Your 20 Minutes of Awesome

If you’re anything at all like me, your time is very valuable to you. You only have 24 hours in a day and ostensibly only a portion of those hours are yours to use for productive things, so you do your best to make the most of them, cut out the chaff and increase your output the best you can.

Needless to say, this kind of mindset is not conducive to breaks, naps, lollygagging or friends (just kidding on that last one…or am I!?).

But despite my own and your propensity for productivity, I want to propose a non-intuitive method for increasing effectiveness, alertness and mental health. I call it 20 Minutes of Awesome, and I’m going to tell you why you should utilize this method every single day.

The basis of 20MA rests with the idea that if you work for 45 minutes and then rest for 15, your mind will have time to digest what you just did and you will be more likely to store that information in your long term memory, rather than just your short term. It also stems from my appreciation for yoga, meditation and other body/mind connection exercises that I’ve found to be incredibly therapeutic and effective, even when I’ve been incredibly stressed or lazy.

Here’s what 20MA entails:

  • Take 20 minutes from each day to sit quietly, not doing anything with your body, not playing Tetris or doodling or reading or listening to music or watching TV. Just sitting (or laying, if you think you can stay awake).
  • Stare off into space, unfocus your eyes and let your mind wander. I find that my mind generally goes first to the important items of the day, which is fine. It doesn’t matter what you think about, just that you know you’ve got some time to think, so tangents are allowed.
  • Let your friends and family know that while you’re enjoying your 20MA, you would prefer not to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency. Turn off your phone and close the door.
  • You will be sitting there for 20 minutes, so use the time or don’t. If you just need some time to empty your mind and think about nothing, that’s perfectly fine. If you want to do mental calculations for your taxes, that’s cool too. It’s your time.

I find that after I take my 20 minutes, I feel refreshed, motivated and ready to go. Sometimes I’ll just let my mind wander in circles, but generally I will first think about my responsibilities, current projects, long-term and short-term goals, etc. Many times during my 20 Minutes of Awesome, I’ll remember something that I dropped the ball on and need to get to right away, or recall a name or idea I had been trying to remember (without success) while in ‘productivity mode’ earlier that day (or week).

Taking your 20 Minutes of Awesome is a really simple but effective method for organizing your thoughts and topping off your energy levels.

What do you do to focus and de-stress? Let me know in the comments below!

UPDATE: Discover Magazine concurs

46 comments

  1. what a great article! thank you for this.

    i have a question, though -
    you mention to ‘Take 20 minutes from each day to sit quietly, not doing anything with your body…’

    but then you add,
    ‘Many times during my 20 Minutes of Awesome, I’ll remember something that I dropped the ball on and need to get to right away, or recall a name or idea I had been trying to remember’

    what do you do during these occasions, then? are you allowed to interrupt the ‘sitting quietly and not doing anything’ part so that you can madly scribble down these reminders and epiphanies? or is that considering cheating/defeating the purpose of the exercise?

  2. what a great article! thank you for this.

    i have a question, though -
    you mention to ‘Take 20 minutes from each day to sit quietly, not doing anything with your body…’

    but then you add,
    ‘Many times during my 20 Minutes of Awesome, I’ll remember something that I dropped the ball on and need to get to right away, or recall a name or idea I had been trying to remember’

    what do you do during these occasions, then? are you allowed to interrupt the ‘sitting quietly and not doing anything’ part so that you can madly scribble down these reminders and epiphanies? or is that considering cheating/defeating the purpose of the exercise?

  3. Hey Yasmine:

    Thanks for the kind words!

    Great question; I didn’t clarify that in the article, did I?

    Usually I try to keep the ‘purity’ of the 20 minutes, so I’ll just keep that item in mind until I’m done. Every once in a while I’ll grab a post-it and scribble something down if I’m afraid I won’t remember when I’m done, but I find (and I imagine you would too) that having that piece of paper and pen available suddenly makes me feel like I need to use it and jot more down, bring order to my thoughts, etc, which adds a level of stress to what should be a very free-thinking, brainstorm-esque experience.

  4. Hey Yasmine:

    Thanks for the kind words!

    Great question; I didn’t clarify that in the article, did I?

    Usually I try to keep the ‘purity’ of the 20 minutes, so I’ll just keep that item in mind until I’m done. Every once in a while I’ll grab a post-it and scribble something down if I’m afraid I won’t remember when I’m done, but I find (and I imagine you would too) that having that piece of paper and pen available suddenly makes me feel like I need to use it and jot more down, bring order to my thoughts, etc, which adds a level of stress to what should be a very free-thinking, brainstorm-esque experience.

  5. 20 Minutes of Awesome…I like the name. This is a great idea, similar to many meditation traditions, mostly like Zen.

    I think that one of the most important parts is to just let your mind think what it wants. Don’t force it in any direction or focus on one idea/problem so much that you block out other parts of your mind which might reveal a hidden solution.

    For refocusing and de-stressing I do any number of things. While by myself I will go for a bike ride, or read if the weather is not cooperating. Other times my wife and I will go for a 20-30+ min. walk with the dog Anything to shift the mental gears for a while and refocus.

