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The 30 minute challenge: Achieving short-term goals

For the 30 minutes challengeA few weeks ago, I wrote about a strategy I use to keep myself motivated: the Quick Wins method. I use this method because I am actually someone who faces enormous challenges in keeping himself focused and motivated. Because I have so many different research interests and I study a relatively broad range of issues, it’s hard for me to stay on track and focus on just ONE project or task at a time. I have been practising this habit, but I’m definitely not there yet. However, every time I resort back to the Quick Wins strategy, I realise that every one of us has a different definition of what a Quick Win is. Recently, Dr. Amber Wutich mentioned that writing a memorandum counts as a quick win. Amber is right. When I’m really fresh and just woke up, I can crank out a full journal article or book chapter memorandum within 30 minutes. This degree of effectiveness and efficiency changes throughout the day, and because my body is relatively fragile, I need to make the most of the 30 minute blocks I have available for important tasks.

So I set out to test how many different tasks I can do with 30 minutes. This challenge isn’t new. Several academics have written before me about the need to remain focused and stay on track, and to use as much of the time you have to move your work forward. I myself have recently (in the past two years) been championing a strategy whereby you move every project you have forward a little bit every day but then zero in and finish it off.

Many people claim that they don’t have enough hours in the day to fit writing into their day. I don’t have that excuse, since I wake up at 4 am every single morning to write. I write even if it is only my handwritten notes from the margins of articles, books or books chapters I’ve been reading. Even if it’s only a memo, or only scribbles on the papers’ margins, I write every morning (even if it’s a summary of a paper, or a reflective memo). When I can’t write for 2 hours straight, I try to get 4 thirty-minutes’ blocks of writing.

Writing a memorandum

The first time I read that 30 minutes were enough to achieve academic goals was when I read Dr. Aimee Morrison’s blog on Hook & Eye on the 30 minute miracle. Dr. Jo VanEvery, a well-respected academic coach and a good friend of mine has recommended to her clients (and blog readers) to engage in the 15 minute challenge. Jo suggests that you need to find 15 minutes in your day to write. I agree that there is A LOT that can be done within those 15 minutes.

I am pretty sure I know exactly how much work I can get done in 15 minutes, but I wasn’t 100% sure about how much stuff I could accomplish in 30 minute increments other than free-writing and editing pieces of manuscripts. I have tested writing for 30 minutes for a very, very long time and I know that I can write between 100 and 300 words in those 30 minutes. I know I can highlight and scribble half an article in 30 minutes. But I wanted to see if other tasks could fit the 30 minute challenge posed by Aimeé. This is a brief report of my experience. Bear in mind: I chose time blocks at different points during the day. It became very clear to me that my efficiency and the number of things I can accomplish in 30 minutes first thing in the morning is super high, and it’s slowly but surely reduced throughout the day. I wrote most of this blog post in less than 30 minutes!

So here are the results of my 30 minutes challenge (I undertook this challenge on Friday July 29th, which was still part of my actual holidays).

  • I read, highlighted and scribbled one article (well, really 50% of it) within the first 30 minutes.
  • Then I finished processing the manuscript and started typing the memo associated with it. I wrote 1345 words of a memo, and I haven’t even finished the first part of the memo.
  • Then I realized I was already in a groove and spent the next 30 minutes writing more of the memorandum. I also typed my handwritten scribbles on the margins.
  • Then I wrote this blog post, searched for images to embed, searched for Jo’s and Aimeé’s blog so that I could link back to them and attribute, then I found my own blog posts on organization and memo writing.

Basically I did 4 blocks of 30 minutes of work, and I haven’t even finished processing an article and writing a memorandum. I think I need another 30 minutes of work to finish processing this article, because I got so angry reading it that I have A LOT of scribbles that need to be typed and transcribed. But as I was doing the 30 minute challenge, I realized that Aimeé is completely right: you can move your work forward A LOT 30 minutes at a time.

Thanks for reminding me of this, Dr. Morrison!

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