The 2-Hour Work Block. A secret productivity superpower

If everything’s important nothing’s important. On the other hand I can usually handle one must do item and block out my lesser behaviours for 2 to 3 hours a day. Really if you can do it for 2 hours that puts you in rarified company, you’re in the top, top 5% of the population
— Tim Ferriss: Episode 13 of The Tim Ferriss Show Podcast

You're at a point where you want to do something different. Something that matters.  Study, write, blog, start a business, spend less time in the office or more time with your family.  

But you're making limited progress. And you're spending too much time procrastinating and getting distracted.  How can you move forward with so much else on in your life? 

A productivity technique to stop you feeling overwhelmed

It was 2 months into getting started on my blog when I started to feel overwhelmed.  My head was overflowing with all the hats you need to wear as a blogger.  I was tinkering with my platform one minute and working out how to put quotes on photos the next.    I was frazzled.  And I hadn't even started to actually blog.

That was until I came across what I now call, The Daily 2 Hour Work Block.    

It was Tim Ferris (as in The 4 Hour Body, The 4 Hour Work Week) that introduced me to working solidly for a 2 to 3 hour period.  I was listening to a podcast episode intriguingly titled 'Productivity Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (like Me)' to pass the time while running errands. I remember it specifically because I was on my way to get new windows - my son had broken 2 while learning to unicycle in our hallway.

Like many of us Tim admitted he can easily ‘fritter away his days with BS’.  The 2/3 hour blocking technique is a key tool he uses to keep himself on the straight and narrow.  I'd worked with batching techniques a lot (and still do) but Tim's approach took batching to a different level.

What is The Daily 2 Hour Block?

Ok, the short answer is this:

  • Everyday block out a 2-hour window
  • During that time -  work
  • Zero distractions
  • Roll up your sleeves and work hard on a pre-planned single thing.  
  • The one, most important thing that will progress you towards a key goal that really matters.

The Daily 2 Hour Work Block is kind of magical.  I promise that you'll be amazed at what you achieve if you follow the rules

I think you'll find it's true.   I’ve done quite a bit of testing of The Daily 2 Hour Work Block, and through my testing,  I’ve discovered that it's not simply a matter of blocking out time.  You need to stick to rules. You need to be totally disciplined.

I'm so in love with this technique that I want to tell everyone about it.  Even my husband is a 2-hour block addict now.  

The Daily 2 Hour Work Block Rules

1. Work on One Specific Thing

You don’t just say -  I'm going to work on my business.   You choose something specific. The most important thing that will progress you towards something that matters.  

It’s generally something you’ve been avoiding because it requires a lot of thinking or is difficult.

Let me give you an example.   Yesterday I identified that I would work on my Resources page. It was something I'd been putting off.  I knew it was fiddly & needed focus. But I knew it was an essential base for my Blog.

2.  Allow No Distractions

Don't do anything else in your 2-Hour Work Block other than the thing you planned to do.  Nothing.

That means no sneaky email checking.  No taking a quick break to check Facebook or Twitter.  No Pinteresting, no Instagramming.  Just work.

3.  Decide what you will work on BEFORE you start

There’s zero point starting your 2-Hour Work Block if you're mucking around trying to decide what your focus will be.   Don't even bother starting.  You’re wasting your time. 

When you begin that 2 Hour Block you must be absolutely clear about what you're going to work on.  I use my Daily Planning Book combined with my nightly Journal to identify in advance what I'll be doing in my next 2 Hour Work Block. 

4. Block out the time in your calendar

To ensure you don’t put off your 2 Hour Work Block you must commit.  Decide the night or morning before precisely when you'll fit it in your schedule.  Choose a time when you know you'll be the most productive and have the least amount of distractions. 

The time of my 2 hour Work Block varies from day to day - 90% of the time it falls into one of 2 time slots.  I rise early at 4.45am at least 5 days a week so I usually schedule it between 5 and 7am.  Otherwise it’s between 9am and 11am when everyone is at school or work.

Pick the best time for you and lock it in. 

5. Turn off your phone or put it on Silent or Do Not Disturb. 

It’s essential that you protect this period of time.  In the 2 Hour Work Block, you are unreachable.  As in, doctors appointment unreachable.  As in, job interview, airplane, or exam unreachable.  

You cannot be reached.  Period.  

6. Use a timer and take scheduled breaks

Of course it's impossible (and not particularly fun) to work without any sort of break for 2 hours.  You wouldn’t be productive.  During my 2 hours I use a pattern of 25 mins work with a 5 minute break.  You may already known this as the Pomodora Technique.

That means my 2 hour block has 4 periods of work combined  with three 5-minute breaks.  It usually looks like this.

Work 25 mins  - Break 5 mins -  Work 25 mins - Break 5 mins - Work 25 mins  - Break 5mins  - Work 30 mins

I use a timer on one of my kids iPods.  You can use a kitchen timer or the timer on your phone or PC.

I love working this way.  It’s kind of fun.  You work really hard for 25 minutes and then know you’ll be rewarded with a mini-break. 

7.  Pause the timer only for urgent interruptions.

Press pause on your timer only if you absolutely have to. Be strict.  Reserve this only for an emergency bathroom break or a parcel delivery. 

If it’s unavoidable - pause the clock.Do what you have to do, then refocus, restart the timer and get back to your work. 

8.  Do something physical in your 5-minute breaks. 

Your break is not for doing anything that requires a lot of thinking.  You don’t want to lose your train of thought.  This isn’t a time to pop online to do emails or cruise Twitter.

I usually do one of 2 things in my breaks.  

  • a solid 5 minutes of exercise - stretching, pilates or foam rolling. 
  • a physical chore, like hanging out the washing, unpacking the dishwasher or watering the garden. 

If you’re not working from home you could do a quick stair climb or stretches.  My husband usually walks around the block once or walks to get a takeaway coffee.

9.  Let people know that you're unavailable

You'll  have zero success if family, friends or colleagues interrupt you.

Be fair on them.  Let them know you're unavailable.   Block out the time on your calendar.   Shut the door. Talk to them about it.   However you tell them, just make sure you clearly communicate it to those who need to know.  

You'll be amazed at how much progress you make

In our lives full of constant distractions and responsibilities the 2 Hour Work Block can both ground us and move us towards doing something that really matters.

Like me you'll probably feel a sense of relief when you're inside of it. It's like a little work cocoon. You can't do anything else except that one important thing.    You're not allowed to.  

And the feeling of progress you feel when you finish is incredible.

Question: Are you putting things off? What could you work on tomorrow if you scheduled a 2 Hour Daily Work Block?

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