Beat procrastination with the (10+2)*5 method


The most challenging part of being or staying productive is getting off the proverbial couch and getting started with work.

Getting started is often a bigger hurdle than doing challenging aspects of your task.

So in this post, we will look at a simple method created by Merlin Mann on his blog "43 Folders" in 2005, which holds good even today.

So let's jump in.

Beating the urge to procrastinate

The main hurdle for getting started is the feeling of being overwhelmed when thinking about taking action.

For example, proofreading a 10-page report feels overwhelming.

However, breaking it down into ten pieces of 1-page, each looks more digestible.

Similarly, looking at an hour and expecting to work through it might seem overwhelming but breaking it down into five 12-minute slots seems more manageable.

And that is what this method capitalizes on.

How does (10+2)*5 work?

The method is a super simple one. Here is a step-by-step process of how:

  1. Pick an hour and split it into five parts of 12-minutes each.
  2. Now further split the 12-minute part into 10 minutes of work and 2 minutes of break.
  3. Start working for 10-minutes and take a 2-minute break.
  4. Repeat the cycle five times.

You can even break down a task that might take one hour to complete and break it down using this method.

For example, let's say you start at 11:00 AM and you need to write an essay.

  1. 11:00 - 11:10: Read through 2 articles on the topic
  2. 11:10 - 11:12: Take a break
  3. 11:12 - 11:22: Write the outline and introduction of the post
  4. 11:22 - 11:24: Take a break
  5. 11:24 - 11: 34: Write the body of the post
  6. 11:34 - 11:36: Take a break
  7. 11:36 - 11:46: Write the body of the post
  8. 11:46 - 11:48: Take a break
  9. 11:48 - 12:00: Write the conclusion and do the first read.

By breaking the task into five different parts that are digestible, you make going through it a lot simpler.

Also, the goal here is for you to get started and remove the friction caused by the overwhelming feeling.

And once you get started, you are more likely to start skipping the 2-minute breaks.

When we are working on a task and getting increasingly better at it, we will be motivated to continue working on it, ignoring the breaks.

Who should use the (10+2)*5 method?

The method can be used by anyone looking to improve productivity. But it can be critical for some people like:

  • Those who get distracted easily
  • Compulsive app scrollers
  • Chronic procrastinators
  • Someone with a long list of tasks
  • People who get overwhelmed by the size of the task
  • People who lack structure in their workflow

All they need is a timer, and they are ready to go.

The method also works because 2-minutes is a short time to switch off and not be a potential productivity drainer, but 10-minutes is a decent-sized chunk of time where actual work can be done.


Things to consider

When you are working on a task and decide to skip the 2-minute break, don't take a break before the next 2-minute slot comes up.

Breaking this rule will make the structure of the method meaningless.

When Mann created this system in 2003, there wasn't the omnipotent distraction of social media, yet this method works most times.

However, it is essential to remember that social media algorithms are much more advanced today and make it a lot more challenging to break the scrolling cycle in 2-minutes.

So it is best to avoid social media during your breaks altogether.

Should you try the method?

The short answer is yes. The long answer would be that it depends.

While breaking down tasks might be helpful to overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed, the constant context switching that is part of the design of this method makes it hard for anyone doing intense cognitive work to make this work.

Context switching takes a lot more than 2 minutes to offset and is probably the most significant disadvantage and, in my case, a deal-breaker.

(10+ 2)*5 is a great method to get started for beginners who want to take that first step towards becoming more productive and maybe later can adopt more advanced/suitable methods in the future.

Thanks for reading.