The 20 Minute Tip

timeblogilloHave you ever been working on a project and for the life of you, you just can’t get yourself to focus on it? When you’re in this situation, do the minutes feel like hours without any sense of progress? Do you welcome every and any distraction into your life to come and rescue you from (what seems like) the horrible task at hand?

I bet you’ve been there before, I know I have.

If you’re a freelancer like me, I’m sure you love what you do. But, like any other profession, not every moment is a pleasant, enjoyable experience. Some projects are more exciting than others, some tasks, although necessary, may be very tedious. Some weeks, the work load just feels overwhelming. All of these factors can contribute to lack of focus and ultimately create a barrier between you and that flow state we’re all trying to attain.

What do you do to get over this hump?

Do you put your head down and simply power through? That’s not always a bad idea and sometimes that may be the most appropriate solution depending on how deep in procrastination your are, or how behind schedule you might be. But as a preventative measure to help you avoid things from getting to that point, I’d like to share with you a tip that may help you not only to just get through a tedious task or laborious project, but also create a space where you may even run into some creative breakthroughs in the process.

It’s called the 20 minute tip.

At least that’s what I call it. It’s something I started to do somewhat intuitively, then later found out that there’s some actual science to back it up, as well as other techniques that use a very similar approach. So before we get into the details of this 20 minute tip, I’d like to share with you a bit of background on focus and concentration.

It turns out that our concentration peaks at around the 20 min mark. That means, when you’re studying, reading a book, listening to a talk, watching a movie, your attention has the capability to start wandering around 20 minutes in. That’s usually the point where we might reach for our phones to check our notifications, or start thinking about what we’re going to have for dinner. This wandering of the mind also happens when we’re working as well. Advertisers know all about this function of our brain and that’s probably why there’s not too many commercials that come anywhere near 20 minutes. This also may be why Ted Talks, which are so effective at holding our attention, don’t exceed 18 minutes.

Knowing this insightful bit of info about our brains can really help us to get the most out of our hours by optimizing our productivity and overall work flow. So now that we have all of that background on focus and concentration, what is the 20 minute tip? Well, here it is in a nutshell:

Work for 20 minutes, take a very short break, repeat. That’s it.

Sounds very simple and perhaps even too obvious, right? Well, there’s some important details to keep in mind in order to get the most out of this technique. First off, the 20 minutes of work must be completely uninterrupted. Make sure your phone is out of sight and on silent. If you’re working on your computer, turn off all tabs and close any windows that don’t have to do with the task at hand. I set my mind to only be focused on the task in front of me during this time. You can check the clock to see how you’re doing in regard to time (that’s what I do), but if that’s too distracting for you, feel free to set a timer. Once your 20 minutes is up, completely stop what you’re doing and take a break. This break shouldn’t be any longer than 5 minutes, but can even be as short as 2 minutes. The main point of this break is to refresh your brain and recharge, so make sure you don’t look at the thing you’re working on during this break. Use the bathroom, drink some water, look out the window, walk around a bit, whatever you have to do to reset your focus.

I’ve noticed that by the time I string together a few of these 20 minute sessions, I’ve been able to complete a noticeably larger amount of work than if I were to just power through for a couple hours. This approach turns your task into a little game where you’re trying to get as much done as possible in a short amount of time. When we only have a tiny window of minutes, we tend to do more with them. Also, knowing that there’s a small break right around the corner keeps you motivated.

Now, as I stated in the beginning,  this particular technique is for those tasks or projects that are a bit tedious or less interesting. But this technique can also be used for something that seems too big or daunting, something you’re afraid of screwing up. Lots of times, it’s things like that which trigger our procrastination muscles, so this is a good technique to use to counteract that habit, thereby tricking yourself into starting. If you feel at any point during this experience that you’re getting on a real roll and even getting into a flow, then just keep going and ride the wave of momentum. That’s the whole point of the exercise!

Well, I hope this was somewhat helpful. Like I said in the beginning, I’m a freelancer myself. And as a freelancer, I’m always trying to find the best ways of optimizing and streamlining my process. There’s so much helpful info out there that has helped me along the way, so I thought I’d add to that as best I could by sharing this tip with you.

In doing some research for this post, I realized that there is a similar technique used to get things done and conquer procrastination, called the Pomodoro technique. Check it out if you’d like to expand on this. Also, if you’re interested in learning more tips about creating healthy habits as a freelancer, be sure to check out my Skillshare class where I cover this tip, as well as several others that you might find useful. Thanks for reading and I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes that might be appropriate for this topic of conversation: ‘A yard is hard, but inch by inch, anything’s a synch!’


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Thomas Pitilli is an illustrator based in Brooklyn, NY. His work has been featured in such publications as New York Times, Playboy, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, Billboard, Complex Magazine, Juxtapoz, and many more. To view more of Thomas' work, please check out his website at:

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