minutes; you just need to move it forward
  • If you finish a satisfying amount of work in fewer than ten minutes, STOP, and go right to your 2-minute break, than start another 10-minute dash
  • Do NOT skip breaks! You are not allowed. Breaks cannot be missed. Period. Go surf the web. Now. Seriously. GO!

What will happen

You’ll blaze through an hour’s worth of work/not work and will find yourself looking forward to both the breaking and working parts of the cycle. (Dang, how’s that for a change?)

The MacGuffin

The Now Habit
by Neil Fiore

Okay, you caught me. That’s the hack: you can and eventually will skip breaks.

In his (extremely wonderful) The Now Habit, Neil Fiore suggests a similar habit of “unscheduling,” where you only make obligations to the things that you enjoy and that are not the source of procrastination. John Perry suggests “Structured Procrastination,” where you only give high priority to “unimportant” tasks. Of course, this is taken to a hilarious extreme with Joshua Newman’s plan for scheduling just a few minutes of work per hour, and then focusing on the “more important” tasks like DVD re-arranging.

In all these cases—each of which will surely seem ludicrous to the “Why don’t you just go do your damned work?” crowd—the trick is to snap your mind out of the inert state that’s allowing procrastination to take over. You’re breaking down whatever resistance has made you not do what your brain knows needs to be done.

Your hacks for your problems

“(10+2)*5” can be adapted in any number of ways (change any of the three numerals to your liking), but remember: these goofy hacks only work because you’re a pathetic bastard like me whose mind can be tricked into work as easily as it can be lulled into torpor. Set your rules, follow your rules, and keep moving forward. Snap that procrastination by slipping your work through the back door.

Now go take a break. You’ve earned, you hard-working hacker, you.

Related stuff

Brian's picture

I'm going to be honest...

I'm going to be honest with you. I'm actually using a very similar method to yours. This is how it works:

1) Switch on TV 2) Watch a TV show until the commercial brakes come on (usuall y takes 10 mins) 3) Do your work during the commercial breaks (usually 2 minutes) 4) Keep repeating the above, until the TV show ends.

Nice, eh?




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