How To Finish a Project In 10 Minutes

How many projects do you have waiting that you’ve never started or never finished? You stare at the list, the list stares back at you, and before you know it, you’re full of guilt, promising yourself you’ll start on at least one project tomorrow – for sure. Promise.

News flash – tomorrow never comes.

Something else always comes up. Time goes by fast. The window of opportunity gets increasingly smaller.

Now, you could continue along the path of good intentions and never accomplish a thing – or you could make a decision to regain control. For all you know, that opportunity for a publishing contract could be right around the corner. It could knock any second.

Are you ready?

James and I had a wake-up call last week. We happened across a publishing company looking for submissions. The opportunity sounded great, it fit our fiction niche, and it offered a contract. Too good to be true?

Yes. We were nowhere near ready. We have files. We have chapters waiting for editing. We have outlines and elevator pitches. We have piles and piles of notes. Basically, our novel is complete – and also completely scattered in pieces between Las Vegas to Quebec. It’s waiting for us to put it together and finish it off.

I think I finally got my point across to James. We can’t put off completing the novel any longer. It is as much of a priority as anything else.

People often get caught up thinking they have to finish one project before they move on to the next. I used to be like that. After reading on time management, I realized this linear thinking was just another bad habit to break. If you want to get anything done, you need to start working in 10-minute sprints. Let me explain:

Procrastination has many causes. The most common is that the task at hand is one we’re not looking forward to doing. We get stuck, get writer’s block, and come up with a million excuses not to do the project.

The deadline creeps closer and the stress increases in direct proportion. It’s a horrible cycle, leaving you jammed and twice as stressed as when you started procrastinating.

The next time you run into this problem, tell yourself you’re going to work on the project for 10 minutes. Anyone can spare 10 minutes from their day, right? I guarantee that if you stick with your project for 10 minutes, you’ll end up working on that project a lot longer – just make sure you don’t work too much longer!

When I do my 10-minute projects, I place a cap of an hour. I can usually complete the project or task within that time frame. If I’m still dragging after 10 minutes, I can put the work down and move on to something else. I’ve at least gotten ten minutes closer to completion.

Carry that 10-minute to-do to your schedule for tomorrow. It’s on the agenda, you’ll work another 10 minutes, and before you know it, the deadline is met – with time to spare.

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Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. Brett Legree says:

    I use this at work, and at home, all the time. I find my job to be – well – not what I want to be doing. So I’m on my way to doing what I want to do (slowly, but surely) – but, the current job still pays the bills. So I have to be able to focus!

    Thus, I do this at work to keep on track – especially when I start daydreaming about some of my personal business ideas. (I’ll just write them down quickly, then tell myself to get back to “Project X” for 10 minutes before I think about personal stuff again – usually I can then work on “work” for 40-50 minutes or so.)

    Then, when I get home – I have a very busy family life (except when I’m up at 04:30, like now) – I find there are lots of little things that can be done at 10 minute stretches.

    It is just a matter of keeping a list of what they are, and banging them off when you can. I find it gives me a great sense of accomplishment and then encourages me to tackle the bigger stuff when I *do* have a large block of time, like first thing in the morning.

  2. Great idea. Looking at the list of projects I want to get to, I can’t wait to start implementing this.

    I’ve always been of the mind that one needed to devote at least two solid hours to a project, especially writing, to really get into the groove, to make it worthwhile. That’s probably been what’s holding me back. If I can’t devote that chunk of time, I don’t bother to start.

    I’ve also, however, always been of the mind that big projects are best dealt with in small chunks, reachable milestones like: write the outline, research one topic, write one page or one section.

    It’s time I merge these two and accept that a 10 minute chunk of time is enough to devote to a small (perhaps smaller that I used to think) milestone. And it’ll actually move the project forward.


  3. @Brett: The 10 minute project works wonders for low motivation and for people who have difficulties managing time. This method has helped me immensely over the last couple of months.

    @Manya: Welcome to the blog and so glad to hear the advice stirred you to action! I tend to easily lose my momentum, too. I also used to think I had to finish one project before moving on to the next. Kind of like when you were told by your parents you couldn’t leave the table until your plate was clean. Big projects are definitely better dealt with in small chunks, it’s always the small ones that trip you up.

  4. @ Brett – I’m right with you, bro. My general life schedule is hell on wheels, and I’ve been struggling with time management for years. Harry got me onto this type of work method, and I swear, I get so much more done in a day that it isn’t funny.

    @ Manya – Two hours? If someone told me I had to spend two hours on anything, I’d probably walk away right then and there. To me, two hours of focus is a daunting task. Tell me ten minutes? I can do that. Next thing I know I hit that two-hour mark and I’m all smug I beat the milestone. It’s great.

