20 Minute Plan

Timer de Cozinha em forma de Tomate

Want to be the Darth Vader of your marketing universe? Start a 20 minute plan. Here’s what I mean. **Update: This is also evidently called the Pomodoro method. Furthermore, my friend, Thomas Clifford was on the same wavelength. It’s still a good method. : )

First, Get an Egg Timer

I recommend a real egg timer and not software. For whatever reason, software is easier to ignore. In your case, we’re going for bulletproof execution, so get a real one. (If you can’t see the links to timers below, click here.)

This one is classic:

This one is stainless and kind of cool:

This one is fun:

Clearly, any timer will do. Pick according to your needs.

Second, Build a List

Take a piece of paper, a 3×5 card, Evernote, Remember the Milk, whatever, and jot down a list. It can have whatever you want to do on it, but make sure that you put a mix of pleasurable things, necessary things, and absolutely overdue/must do things. Here’s an example:

  • Email responses and inbox cleaning.
  • Invoice checkup. Everybody paying?
  • Deliverable checkup. Doing what you should be doing?
  • Blog post. (20 minutes might get you all the way there, or halfway there).
  • Exercise. 20 minutes of brisk walking or a quick run or a circuit of pushups, situps, squats, and bentover rows with a light weight would do wonderfully.
  • Call 3 or 4 people and check in. Don’t ask for anything. Just check in.
  • Watch part of a TED talk.

You get the idea.

Eliminate Distractions

  • Close your browser. (Or leave the one tab you need open.)
  • Set your phone to silent.
  • Turn off Twitter, Yammer, IM, Skype.
  • Close your office door.
  • Put in earphones (even if you don’t listen to music).

Set the Timer

Set the timer for 20 minutes.


Work on something on the list. Do nothing to distract from the task you’ve laid out before you. At the end of 20 minutes, stop.

Cross off whatever you did. Think about when you might do another 20 minute burst.

Marvel at how amazing you are, and then go back to doing whatever you normally do with your time.

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  • Ctkellyd

    Genius! It’s so easy to lose productivity in the era of constant contact via technology. Thanks!

  • http://www.scottcofer.com Self Improvement Tips

    Excellent strategy that I use myself, Chris. I usually use software, but I like your suggestion to use the “real deal”. I’m digging the stainless steel model, myself.

    I think the real key here is not only the timer focus, but also removing any distractions — critical!


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  • http://spaceheaterstudios.com/article-marketing/ Article Marketing

    These tips are so simple and straight forward I don’t know why I haven’t always done them! I liked that you recommended using a real timer rather than software. I think there’s a difference between “real” physical things and computer based tools. When I really need to learn something or understand a topic, I will take notes or write by hand rather than typing. For some reason, I generally process the topic better than if I typed it.

  • http://naturalconsulting.com.au Mel The Trainer

    Yep, love it. I’ve actually got an egg timer sitting silent on my desk after picking up the tip ages ago elsewhere. Thanks for reminding me to use it. The system does work … if you use the system!

  • http://naturalconsulting.com.au Mel The Trainer

    Yep, love it. I’ve actually got an egg timer sitting silent on my desk after picking up the tip ages ago elsewhere. Thanks for reminding me to use it. The system does work … if you use the system!

  • Gub McNicoll

    This post got me thinking about why these kinds of tips and tricks are a) so popular and b) so useful.
    For example, is the strength of this tip that 20 minutes is really the optimal period for completing a distraction-free task or, for that matter, is an oxymoronic tomato-shaped egg-timer the most natural way to focus the mind. Presumably not.

    My guess is that for the self-employed, or these days the [newpermutation]preneur, so much of the content and timing of work occurs in a feedback vacuum that it can be quite disorienting.

    Possibly, the egg-timer serves as an artifact of an external reality, which, unlike the wilderness of sole trading, is relatively resistant to doubt.


  • http://www.inflatable-all-world.com/product/Inflatable-Combos-p1.html Inflatable Combos

    Great!That is cool,i love Norpro Egg Rite Egg Timer!

  • Anonymous

    I’ve adopted similar lessons from screenwriters. Jane Espenson (Battlestar Galactica, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Torchwood) calls these “sprints”. 10 minutes, 20 mintues, 30 minutes – however long you can – just say go, put your head down and sprint on a task for that period of time. Jane Tweets her writing sprints so others can join in, and there’s something really enjoyable and compelling about joining in on those – it helps you feel both accountable and part of a team, even though you may be working solo and accountable only to yourself.

