The 20-minutes-a-day method to get things done

Did you know that I’ve been procrastinating on getting out my first email newsletter for about the last three months? There’s no good reason for this, of course.

I have the time. It’s not like my, fairly modest, email newsletter actually takes months and months of writing. In fact, I plan to do it every month, alongside regular blogging, work, freelance work, family, teaching and other activities.


Photo via {a href=""}dachadesig{/a}

But still, I have been reluctant to start. All I’ve been able to think about is all the things I need to do:

  • Choose a template in Aweber, my email service, and then customize it so it looks something like this blog.
  • Outline the content.
  • Create the content.
  • Write catchy headlines and an attention-grabbing subject line.
  • Get my email subscribers transferred from Feedburner to Aweber (you know who you are) before I send out the first one. And more.

Knowing I had all that to do, plus a lengthy list of blog-posts-to-be-written, an off-and-on commitment to working out, family, work, freelancing efforts and more, I’ve just been putting it off.

My mind has been good at coming up with excuses, though: It’s not worth doing until you have more email subscribers; blog content is the  most important thing; freelancing is the most important thing to do with my spare time; and more. You get the idea

Enter the 20-minutes-a-day to get things done. When you have a project like this, which has several steps and can seem overwhelming in the context of an already-lengthy to-do list, the 20-minutes-a-day method can work wonders. The best part? It only takes 20 minutes a day.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Put your project on your to-do list (I’m using Evernote for this, with a customized version of this method).
  2. In the notes area, list the various components to your project (for my email newsletter, that would be all that stuff in the bulleted list above). If you can list these in the order they need to get done, that’s great, but don’t obsess over it.
  3. I put the prefix “20 MINUTES” in front of my to-do item to remind myself that I’m using this method to tackle this project.
  4. Each day, I spent 20 minutes working on the project. Occasionally, if I really get in the flow I might go longer than 20 minutes, but usually I try to keep it to 20 minutes.

I find, over the course of several days or weeks using this method, that the anxiety-provoking project project melts away, and gets finished.

A couple of considerations.

First, this will not work for a project that has a really tight deadline. For those projects, I recommend some combination of sequestering yourself for several hours and delegating parts of it to co-workers.

Second, though the 20 minute method is great for tackling projects that have lots of steps, it is not a substitute for more formal project management methods for bigger projects. If you’re rebranding a company, designing a new cell phone or doing a national product launch, you’re probably going to need something a bit more involved.

But this method is great for those personal projects you’re procrastinating on because they seem too big, too troublesome or just too unpleasant. I’ve used this method to redesign this website (a process that’s ongoing), generate content for this blog and, of course, develop the inaugural edition of my email newsletter.

Do you have specific tactics or tools you use to tackle tasks or projects that you’d otherwise put off? Please leave your tips and suggestions in the comments below.

P.S. If you’re interested in the aforementioned newsletter and are not getting blog updates via email, please go to the top of this page and enter your email address in the box. Make sure you click on the confirmation link in the opt-in email. Don’t wait – the first email newsletter goes out June 10!


  1. says

    Mark, I really needed this post! I have been putting off three different social media projects. After reading this, I sat down and forced myself to get started. Just writing everything down instead of letting it rattle around in my head helped a ton. Thank you for kicking me into gear.

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