Finding time to create #2 The secret of 10 minutes focused attention

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Under pressure, time never seems to be on one’s side. You have many projects to complete but they all seem to merge into an endless torrent of deadlines, one after the other. Work piles up. One of your projects you have given little time to. You just can’t seem to get around to sitting down and getting to grips with it.

You finally decide you will spend just 10 minutes on it. You sit down with your file, your notes, calculator, pad and pen and think through what you are going to do. Suddenly, you have the solution. Ideas come to you and you become interested about completing the project. You make a list of people to call, tasks to complete, resources you will need and a workflow plan.

You are surprised how quickly you sorted things out after just not being able to get around to kick-starting your project. It only took 10 minutes and you were thinking that it would take you hours.

What’s going on here? Why did tackling this project seem like such a mountain to climb? What lessons does it hold for creativity, ideation and innovation?

Under stress it is hard to bring ourselves around to work on projects that we may believe only offer us marginal prospects for gain. How do we know that these projects we have placed low on our priority list have low value until we examine their potential and possibilities? We often tend to put these projects on the backburner because we just have too much to handle. We don’t recognise that money likes fast action when it flows and we can’t let things wait for weeks or longer.

Another thing is that we try to do some of the thinking about a delayed project in our heads. That’s fine up to a point but the result is that we can become overwhelmed carrying all the details in our brain. It’s much easier to sit down relaxed with a piece of paper or an electronic screen and put down all our thoughts where they are easy to see. The whole project becomes more manageable.

The other important insight is that with a white-hot focus we can block distractions and concentrate our minds and imagination on one project, giving it our full attention. Our mind can process information so quickly in this way that it seems unbelievable.

Brief periods of concentrated attention can help you speed up and complete projects at a rate you may have previously thought impossible. A timer (on your cell phone) or a kitchen timer — but without the distracting ticking sound — helps you block out well defined time periods of, say, 10 minutes to work on important projects. It is not necessary to complete the phase of your project in 10 minutes. If you haven’t completed what you set out to do in 10 minutes, start another 10-minute session — and another, if necessary. The main point is to focus your mind with a laser-sharp intensity so that you can give your full attention to the task at hand.

Concentrated periods of 10 minutes or more may seem artificial, even contrived. But when you try them out, you will find that your ideas flow more rapidly. Ideas you never thought of may well rise to the surface of your conscious mind. You will also be simply amazed at how fast your mind can really work and the outstanding results that you are able to produce when you coax your mind into working for you.

Idea Prompt

As a brief exercise, time yourself for two minutes and think about all the main elements that you will require for a project. Next, write down the tasks on a mind map (or on a program such as PersonalBrain), cluster map or simply use a list – whatever works best for you — in two minutes. Think again about your list of items without looking at your map or list, going through the items in your mind for two minutes. Do new items crop up? After the two minutes, place them on your map or list. (You may find ideas popping into your mind the next day — add them to your map or list.) Review what you have achieved in eight minutes. If you haven’t done this exercise yet, do it now and see how incredibly well it works. Should it not work the first time, try again on another project.

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