  6. 20 Minutes of Awesome…I like the name. This is a great idea, similar to many meditation traditions, mostly like Zen.

    I think that one of the most important parts is to just let your mind think what it wants. Don’t force it in any direction or focus on one idea/problem so much that you block out other parts of your mind which might reveal a hidden solution.

    For refocusing and de-stressing I do any number of things. While by myself I will go for a bike ride, or read if the weather is not cooperating. Other times my wife and I will go for a 20-30+ min. walk with the dog Anything to shift the mental gears for a while and refocus.

  7. Thanks for the feedback, Sean!

    I totally agree that allowing your mind to wander is key to getting the most out of this exercise. Sometimes I’ll go into with a definite idea of what I want to accomplish, and it takes me a full 10 minutes to settle my mind and realize that I shouldn’t have any goal in mind, other than allowing my thoughts to work themselves out, settle down and maybe find some greater meaning in something I saw earlier in the day or a year previous.

    It’s funny that you mention going on walks to relax: my girlfriend and I recently took up the same practice, walking a mile or two, very casually, just to take in the surroundings and have the opportunity to talk about whatever away from the distractions of our computers and phones.

  8. Thanks for the feedback, Sean!

    I totally agree that allowing your mind to wander is key to getting the most out of this exercise. Sometimes I’ll go into with a definite idea of what I want to accomplish, and it takes me a full 10 minutes to settle my mind and realize that I shouldn’t have any goal in mind, other than allowing my thoughts to work themselves out, settle down and maybe find some greater meaning in something I saw earlier in the day or a year previous.

    It’s funny that you mention going on walks to relax: my girlfriend and I recently took up the same practice, walking a mile or two, very casually, just to take in the surroundings and have the opportunity to talk about whatever away from the distractions of our computers and phones.

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  10. I love how you named it!
    I never thought of doing anything like that before, and let me tell you, I sure need it.
    Thanks for the tip, I’ll definitely try it sometime.

  11. I love how you named it!
    I never thought of doing anything like that before, and let me tell you, I sure need it.
    Thanks for the tip, I’ll definitely try it sometime.

  12. Great advice here. Especially when working on something particularly long, I find it so helpful to take frequent breaks. Work for an hour, take a break, work for an hour, take a break. And so on. Sometimes I will go in sections, not in time. I will finish one section of a paper or whatever I’m working on, no matter how long it takes me, then I will take a break. If it takes me 2 or 3 hours, I take a longer break (maybe half an hour to an hour). I totally agree, the short breaks are great for recharging the batteries and the creative juices. I remember reading somewhere that students in the classroom absorb the most information within the first hour to hour and a half of class. I’m guessing that applies to working as well.

  13. Great advice here. Especially when working on something particularly long, I find it so helpful to take frequent breaks. Work for an hour, take a break, work for an hour, take a break. And so on. Sometimes I will go in sections, not in time. I will finish one section of a paper or whatever I’m working on, no matter how long it takes me, then I will take a break. If it takes me 2 or 3 hours, I take a longer break (maybe half an hour to an hour). I totally agree, the short breaks are great for recharging the batteries and the creative juices. I remember reading somewhere that students in the classroom absorb the most information within the first hour to hour and a half of class. I’m guessing that applies to working as well.

  14. Good stuff.

    I do a few things:
    1. Worry breaks – I worry intensely at a designated time, so any time I catch myself worrying about something else, I remind myself I have a time and place for that.
    2. 40 minutes on, 10 minutes off – I work in short bursts of intensity.
    3. Power hours – I find my best hours in the day and I protect them, optimize them, and add to them. I used to have 4 power hours a week, now I have about 4 power hours a day.
    4. Creative hours – Similar to power hours, but instead of execution, these hours are for exploration.
    5. Switching hats – if I find I’m not in the right mindset, I put on a different productivity persona simply by metaphorically switching hats. Sometimes I just need to put my “kick arse and take names” hat on.

  15. Good stuff.

    I do a few things:
    1. Worry breaks – I worry intensely at a designated time, so any time I catch myself worrying about something else, I remind myself I have a time and place for that.
    2. 40 minutes on, 10 minutes off – I work in short bursts of intensity.
    3. Power hours – I find my best hours in the day and I protect them, optimize them, and add to them. I used to have 4 power hours a week, now I have about 4 power hours a day.
    4. Creative hours – Similar to power hours, but instead of execution, these hours are for exploration.
    5. Switching hats – if I find I’m not in the right mindset, I put on a different productivity persona simply by metaphorically switching hats. Sometimes I just need to put my “kick arse and take names” hat on.

  16. I’m not really sure about this. When I kick off my ‘online mode’ in my mind it’s usual for me to be difficult to switch online again. The best practice for me is to stay online as much as I can, and then relax when I arrive home. Maybe sad, but it’s quite true.

  17. I’m not really sure about this. When I kick off my ‘online mode’ in my mind it’s usual for me to be difficult to switch online again. The best practice for me is to stay online as much as I can, and then relax when I arrive home. Maybe sad, but it’s quite true.

  18. Thanks for all the great comments!

    @Fernanda Carvalo: Thanks :) Let me know how it turns out!