  5. Here I am procrastinating again. No, not really, I view this blog as educational. I prioritize my blog reads. I save my very special morning mind dreamy time for novel writing. It’s when I’m very close to the material and not as linear. As the day goes on I use the remaining time for more logical and linear tasks such as article writing. The beauty of freelancing is you can play around with a lot of different schedules and see what works best for you. It’s interesting to see what works for other people.

  6. Brett Legree says:

    Part of my problem, too, has been that my “day job” for the last four years has been one of constant interruption. I’ve worked in a JIT production facility up until about two weeks ago, and it has been weird having long blocks of time again – three to four hours – without a cell phone ringing every 20 minutes, to tell you about some crisis.

    It seemed like having ADHD forced upon you, to be honest. I got used to working on 8 things at once and never being able to finish anything in one go.

    The 10 minute project concept is allowing me to retrain myself to work more effectively.

    And you see, right now I’m taking a short break, after a 90 minute stint. Honest! ๐Ÿ™‚

    My home life, too, is the same – I have a six-year old, and three-year old triplets – so everything must be planned. I currently have several business ideas and blogs which have rested for far too long in the embryonic stages, so the push is on this month to get things off the ground. I will do it!

  7. @Brett: You certainly will! Just take it one day at a time and keep the momentum going. I know it’s hard at times, but getting a little bit done each day brings you one step closer to your goals.

    Wow, a six year old and three three year olds? That deserves a tip of the hat in your direction. I’d say with all that going on you’re doing damned well.

  8. Thanks for the uplift. At this time of the year I get lethargic so this post is a good kick-start.

    Keep ’em coming!


  9. @Kim: Yeah, call it the winter doldrums. Don’t worry, spring is right around the corner!

  10. @James: After I saw your reply, I started thinking about it. That two-hour thing comes from my college days. I majored in history, which is basically all research and writing. Early on we were taught how to conduct research–the premise was that you couldn’t get rid of mental distractions and get into the groove, as it were, of understanding and analyzing the topic in less time than that. Clearly that practice stuck with me.

    I like that you plan for 10 minutes but can find yourself at two hours–over delivering on your promise to yourself. It’s a win-win.

  11. Hey, that 10-minute idea is solid. I just threw up a post on procrastination and writer’s block (so-called) myself.

    It’s true–once you get started, it’s fairly easy to continue. It’s a lot easier to keep going once you’ve started on a project than it is to get started in the first place.

  12. @ Brett – No wonder you need Quebec liquor, my friend. I have ONE three-year-old and my god, the child can drive me insane. Rapidly. Pushing all my buttons when I’m at my worst, I might add.

    By the way, is forced ADD better than natural ADD?

    @ Manya – Ahhh, yes. Study habits. I tried – I really did – to follow the prescribed methods of proper studying for the best absorption and went through my Psych textbooks exactly like I was told. And went through them again. And again. And… And… It was so, so boring, which is terrible, because psychology is very interesting. I learnt the most from the shortest analogies and stories that I could read in ten minutes, put down and think over.

    @ Jesse – Yeah, lol, read that this morning. Writer’s block is a myth (which I’m sure you found out during your research). The 10-minute method adds booster cables and gets the brain going again.

  13. @Jesse: Thanks! I’m happy to see this is working for so many people.
    @Manya: It is a win-win situation and I’m always surprised as how much more productive I am these days.

  14. D’oh! There were two typos in that post and I can’t believe nobody caught them! Guess we won’t be needing anymore of this *takes away the fine Quebec liquor*

  15. Brett Legree says:

    @Harry – thanks very much! With much less time to myself than I had when I was 10 years younger, well, I make the most of what I *do* have. Believe in one’s self is something you can’t buy.

    @James – I might have some of that Quebec liquor tonight… ๐Ÿ™‚ forced ADD does go away, if you change jobs at work, so it is definitely better than the real thing.

    I read something on someone’s blog a long time back about kids (apologies to the writer, I can’t remember the reference…) – the gist of it was –

    Having two kids feels like four because you can’t share the work load anymore. Having three kids feels like having five, since there’s always an extra one around nagging you when you are with one already. Having four kids feels like having two – you simply give up, and let chaos theory take over.

    So if you plan to have more, have at least four in total. That way, you are ahead of the game… ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Thanks for the tip. You’re right. And there is this project I’ve been putting off….;-)

  17. Ten minutes to the future!

  18. Dammit Harry.

    “News flash – tomorrow never comes”

    My project is and always has been to catch tomorrow.
    Now what the hell am I supposed to do? ;o)

  19. @Jay: Start a new project? Try carpe diem instead. ๐Ÿ˜€
    @Sir Jorge: To infinity and beyond!

  20. Ok. Fine. But only for 10 minutes.

    Great post Harry – all jokes aside, I couldn’t agree more about the 10 minute thing. It really helps.

  21. @Jay: Hey, you made me laugh this morning, that’s worth something right there. I’m surprised how well it works too and I’m glad to see so many other people are finding the same.

