How to Improve Concentration with 50-Minute Focus Sessions


Earlier this summer, The Wealthy Freelancer introduced me to the idea of a 50 minute focus, which is a great way to learn how to improve concentration for better productivity. It’s a simple concept: spend 50 minutes intensively focused on one task, then you give yourself a 20 break and move onto the next item.

I tried it, and while it’s harder than I anticipated, it really does work. I spent 50 minutes focused on writing blog posts for a client, a task that could have stretched through most of the morning if I’d let myself check email or Facebook or send a few tweets in between blog posts. This way I got three short, yet meaty posts written in 50 minutes so I could move on to the next item.

I set the oven timer so I didn’t even waste time checking the clock, because I knew the time would alert me when 50 minutes had elapsed. Blogging is tricky, because you can’t disable your internet, and I briefly got distracted by another link on one of the web pages where I was doing research. Instead of letting that link lead me on a tangent to the Land of Procrastination, I forced myself to close the tab and refocus for the rest of the 50 minutes, which passed more quickly than at the beginning.

At first I was skeptical about how much I could accomplish in just 50 minutes, but without bouncing between browser windows and other distractions, I managed to produce quite a bit of copy.

Have you tried a 50 minute focus? What other tricks for improving concentration work when you really need results?

 


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Susan Johnston is a freelance writer/blogger who has contributed to publications including The Boston Globe, Mint.com’s blog, WomenEntrepreneur.com, and Yahoo! HotJobs. Her own blog, UrbanMuseWriter.com, covers tips on productivity, brainstorming, and more for fellow writers.

Discussion

  1. Bjørn Børresen on the 17th October

    I’ve used something similar called “the pomodoro technique”. Basically the same only in 25 minute intervals. And shorter breaks as well.

  2. Christopher Gronlund on the 17th October

    Unless I’m writing fiction (I can sit in one place and not move for hours, then), I work in one-hours bursts. Phone off (clients know I check messages and e-mail every hour), browser closed, headphones on and focused.

    After the hour of focused work, I check messages and e-mail, do a sweep of some online things, and maybe wander out of the office to chat with my wife for a couple minutes so I have some actual human interaction. Then it’s back into the office for another focused hour.

    Sometimes I end up so focused that I keep going beyond the hour. I’ll at least turn my phone back on and set e-mail to notify me of anything I need to see, but so many times, that intense focus carries over until something outside my office demands attention.

  3. Ron on the 17th October

    Thanks, for the post. Anything I can do to reduce procrastination is helpful.

    I came across the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a 30 minute program. You focus for 25 minutes and break for five minutes. After four Pomodoros you take a longer break. The whole process is explained in the free ebook. It can be downloaded from the website, http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/.

    I find shorter periods works best when I’m having a hard time getting started. Once I get going, 25 minutes comes and goes pretty fast. Some times it’s disruptive, But if I stick to the program, I get more done in a day than I could on my own.

  4. Vernon on the 17th October

    Susan,

    I love the idea. I’ve never tried something like this, but will definitely give it a try in the coming work week. My problem isn’t so much with getting myself to work, but rather to stay focused and actually get done what I set out to do.

  5. Marco Cervellin on the 17th October

    Have tried also the “Pomodoro Technique” (http://www.pomodorotechnique.com)? Work on a 25 minutes block, with small pauses of 3-5 minutes each and 30 minutes after 4 blocks cycles. I think time is relative to the task to accomplish and personal concentration.

  6. mohmammed on the 17th October

    thanks Susan for this great tip.

    i`ve tried it when i was at school at old days

    it works very well when u concentrate on one subject for 50 mins.

    i`ll try to do so it my design work and see if it works as it did in study back then .

    thank you for reminding me :)

  7. krystiano on the 17th October

    I’m using a technique called Pomodoro, which is very similar and it works great for me. I do 25min focus sessions followed by a 10min break. To keep track of time, I use a free iPhone app called Pomodoro Timer ( http://navel-labs.com/apps/pomodoro-timer ), which can be set to 50min as well.

  8. Wes Eklund on the 17th October

    I do alittle bit of a different format, with written steps throughout the entire day. Even time my breaks to make sure I don’t chat with coworkers, or look at facebook pics. Now I get 3 times as much work done than I used to. One of the best things you can for your productivity.

  9. Ether on the 17th October

    Sometimes is better to stay focused on a project for 2 hours and then have a 30 mins break. This works great for me!

  10. Mike on the 18th October

    Just to add here guys, while evidently everyone has their own work/break times and settings, I’ve gotten used to helping my own 50-minute work, / 20 break system with the help of RescueTime.com (nope, don’t work there…) … It simply helps me out, and makes sure i’m not wasting time on facebook and such, because it blocks my access to those websites when i’m “focusing” …with a preset amount of time that I can configure. Worth a peak for anyone who has a hard time avoiding the time-wasting sites.

    Maybe it will help someone else out!

  11. Daquan Wright on the 18th October

    For a student taking physics and math, this is helpful. I open my books and take out my calculator, but ALWAYS end up putting it off for something else and I really need to break this habit.

    These 50 minute burst sessions sound awesome, I’ll try to implement into how I study!

  12. Chris on the 18th October

    There is a simple timer app for this purpose at http://www.focusboosterapp.com/ .

  13. Natalie Sisson on the 18th October

    Hi Susan

    First off I can’t believe I hadn’t found this site before and secondly great article.

    I was at Blog World on the weekend and there were all sorts of tips and techniques going on and it was clear no-one technique works for every person but actually setting yourself time limits to achieve has been working well for me.

    I like the idea of 50 minutes especially as we can’t focus for more than 1 hour apparently. Glad to see this and the Pomdoro technique is working well for people.

    Time to snap to it.

    Natalie @womanzworld

  14. Wes Eklund on the 18th October

    Does anyone know about any android apps with the same function as others you guys have mentioned?

  15. Terry on the 14th November

    I use a similar method, I do 50 min focus periods with 10 min breaks. I start at 8AM and do 4 sessions in the morning then take a 1 hour lunch (I actually leave the computer for the whole break, grab lunch, watch TV. or actually leave and have lunch with the wife.) Then I come back at 1PM and do 4 sessions in the afternoon. So I get 8 session and I will split across different projects depending on workload and deadlines. I get so much done now that I actually have evenings off to spend with the family.

  16. JC on the 26th November

    I would like to know if there is any criteria about the 50 min time span. The pomodoro technique is targeting a 25 min slot, but personally I allways detected my ability to be fully concentrated on something for a maximun of 90 min. Any scientific criteria to choose the slot?

    Regards

    JC
    http://comomeorganizo.blogspot.com
    Twitter: @ComoMeOrganizo
    Ultima Nota: Habitos – Seamos Ordenados

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