The 96-Minute Rule
In most jobs I’ve had in the past 20 or so years of my working life, saying you’re a great multitasker has been something to be celebrated. It’s what you say on cover letters or in job interviews to look competent and hard-working, right?
So, I want to talk about why multi-tasking actually inhibits productivity, and what I do instead: “The 96-Minute Rule,” which is an idea that comes from corporate trainer Randy Mayeux. It’s basically a productivity hack derived from the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule.
The Pareto Principle says you get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts, meaning 80% of what you’re doing during the day isn’t productive or actually “moving the needle.”
One reason for all of this wasted time is because we’re trying to multi-task. We are pulled in so many directions and have so many distractions throughout the day that we think multi-tasking is essential to getting everything done.
But in reality, multi-tasking is not a constructive behavior! And multi-tasking actually is kind of a misnomer – we can’t actually do two or three or five tasks at once. It’s more like switch-tasking. So, what’s really happening is that your brain (specifically the prefrontal cortex and the thalamus) is working hard to switch back and forth between tasks, which is actually slowing things down and making you much less productive. When we divide our attention between two or more tasks, we perform both more poorly than we would if we put all of our focus on just one task at a time. Talking on a cell phone while driving, for example, is dangerous because the conversation distracts you from the road. You’re also probably not giving that conversation your full attention.
Here’s another example you can do right now: Lift up your right foot and make a circle with it in a clockwise motion. While you’re doing that, draw a number six with your right finger in the air – is your foot still circling correctly?
How about this: It’s quick and easy to recite the alphabet from A-J or the numbers from 1-10. But now try switching from letter to number – A-1, B-2, C-3…it’s much harder, isn’t it?
So, since trying to multi-task leads to less productivity, what should we do instead? This is where the 96-minute rule comes in.
Again, the Pareto Principle says you get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. So, a day with eight working hours is 480 minutes. 20% of 480 minutes is 96 minutes.
Early in your workday, close your door if you can or find a quiet space. Turn off notifications and ringers and set a timer for 96 minutes. In those 96 minutes, focus on the most important thing(s) you have to do that day. Notice that you get into that flow state – that zone where you’re fully present and perform at your best.
After those 96 minutes, everything else you get done the rest of the day is a bonus!
When I’m trying to get work done and I have a lot on my plate, I get really stressed out by distractions (and I am easily distracted). Doing 96 minutes of focused, uninterrupted work in the morning makes the rest of my day a bit more relaxed because I’m not as worried about any diversions that do come my way.
Try it for a week and let me know if it helps!
If you want to learn about more productivity tools, I suggest taking Chris Crouch’s two-part webinar on Secrets to Being More Focused, Organized, and Productive - it's one of my favorites! In the webinar, Chris discusses the 96-minute rule, as well as ways to improve your mental focus, methods for getting and staying more organized, and ideas for using your time more efficiently and effectively.
Tiffani Mensch is ABN's Director of Education & Outreach. With 15 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, Tiffani is passionate about helping organizations achieve greater mission impact. If you would like to contribute to the ABN Blog, contact Tiffani at firstname.lastname@example.org.