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Rediscovering Productivity with the 50/10 Method

by wrich

Written by Dunith Dhanushka, Engineer at WSO2 

A common complaint from remote workers over this last year has been the lack of structure. Without the commute to and from the office it has become easy to let tasks stretch out over the whole day, or to let work follow you from your desk to your sofa in the evening. This is a bad sign for employees and can easily lead to exhaustion or burnout. Earlier this year, a report from the Prodoscore Research Council found that employees were working more in 2020, often starting earlier in the day and finishing later at night. 

So, as the corporate world moves into a more permanent hybrid working environment, it might be worth refreshing your approach to productivity and taking back your free time. When I started working from home last year, I wanted to find a creative “process”, and stumbled upon the 50/10 method. 

Productivity is being able to do things that you were never able to do before. — Franz Kafka 

The 50/10 method is a simple way for people to boost their productivity without losing focus. This method works best for the sprinters: those who plan to finish a lengthy task in a series of short sprints, instead of a marathon day of working 6-8 hours straight. If done right, you can break your working day into a series of manageable tasks, achieved in 50-minute ‘sprints’, and rewarded by 10 minutes of rest. Studies have found that 50 minutes is the ideal amount of time for focused work, and this method gives you a simple goal to work towards without burning out or working well into your free time.

So, here’s how can you make the 50/10 method work best for you. 

1.Know when you work best.

You will not have the same level of energy throughout the day, so identify when you work best. Whether you are an early bird or a night owl, find at least two timeslots in a day where you can stay productive for 2-3 hours straight.  These are your flow states. For example, I choose 3 hours in the morning and another 3 hours at night.

2.Break your work down into manageable chunks.

Once you have allocated your flow states, break each hour up into 50-minute ‘sprints’ and 10 minutes of rest. Try to choose tasks for each sprint that are achievable. Imagine you are trying to write an article: researching for the piece is a good chunk that can fall into a 50-minute sprint and planning the outline of the article makes a great second chunk.

3.Define what you want to achieve.

It is very important to have the end in sight when beginning a sprint. When planning a chunk, define your target for each sprint clearly, and let your end goal motivate you to stay focused within those 50 minutes. Take the example of writing an article, your entry criteria can be having an idea of what to write. The exit criteria for the sprint, your end goal, can be to have a finished outline. Having clear targets for each sprint structures your intentions and ensures a little dopamine hit each time you achieve your exit criteria. 

4.Avoid distractions.

Focus and discipline are essential for each 50-minute sprints. Distractions are hard to avoid, but there are things you can control. Putting your phone on silent mode, using apps like Forest, or downloading website blockers like Freedom, StayFocusd, and Limit, can help you to resist the temptation of social media. Alternatively, keep a piece of paper nearby where you can write down all of your distracting thoughts, ideas, and questions, and come back to it after your sprint.

 5.Do what works best for you.

Some distractions are out of our control, of course. Noisy neighbours or a nearby construction site can get in the way of a focused sprint period. The best way to avoid these things is by wearing noise cancelling headphones and creating a productive soundscape that you will work best to. There are websites devoted to providing productive background noise, like Noisli or Ambiently, or try sites like BBC Sounds for podcasts if you prefer a busier environment. Spotify and YouTube will also show thousands of results if you search terms like “deep focus music” – I find that binaural audio playlists work best for me. 

6.Work comfortably!

Make your workspace as comfortable as you can. You want your sprints to feel like bursts of productivity, not an enforced period of work. One of the joys of working from home is that you can work in comfort, so enjoy your workspace. As the weather improves, try to work near a window so that you can feel the sun’s warmth, or can enjoy a cool breeze. Invest in a good chair and desk to put you at ease so you can focus on your ideas without worrying about neck ache or an awkward angle. 

In general, the 50/10 method works best when you tailor it to you. Find 10-minute rest activities that will relax your mind without breaking your concentration potential for the next sprint. If you work best with a coffee in hand, use your break to get that ready. If you hate sitting still, take the opportunity for 10 minutes of movement, like stretching or walking around.

Rome wasn’t built in a day…

I found this method very helpful in structuring my days during lockdowns, when working from home was inevitable. It is difficult to adjust to at first, but the key to success is consistency. You have to keep trying until 50/10 is a daily habit. After a few weeks, you’ll feel like you achieve so much more in much shorter days. That’s what I call productivity. Once you get into the groove of 50/10, you won’t want to work any other way.


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