Manage your time in thirds

Posted by Dermot Crowley on 8th March 2022

Irish people, myself included, often struggle with their ‘t’s and ‘th’s. If I need to say the word ‘tree’, my brain will want to say ‘three’, and vice versa. As I approach the dreaded word, I almost have to stop talking, organise the words in my head, and then say them. Thirty-three and a third is a killer by the way! Which makes it slightly ironic that I am talking to you about a new measure of time that I am using that I call a ‘third’.

This is a concept that has been crystalising for me over a few months now. Without consciously aiming to do this, I realised that I have honed the skill of completing many of my more complex activities in units of twenty minutes, or in a third of an hour. I seem to have the ability to deeply focus on something and bring it to completion in a twenty-minute timeslot.

This newsletter will take me about twenty minutes to draft and send to Chauntelle for formatting. A client proposal often takes me twenty minutes. Even meetings usually only take me twenty minutes now that they are predominantly online. I call these units of time ‘thirds’. As there are three of them in an hour, it means I can get some serious work done in that time. I deliberately put this time constraint in place to sharpen my focus, and over time, my fitness has increased around this so I can usually deliver within that time.

Now I know that many will read this and feel that the concept does not apply to their work, as it is more complex and requires more time and focus. But I wonder if this is just the way we have conditioned ourselves over many years of doing our work.

I remember one of my mentors, Pete Cook, telling me many years ago that I spent too much time on crafting my newsletters each week. I used to spend up to half a day writing the draft, and the problem was of course that I frequently procrastinated on doing the work because I was so busy and it was so hard and complex. So, he told me force myself to write the draft in less than thirty minutes. I thought this would be impossible until I tried it, and low and behold, I can now get them done in twenty minutes! (I hope desperately that you still feel that they are useful now you know how little time I put into them).

Now, there are some things that I do to ensure that I am super-focused in that third. I capture ideas constantly so that I always have something to write about. I think about what I am going to write in the spaces in my day, like when I walk the dogs. This means I already have a good feel for what I will write when I sit down. And I minimise all distractions during the third itself. This also applies to my meetings. I plan my week thoroughly, so I am clear about the purpose and outcomes required of every meeting, so I am extremely focused during the meeting itself.

Of course, there is some work and some meetings that require more than a third. So, I apply two or three thirds to the task. But I still think of each third in my day as a unit of time that should produce a significant outcome. I believe that focusing my mind on the task and putting a time constraint in place helps me to get traction with my work and get it to a level of quality that is good enough rather than perfect.

There you go, twenty minutes to write this newsletter and I hope it added some real value for you. Not bad I reckon.

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