Based on research by Neuringer and Chung, I started marking my work progress by making a mark (such as a dot) every six minutes of work. I did it for difficult tasks, such as writing. Neuringer and Chung found that markers of progress made pigeons peck twice as much. The dots seemed to enable me to work twice as much — e.g., twice as long.
I think a friend came up with the name magic dots. It did seem magic that such a tiny thing — making a dot on a piece of paper — could be so useful. A recent post about procrastination software led a reader named Joan to start using it. I’ve already described her experience (“the magic dots have been magic”) and someone else’s experience here.
Two more people have told me about their experience. I’ll describe what one of them said today and what the other one said tomorrow. Alex Chernavsky wrote:
I tried the Magic Dots system yesterday, and I liked it a lot. I ended up with two-and-a-half completed squares. I was more productive than usual. (By the way, have you heard of the Pomodoro technique? It’s similar.) I didn’t use a stopwatch. I download an iPhone app called Interval Timer, by Delta Works. It’s free, but it shows small, unobtrusive ads. I set it to do continuously-repeating six-minute countdowns. The end of each cycle is marked by a short vibration. The iPhone screen stays lit-up the whole time that the application is running, so you can easily check the remaining time. If I remember to glance at the screen, I will make a mark if the application shows a remaining time of less than three minutes. If I forget to check, I make a mark when I hear the vibration. I was home alone most of the day, and I was able to get a lot of work done. I didn’t use the technique when I was doing menial chores, like washing dishes. I only used it when I was working at my desk.
Alex also asked several questions:
What happens if you end up getting distracted by a non-productive, time-wasting activity, like checking Facebook? Should you reset the six-minute countdown cycle back to the beginning, or…?
I would just stop the stopwatch, not reset the timer. I would hate to lose the 2 minutes or whatever.
What’s the best way to account for unplanned, unintentional changes in focus from one productive activity (e.g., balancing your checkbook) to a different productive activity (e.g., replying to important email messages)?
I don’t change anything, as long as I am being productive I keep racking up the dots.
What happens if you need to take a bathroom break or other short break? Should you pause the timer?
No, I count anything necessary, including bathroom breaks and making tea. This is one reason I like the method: getting credit for making tea.