I tend to be the newsroom’s guinea pig. When the IT guys want to try out a new system, bit of hardware or whatever, I usually find them hovering over my right shoulder.
For the past month, I’ve been the tester for a new multiple OS system, a desktop using a remote hard drives or something. It’s been a smooth process, with few hiccups — until Monday. That’s when the temporary license on the software they were trying to fold into our delicate infrastructure finally expired.
The result for me was that my system reset itself every 20 minutes — 20 minutes, on the dot, with no sympathy, no warning and no respect at all for the journalistic thought process.
Now, it took me a few resets before I figured out what was happening. I complained to IT and they said they were working on it. All that was left for me to do was cope.
Eventually, I figured out the reset interval and began timing. I’d start counting down when the computer rebooted and learned to sum up my projects as the 20 minute mark approached. My timer would ding at 19 minutes, I’d save, close my files, step back and the computer would reboot. A minute later and I’d be back in and working.
It’s been an interesting laboratory for me to study my work habits. I think of myself as a hard worker and I get a lot accomplished. But there are so many distractions today — emails, Google Reader updates, Tweets and Facebook posts — it’s real easy to let something interfere with your focus.
But when you have 19 minutes and the clock is ticking, it’s easier to put those distractions aside. I found myself focusing on the task at hand, knowing that the quick email would steal precious seconds from my current thought process. I began grouping my work intervals, delaying Twitter, email and even phone calls until the next 20 minute cycle.
Now, I’ve tried lots of organizing schemes. I have a copy of Allen’s “Getting things Done” on my bookshelf and a drawer down to my right with 43 folders in a tickler. I’ve read on Lifehacker and other places that eight minutes is the ideal amount of time to devote to a particular task, but I never tested it.
Now I know.
IT finally replaced my system Wednesday afternoon, so my enforced breaks are over. But I’m thinking about buying an egg timer or something.