    @Graham: I hadn’t read that fact about students in the classroom…very good to know. I wonder if a restructuring of how American classrooms work could make the whole process that much more efficient and effective?

    @J.D.Meier: GREAT advice. I especially like the idea of Worry Breaks. I know when I get to thinking about something that is stressing me out, it can greatly reduce my productivity. I’m definitely going to have to try this one out.

    @Leon Zerleg: I know a few other people who have raised the same concern. I think the trick might be to ease your way into it. I had trouble taking breaks at first, too. I had an even worse time trying to get myself to take naps when I needed them (I fought long and hard!). In the end, though, I’m glad I can do both when I need to, now, and all it took was some practice, and before that accepting that even if I tried it out, I wouldn’t be stuck having to nap and take breaks all the time if I didn’t like it (or if it didn’t work for me). I would say that it’s worth a shot either way!

  19. Thanks for all the great comments!

    @Fernanda Carvalo: Thanks :) Let me know how it turns out!

    @Graham: I hadn’t read that fact about students in the classroom…very good to know. I wonder if a restructuring of how American classrooms work could make the whole process that much more efficient and effective?

    @J.D.Meier: GREAT advice. I especially like the idea of Worry Breaks. I know when I get to thinking about something that is stressing me out, it can greatly reduce my productivity. I’m definitely going to have to try this one out.

    @Leon Zerleg: I know a few other people who have raised the same concern. I think the trick might be to ease your way into it. I had trouble taking breaks at first, too. I had an even worse time trying to get myself to take naps when I needed them (I fought long and hard!). In the end, though, I’m glad I can do both when I need to, now, and all it took was some practice, and before that accepting that even if I tried it out, I wouldn’t be stuck having to nap and take breaks all the time if I didn’t like it (or if it didn’t work for me). I would say that it’s worth a shot either way!

  20. Hey Colin! I love the idea of 20MA – reminds me of meditation, actually, which is one of my daily habits (I try to stick to it as much as possible). I’m guessing this probably reaps the most effects if we are to do it in the beginning of the day, though it works too if we do it at other times. I’ll start putting this into practice now. Thanks a lot! :D

  21. Hey Colin! I love the idea of 20MA – reminds me of meditation, actually, which is one of my daily habits (I try to stick to it as much as possible). I’m guessing this probably reaps the most effects if we are to do it in the beginning of the day, though it works too if we do it at other times. I’ll start putting this into practice now. Thanks a lot! :D

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  26. This is perfect for those of us that need to clear our minds on a daily basis. It’s kind of time to organize that filing cabinet in your mind so the papers aren’t scattered all over the place. I’m definitely starting today!

  27. This is perfect for those of us that need to clear our minds on a daily basis. It’s kind of time to organize that filing cabinet in your mind so the papers aren’t scattered all over the place. I’m definitely starting today!

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  29. This is awesome. I usually pair the 20 minutes with a walk or run along the beach to get the blood flowing first. If something I need to do later comes to mind then I’ll mostly capture it (email to self through iPhone being the simplest inbox) but I won’t do it or do anything more than simply capture. Often though there is no need to act and you can let the thought pass.

    Then I mix in meditation moments (http://su.pr/4l7iuM) throughout the day to return to that still mind.

  30. This is awesome. I usually pair the 20 minutes with a walk or run along the beach to get the blood flowing first. If something I need to do later comes to mind then I’ll mostly capture it (email to self through iPhone being the simplest inbox) but I won’t do it or do anything more than simply capture. Often though there is no need to act and you can let the thought pass.

    Then I mix in meditation moments (http://su.pr/4l7iuM) throughout the day to return to that still mind.

  31. Hey Colin,
    Thanks for the post. I’ve tried before to take about 20-30 minutes each day to collect my thoughts. I usually would end up trying to be as productive as possible during this time, and would feel bad if I wasn’t.
    I will have to try what you recommend and just let my mind go wherever it goes.
    I also find taking 30 minute walks in the morning right when I wake up helps me to get my mind prepped for the day.

    Anyway thanks,
    Chad

  32. Hey Colin,
    Thanks for the post. I’ve tried before to take about 20-30 minutes each day to collect my thoughts. I usually would end up trying to be as productive as possible during this time, and would feel bad if I wasn’t.
    I will have to try what you recommend and just let my mind go wherever it goes.
    I also find taking 30 minute walks in the morning right when I wake up helps me to get my mind prepped for the day.

    Anyway thanks,
    Chad

  33. Love it. I found that I loved bus rides while traveling (and while commuting too) for just this reason…nothing to do but let the mind wander. I need to start taking more virtual bus rides!!

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  36. I know this article has been written about 2 years ago but I really love the idea! Till there, the best I could find was streching out and walking around for like a minute. I also tried doing some exercise (series of push ups with breaks that would optimize blood circulation and relaxing) But taking a real break is totally different, it makes you focus on… well… nothing but you also get a wider vue of what you’re doing while letting your brain reorganising itself inconsiously, that’s just great :)

  37. I like this. I find when I go for a jog I use the time to think. Plus I get exercise so it works out really nice.

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