The 20-Second Productivity Rule, at Work and Home

Wednesday March 9, 2016

(Welcome to my new series in which I attempt to apply work productivity rules (think: The Four Hour Work Week) to my current life as a stay-at-home parent. Can you optimize stay-at-home parenting? Let’s find out.)

Have you ever heard of the 20-second work rule?

Back in my years as a lawyer, swamped as the office newbie in rote work and random legal questions, I adopted the “20 second rule.” The rule sprang up in some Work Faster, Work Better! interview with a leading entrepreneur, and I thought, hey, it’s worth a shot!

The rule is simple: if you can do something in 20 seconds or less, just do it now.

In comes those quick questions and scheduling emails; out they go, out of your office so you can work on bigger/better things.

(The side effect being that the bigger/better things get more of your acute focus and attention, because you don’t have nagging thoughts about quick emails you need to send out still.)

It had a large effect on my work life organization at the time. I was no longer bogged down in questions I already knew the answer to – the work that bogs down any office worker. Once I followed the 20 second rule, it was easy for me to distinguish Actual Work from Mindless Follow Through.

Last week, I started trying to apply it to my stay-at-home life, hoping that similarly, if I got all that busy work off my metaphorical desk, I’d have more quality time for Bean and for myself.

First, it was a matter of separating out what is work and what is life in a stay-at-home parenting context. It’s a fine line. I decided anything pertaining to Bean (school, doctor’s appointments, play dates, household/bike/scooter/drawing/writing lessons, feeding) or Far Out City is “work.”

So far, I’ve been applying the 20 second rule to scheduling emails (a request from a teacher, or other parent for a play date or to attend a class with them) and the minor work that springs out of Far Out City (answering an email, approving a comment, fixing a typo). It’s actually been very helpful.

Applying the rule leaves a lot of non-20 second work items for me to focus on instead, which is the actually fulfilling part of staying-at-home. When I’m just playing with Bean in her room, or slowing down to teach her how to do something, I don’t have a nagging list of little things I should be doing instead. It’s all been taken care of; I can focus on the real work of my day.

Motherhood, Work

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