20 minute interruptions

Very, very early in my self-improvement journey, I tried adding a 20 minute timer to my life. Every 20 minutes of my waking life, it went off. I’d explicitly say to myself what it was I was doing (“Watching TV” or “Talking to Fred”). It’s important to have a verbal or written note of what you’re doing.

I added a specific prompt at one point: “What am I doing, and why?”. I don’t think goals are how I think about things today, but it’s how I tried to think back then (goal factoring). Today I might ask, “What am I doing, and do I want to be doing it? Do I want to be doing it this way?”

The basic 20-minute check-in process was very helpful to me. Some benefits:

  • Ding! What am I doing? It gave me an awareness of time. How long do things last? Our subjective sense of time doesn’t always match. For example, doing my daily chores takes about 20 minutes. A typical conversation with a friend takes 60-120 minutes for me. But the chores feel way longer to me!
  • What am I doing, and do I want to be doing it? Interrupting default activities (a type of inertia). Watching TV until I get bored of it takes me 2-10 hours, if I don’t have a timer. Having a timer interrupt me let me say “well, maybe this will be the last episode, then.” It’s easy to get into a low-energy state for leisure activities where you don’t notice the passage of time. And it’s important to note, I don’t have any rules. I can keep watching TV all night if I want to. This helps me avoid doing it out of pure inertia. (It also really keyed me in that TV does not really “recharge” my batteries. Other relaxation is better.)
  • Do I want to be doing it, or doing it this way? Interrupting bad approaches (a type of inertia). Sometimes, I get stubborn. I’ll keep trying to solve a problem in one way, for way too long. Having a regular interruption keys me into how long I’ve been doing that. I’ll notice I should maybe try a different approach or a work-around. Or give up.
  • Ding! Providing a check-in. I’ll just take stock, and say “hey, am I really having fun? is this even useful?”. Sometimes I’m just doing something dumb. Or sometimes I forget to have fun or take a break for too long. This is my reminder to check in with my strategic system; my emotions; my body.
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