12 Books in 12 Months, Week 3: The 52/17 Rule

Hey guys!

Welcome to week 3 of the 12 books in 12 months challenge. I’m actually recording this on Thursday, so I don’t have the final numbers on whether I reached my word count this week. But I’m actually going to be in North Carolina when this video airs, hanging out with my fiancé. So I will probably miss an hour or two of my normal writing time. And that’s okay. I got ahead in the two weeks prior to this, so I should still be on schedule. But now to this week’s tip.

So in the video that I did last week, which if you’re listening to this on the podcast was not included since it involved a lot of visuals, I talked about spreadsheets to do things like track your wordcount. Some of you may have noticed that I usually write in 52-minute sessions. Now, you may be wondering, why 52? That’s such a random number.

It is a random number! And this may seem kind of weird, but I don’t hear anyone in the author community talking about this yet, so I think it would be a good idea to do so. This is part of what’s called the 52/17 rule. This is a real thing, and it’s an extremely effective way of boosting productivity. I have found it works very well for me, not just in my writing life, but in my full-time job and even in other areas of my life.

Now, you may have heard of the Pomodoro Technique, which is this idea that whenever you have a large task ahead of you, that you break that task down into 25-minute work sprints, with a 5 minute break after each one. This has proven to be very successful for a lot of people, especially when focusing on single, important tasks that take a lot of work and that need a lot of your time over a short period. And it’s even been found to improve your attention span and concentration over time if you practice it long enough.

However, where the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t hold up as well is for long-term projects that you can’t just sprint through. I also found that 25 minutes was far too short for my writing. In fact, that’s sometimes how long it took for me to really get into flow. Sometimes my best output happened after that 25 minutes, which were more of a warmup. Now, the Pomodoro method can be really good to train yourself to tune out distraction. Once you set that timer, you know you only have 25 minutes so you put all of your focus into one thing: your writing. I’m not discounting it. But what I was looking for, when I was researching productivity tips like this, was something I could keep up all day, and all week. And the Pomodoro Technique was just not cutting it for me. It was kind of stressful, I couldn’t get much done in the 5-minute breaks, and it just didn’t seem like a sustainable option for me. The Pomodoro Technique was also developed by one guy, and isn’t necessarily based in any kind of scientific data regarding optimal productivity.

That’s when I found the 52/17 rule. Now, for those of you  unfamiliar with this rule, it came about because of a study by a group called The Daily Muse, using a time-tracking app, that analysed the use of time spent by employees in the workplace. What they found is that the top 10% most productive workers divided their time into, randomly, sprints of about 52 minutes, followed by 17 minutes of a break. This was so effective because: “During the 52 minutes of work, you’re dedicated to accomplishing tasks, getting things done, and making progress. Whereas, during the 17 minutes of break, you’re completely removed from the work you’re doing—you’re entirely resting, not peeking at your email every five minutes or just “quickly checking Facebook.”

Now you’re probably thinking, 17-minute breaks every 52 minutes! How could anyone possibly waste that much time. Now I plan on having a full episode to talk about breaks, and how to take effective breaks. So I won’t get into too much detail about that here. But suffice it to say, these are not just breaks where you’re wasting time on Facebook or twiddling your thumbs. These are calculated breaks, designed specifically to help you mind unwind from the 52-minutes sprints. And again, I’ll talk more about what you can do with these breaks in a future video.

Now for my own personal experience with the 52/17 rule, I found out about this and decided to give it a try. And I can tell you, that I have never had more productive days, than those where I successfully use the 52/17 rule. Nothing even comes close. So if you’re worried about productivity with so much time devoted to breaks, just remember. Not only was I able to get a lot done in those 52-minute sprints, but I was able feeling great and energized, even by the end of the day, thanks to those breaks.

Part of it is this conception of the 52 minutes as a sprint. It’s long enough that I can really get in the flow of writing, or whatever else I’m doing, but not long enough that I feel justified in indulging distractions. And once I start that timer, I can tell you that something magical happens, and it suddenly becomes much easier to tune everything out, and really work. It’s intense work, and sometimes I come out of it feeling a little drained. But that’s what the breaks are for.

During my breaks my rule is not to look at a screen. So no email, no social media. Usually I get up and move around, go to the bathroom, get a drink, do some exercise, review my mission statement and affirmations, or read from a self-help book or something. Towards the end of the break I usually sit down, take a deep breath, and think through what I’m about to do next in the next 52-minute session. I’m not just sitting around, I’m not wasting time, and it’s incredibly renewing.

And this isn’t just for my writing, I use this at my day job as well, and it’s okay because I’m able to prove that I’m much more productive with this method than without. And because what I do during my breaks are things that most employers want their employees to do more often, that helps. Basically I divide my day into 70-minute blocks, which is 52 plus 17, plus a one minute buffer that you’ll want in there. And I decide what I will be doing in those 52 minutes, as well as what I will do in my break. Breaks are not just for whatever. They, like everything else that you do, should be strategic. I usually make this plan once at the beginning of a week for that full week, and then I review it in the morning of each day before I get started. Then I start a timer, and I get to work.

Now, I realize that not everyone has the ability to take breaks every 52 minutes at work. Some jobs just aren’t set up for that to work. And that’s okay. I’m not saying this is the only way to be productive. It can sometimes be very hard to devote the amount of time to self-care in the workplace that we need, and that’s especially true here in the United States. So you might not have the best situation. But even then, there are things you can do outside of work to improve your own self-care, making it easier on you the rest of the day. And one of those things can be building up an author business so you can quit your job and then you’ll be free to use the 52/17 rule and everything will be great!

Life goals!

Anyway. I hope this information was useful. If you are in a position to use the 52/17 rule, I’m actually going to challenge you to use it throughout the week. See what it does for you. I will be doing a video next time going into more detail about breaks, and how to make the most of them. So I’ll see you then!

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