Work hard for 45 minutes, then take a break

My first semester in college I earned a GPA of, ta dum, 0.68.  How do you earn such amazing grades? Well, I’ll tell you: the super secret strategy is to get an F in everything except ballroom dance. In that you get an A.

I couldn’t squeeze any juice out of my textbooks, but I sure could fox trot.

And I wasn’t partying. Dope and beer bongs were never for me. I wasn’t skipping class. I was lugging this huge valise around with every textbook I had. I think it weighed something like forty pounds. I was stitting in classes looking studious and taking notes. Well, except for physics which started early. 7:30 a.m. if I recall. What kind of a nut job takes a class at 7:30 a.m.? I did. I tried really hard to stay awake. I know I saw the professor shoot a gorilla with a tennis ball once. But the rest of the time I was in la la land catching z’s.

A 0.68, and I was in the honors program.

Obviously, I didn’t know how to go about learning. I’m glad the university didn’t give up on me. They put me on probation and told me I had to take a class on studying. A class on how to take the reponsibility for learning into my own tentacles. A class that shared techniques that actually helped.

One of the techniques was taking breaks. You were to work hard for 30 or 45 or 50 minutes and then take a break. Why? Well, because studies had shown that someone who, for example, was going to study for two hours could learn more by taking a ten or fifteen minute break in the middle than someone who worked the whole two hours.   Spending more time on studying actually meant you learned less.

I’ve found this method applies to more than just reading textbooks.  It also applies to writing. My practice is to set a time for 45-50 minutes. My goal is to write as hard and fast during that period as I can. To be totally focused on the task at hand. And then, when the timer dings, to literally get up out of my chair, walk about, and take a break. Then come back at the top of the next hour and start another 45 minute session.

But I’m not the only one doing this. A lot of folks use this method. Author Annie Bellet writes about her use of it in The Quest for Productivity and shares some of the reasons why it helps her. Read what she says there. If you haven’t done a 45/15 or 48/12 session, give it a go. See if you don’t actually get more done in less time.

Oh, btw, as for my grades, not only did I NOT drop out (or get kicked out) and become a hobo living in a trailer by the river, I ended up getting a 3.8 in my masters of accounting program. I think it’s safe to say I figured that school thing out. 🙂

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3 Responses to Work hard for 45 minutes, then take a break

  1. Ben says:

    That sounds a lot like the Pomodoro Technique, which has really helped me be more productive at times.

  2. John Brown says:

    Cool, never heard of that technique before.

  3. Bryce says:

    Came to say the same thing about the Pomodoro Technique. 25 minutes of hard work, 5 minute break, and after every 4 pomodoros, then you take a longer break. I wonder if 25 minutes is long enough to get a lot done when writing, though. 45/15 might be better for that.