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The Productivity Hack

How to stay on top of your work, while still having fun

Creative Daydreaming. Illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt

Creative Daydreaming. Illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and that means, miraculously, you’re already halfway through the fall term. It also means mid-term tests and assignments are going to start piling up, meaning productivity and good study habits are more essential than ever to stay on top of your workload without pulling too many all-nighters.

But productivity can be easier said than done. Temptations like Facebook, blogs, YouTube, Skype, or your procrastination vice of choice become more appealing than ever when you have something more important and less exciting to do, like finishing a paper or studying for an exam.

Which leaves you with three options.

  1. Vow that your New Year’s resolution will be to swear off Facebook, stop procrastinating, and start getting your work done EARLY! Yes! I can do this! Successfully pull this off for about three days, cave, and spend the next three days wasting your waking hours online while your paper sits unfinished. End up pulling an all-nighter the night before it’s due and kicking yourself the whole time, promising that NEXT time, you’ll get your work done early, damn it!
  2. After some serious self-reflection, acknowledge that you don’t have the willpower to stop procrastinating and simply accept that all-nighters are a necessary evil.
  3. Learn a genuinely effective productivity hack that achieves a happy medium of being productive and enjoying your internet vices, without requiring willpower of steel.

Number 3 likely sounds most appealing, right? So here’s the trick. It’s called the 30-10 Productivity Hack, and although you may scoff at its simplicity, it has been proven effective for about 90 per cent of the people who use it (based on my highly informal survey of my friends and family who I’ve recommended this to). The other 10 per cent are out of luck. I first discovered this trick on the blog Zen Habits ( and it changed my academic life.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Figure out where you spend most of your time when you should be working. For a lot of us, that’s on Facebook. It can also be spent browsing blogs, chatting on Skype, reading the news, watching videos on YouTube, you get the gist.
  2. Now, set a timer for 30 minutes. If you don’t have a stopwatch, there’s no shortage of online timers available. A basic, straightforward option is Now do your work for the full 30 minutes that the timer runs for. No Facebook, no blogs, no chatting, just work.
  3. When the timer goes off, reset it for 10 minutes. Now you’re in reward time. For the next 10 minutes, you can browse Facebook or watch YouTube videos to your heart’s content. But when your timer goes off after 10 minutes, reset for 30 minutes and get back to work. Repeat this process 30-10, 30-10, until your work is done.

I know this sounds too good to be true, but it really does work for most people. The promise of a tangible reward (10 minutes of free time) in the immediate future (never more than 30 minutes away) is a far more powerful motivator than more long-term or vague rewards that are further into the future (for example, not having to stay up all night finishing this paper next week). Knowing you have sanctioned time to procrastinate every 30 minutes makes the 30 minutes in between highly productive and distraction-free, meaning your paper gets done, on time, no sleep deprivation required. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!

Courtesy: Online Stopwatch

Good luck with midterms!


  1. Anonymous on October 16, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    This column begs an obvious question that seems especially relevant right this moment: what do I do when I’m procrastinating by reading an article about procrastination? I need to be writing a sports analysis article right now–this is stopping me from doing so. Help.

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