    Oh man, I just realized you’re the walking banana guy! I enjoyed that article and the title was an eye-catcher. Thanks for defining dangling participles, I always knew what I was looking at when it came to a sentence like “walking home, a banana fell on my head”, but didn’t know what it was called. Not that I’ve never heard of dangling participles, but I always had a tough time in high school English when it came to retaining the definitions of the various grammatical rules.

    Looks like you got yourself another subscriber, I’ll be reading more often.

  22. Haha…what have I done…I’m the walking banana guy now!? ;o)

    Yeah, if you asked me in high school what a dangling participle was I’d have said “something to do with chemistry?”

    Thanks for reading Harry.

  23. @Jay: Yup, you’re stuck with that now. Hey, it’s better than the 10 Minute Guy (shaddup, James). As far as I knew, a dangling participle was a punchline to many a joke. Seriously though, I’ve gotten by for a long time knowing something didn’t look right about a sentence and only now am I learning the technical terms for all those “whys” – or is that “whies”?

    Is there even a plural for “why”?

  24. @Harry: I’m shocked to learn you didn’t know the plural of “why” is “wherefore!” ๐Ÿ˜‰

  25. @Christie: There’s a lot of things I don’t know, and I admit it. “Wherefore” is a word I hardly ever use. Thanks for pointing that out, though ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. *grumbles* Why am I not getting notifications of comments… there’s a party going on here. Sheesh.

    @ Brett – This factory is closed, pal. Plus, an attempt at a boy to carry on the family name might backfire badly and surround me with girls.

    @ Jay – If you can catch tomorrow, I am your biggest fan. Also, be proud to be the walking banana guy. I have recently been tagged as the “comment whore.” Would you like to trade?

    @ Christine – Shock is good for my blog ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. Brett Legree says:

    @James – I hear you, I hear you… ๐Ÿ™‚ we were only to have one more, however, the factory had excess production capacity, and we couldn’t very well send them back… about 3 months after our triplets were born, my wife said, ‘wanna have another one?’

    I don’t think I stopped maniacally to myself for a month…

  28. @ Brett – Oh, hell, sure, why stop then, eh? I mean, a couple more and you could have your own Olympic rowing team ๐Ÿ˜‰

    My toddler comes from testing the calendar method theory. I have proof, my good friend, that it does not work. They were right.

  29. Brett Legree says:

    @ James – Exactly! I figure I will have a few good years before they are teens, to effect world domination. I can give them an assortment of tools and set them to any task, and they will happily shovel the driveway / rake the lawn / assault an enemy fortress / bake a cake.

    Using my new math (above), when having four is like having two, if I had two more, I wouldn’t have to lift a finger. Six children, the answer to the energy crisis, perpetual motion!

  30. @ Brett – I’ll give you my two. Go forth and dominate the world, my friend. I’ll sit back sipping Quebec liquor ๐Ÿ˜‰

  31. Brett Legree says:

    @ James – sounds great, tell you what, I’ll set them on a course to start up a company that makes fine Quebec liquor – that should keep both of us very happy… ๐Ÿ™‚

    Which reminds me, must pick some up at the store today… just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean it has to be unpleasant!

  32. @ James – I’m willing to do some sort of biweekly agreement…”walking banana guy” two weeks out of the month and “comment whore” the other. Is it just my filthy mind or are both of those very sexual?

  33. @ Jay – Flexibility is a desired trait in business. Sounds like a deal to me. As for sexual labels, we’ll both have to ask Naomi over at Itty Biz what she thinks. I’m sure she’ll make a comment that makes us both feel honored to walk around knowing we’re bananas and whores.

  34. Great article…and a great reminder to break things down into manageable chunks. Like many here, I tend to juggle many balls at once and it’s really easy to get bogged down in the silly and time-consuming tasks without making headway on the truly important things such as the thing called “work-that-pays-the-bills”.

  35. @Jon: Actually, this post came about because James needed help juggling his….um, no, that is not the right way to phrase that at all.

    *ahem* Let me try again.

    James had some serious time management issues and in attempting to help him solve those, I improved mine at the same time. For us, time consuming tasks fall under the same category as “work that pays the bills”. Hey, it can’t all be so glamorous, right?

    At least now when I feel overwhelmed I keep telling myself it only takes 10 minutes.

  36. James still has serious time management issues but thanks to Harry’s incessant devotion to getting James organized so that both of them can get some relief, we have major, major improvements.

    The 10-minute method works very, very well for short attention spans and people who are easily distracted or who have trouble focusing for long periods.

  37. My daily schedule is broken down in 10 minute increments. My personal schedule is non-existent. It’s like I must rebel against the tyranny of the clock on my free time.

    Joe ๐Ÿ˜€

  38. Pre-vacation mode – that’s where I get tons done with little time. No opportunity for perfection so everything gets done with great efficiency.

    Joe ๐Ÿ˜€


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