    Jessica Butler at Hollywood University had a great post this morning about making excuses as a writer, and posted a nice take on the “shutting everything off” theory. Her view is that we will always face distractions and interruptions, so isolation is useful, but figuring out how to cope with (and recover quickly from) distractions is more useful in the long run.


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  • Raena Lynn

    Hi Chris,

    This is a great article. Time management is one of the main obstacles that have to be conquered. I really like this “egg timer” approach and it is worth a go. Speaking of time management, recently I attended a live webinar with Jonathan Budd. The webinar was in line with his “The Unstoppable Entrepreneur Live Immersion Event which is being held in May in San Diego.

    He began the webinar by using an example of what a champion tennis player does differently than the players who lose under him. The key is that during the breaks, he noticed the winning players rejuvinatied themselves during breaks. So he incorporated a rejuvination schedule throughout the workday. He begins with 30 minutes of doing either exercising, or reading, or meditation or a hobbie prior to beginning work. Then he breaks up the day into 60 to 90 minute blocks with 30 minute “breaks” in between. He can choose whatever he wants to do during these “rejuvination breaks.” He prefers meditation, and running. However, the activities can be a number of choices, as long as the mind is given a chance to rest or get more oxygen. So he stays “rejuvinated” throughout the day, therefore, being more productive, focused and creative.

    I’m working on this type of schedule because I tend to not take breaks, which doesn’t work and causes areas of pain, mentally and physically. So far, it is working. I still want to give your method a try to see how much can be accomplished in 20 minutes. Thanks!

  • Anonymous


    Sometimes I forget to thank people that I believe are doing something special that I value. Most often, the person I forget to say “thanks” to is my God and in my case, I am a Christian so I need to thank God and His Son, more often. Of course, my wife falls into the forgotten category at times, and I cannot begin to relate what she has done for me in my life, like putting up with me!
    One important person that I never have previously thanked yet is this guy named Chris Brogan. I love his articles, love how he changes up the topic a little bit now and again, I love that the guy is always thinking of ways to improve his “serve” and be a better person for himself and others.
    Chris, thank you for the time you spend doing this, for the late nights without sleep, and all the bull fodder you overcame and persevered through to get here in my inbox and/or my RSS reader. I especially thank you for mentioning TED talk, as I had never heard of it and there seems to be some really wickedly cool content there from other pretty neat people that seem to care a lot about others as well. You add great value to me, so thank you!

    Kory Cochran

  • http://www.paws4claws.com Karen Barnett

    Like the 20-minute timer, I use it with another basic — the 4×6 note card. I got this idea from watching my daughter study. Yes, she is an avid Apple user, computer savvy kid, but when she studies, it’s notecards. So, I went back to my comfort zone and jot things down on her (now I buy my own) 4×6 cards. 1) It helps me really remember what I need to do or remember in my overly cluttered brain 2) It gives me a mental break from my computer and computer screen 3) It puts my hand in a different and new position then my computer typing carpal tunnel syndrome position and 4) it’s an easier access file when you don’t have internet access!

    Karen Barnett

  • http://www.linkedin.com/company/cross-country-home-services Cross Country Home Services

    Time management is one of the main obstacles that have to be conquered. I really like this “egg timer” approach and it is worth a go. Speaking of time management, recently I attended a live webinar with Jonathan Budd.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/danny-demichele/ Danny DeMichele Photos

    Its make sure that you put a mix of pleasurable things, necessary things, and absolutely..true

  • http://karate-kids.com.au Sensei Matt Klein

    Amazing how little time it takes to actually complete the job compared to the job of procrastinating. Like this post.

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  • http://mainspring.tv MainSpring Video

    This is great advice for focusing on 1 thing and getting it done– I use the timer method often and it’s the only way to make progress sometimes. I notice how my brain will come up with urges for distraction, one after another. i.e. check an email, check the weather app, etc. I tell it, “fine, after the timer goes off, you can do that” (and when it goes off I’ve forgotten most of those things). We go through the day so distracted and can so easily be ‘blown about by every wind’ – the timer method is a good anchor, for sure.

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual office assistant

    Great sharing and lots to digest and I have to agree, Chris, especially with the first trait you mentioned. It’s a bias on my part – Keeping an eagle eye on outcomes is so essential to the successful business owner. For that we need to be more concentrated on what we do and should not deviate from it.

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  • http://www.anglingadventures.com.au/Fishing_Tours/christmas_island_-_mid_pacific_fishing_trip Christmas Island fishing

    I’ve really enjoyed your recent practical guides to working it out as a wannabe entrepreneur. You’ve really scratched an itch and I’m trying my best to apply some of the workings of your mind.

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  • Louisasimpson98

    wow that’s really neat