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Laundry as a time-management tool

2 March 2010

I admit it. I’ve let the laundry pile up over the last week to ten days. (We have a laundry chute, so the dirty laundry accumulates in a big laundry bin in the basement. Out of sight, out of mind.)

So today, when I had the day free to work at my desk, I knew I had to do laundry. And I was kind of dragging my feet about it, because I didn’t want be distracted by this task.

Then I realized I could use the laundry as a tool to help me stay focused. My time-management guru, Mark Forster talks about the concept of “timed bursts” in his excellent book, Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management. With timed bursts, I use a timer and focus on my work until the timer goes off. At that very instant, I stop what I’m doing and take a break. By interrupting myself it’s easier to get back to work because my brain craves completion.

The break also gives me a chance to refocus on what I’m supposed to be doing. Today is a writing day and I find that in doing research for what I’m writing, I sometimes go off track. Or I get fidgety and check Twitter or something. But by physically getting up to deal with the laundry, I’m able to focus again when I sit back down.

Mark says that focusing this way allows you to get more done. “If you work on something for three bursts of 20 minutes,” he writes in Do It Tomorrow, “you are likely to get more done than if you do an hour’s untimed work on it.”

So I decided to make the intervals where the laundry was washing and drying my timed burst. When it’s done, I stop what I’m doing, transfer the wet laundry and fold and put the dry clothes away. That’s about a five to ten minute break. When I’m finished, I head right back to work.

It’s working very nicely — I think that when the fifth and last load is finished, I’ll give myself an extra long break (maybe do some knitting and watch last night’s Big Bang Theory…man, I love that show) as a reward.

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