Improve your focus with the 90 - 30 method

Every 6 months or so I fall into a productivity slump. I start working longer hours while getting less done.

April 10, 2022

Every 6 months or so I fall into a productivity slump. I start working longer hours while getting less done.

In the past I thought the antidote to this was to work harder. Only when I did that I'd make bad decisions, spend time going around in circles until I'd burn out.

But recently I realised my productivity slumps all coincided with changing the way I work.

Ever since reading Deep Work I've adopted a method of working in 90 minute sprints followed by 30 minute breaks.

Every time I sit down to work I set a timer, remove distractions, and focus.

For the 90 minute block I try to focus only on the task at hand, no checking email, twitter or grabbing a snack.

Once the time is up I set a second timer for 30 minutes. These 30 minutes I'm completely free to do what I want. I typically go for a walk, scroll social media, read a book or make food.

When the 30 minutes is up I settle down for another 90 minute block of deep work repeating this 3 - 5 times per day.

I don't quite get this right every time but the sessions where it clicks I get 3-4 hours worth of work done in 90 minutes.

Paul Jarvis draws parallel to this type of focused work like driving a car. But for me driving a car is a little too laid back. I can't be sat there passively listening to a podcast and getting on with work, I need intensity.

Maybe a better analogy would be like driving an F1 car (minus the adrenaline). I'd assume driving an F1 car requires a heightened sense of focus, there's no passive podcast listening or scrolling Twitter it's just you focused on achieving 1 thing for 90 minutes.

Every time I slip away from this way of working things tend to go to sh*t.

When I try slog out a 12 hour day I work without intensity, I become passive and get as much done in those 12 hours as I would if I just worked 6 hours with intensity.

Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman describes this way of working "like a workout for the mind".

There's a lot of talk about habits, tools and tips to be more productive but people often overlook the act of actually doing the work.

If you've been feeling unfocused and ineffective lately I recommend giving the 90 - 30 method a go and let me know what you think.