Build Daily Momentum Using The 10/15 Split

Raise your hand if you’ve recognized too late in the day that you haven’t been doing the stuff that really matters, only to freak out, get overwhelmed, and resolve to work longer and harder – while still doing the same kinds of things that you just beat yourself up about doing.

Don’t worry, if I weren’t typing, my hand would be up, too.

This problem arises because there are two especially challenging parts of the day for us creative people:

  1. Getting a great start on the day
  2. Letting go at the end of the day

These two challenges are intimately related. Since we often don’t know what we should be doing, we get involved in a lot of easy to engage tasks that often aren’t the things that really matter the most. By the time we get our heads on straight, a lot of time is squandered – so we end up trying to overcompensate by working longer.

Then, at exactly the point at which it’s clear that you’re no longer able to do something without messing it up, you remember all the stuff you should’ve been doing in the first place. You know that it won’t get done no matter how hard you beat yourself up about it, yet you also can’t just let it go.

Yes, my hand would still be up.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Interrupting this pattern is as simple as figuring out what we need to do, doing it, and then checking at the end of the day to make sure we did it. Remember, something being simple is not the same as it being easy.

Here’s the deal, though: unless you’re good at planning your day, it’s really hard to do it first thing in the morning. It’s much easier to check email and get started on The Loop, which only serves to repeat the same pattern that you’re trying to interrupt.

So, instead of trying it that way, try what I’m calling the 10/15 Split. The 10/15 Split is basically a quick check-in and check-out process. You spend 10 minutes at the start of your day checking in and 15 minutes at the end of the day checking out.

The key to getting the 10/15 Split going is actually the evening check-out instead of the morning check-in. That’s why it gets a bit more time, but it’s also because you’re asking harder questions. That said, we’ll start by talking about the check-out first.

The 15 Minute Check-Out

The check-out is the harder of the two, but for good reason: we usually have a better perspective at the end of the day than the beginning of the day.

You know what you did and didn’t do, and you also have a good idea of the next steps you need to take to keep the ball rolling. So, while your overwhelm might be higher, the mental cobwebs that cloud the beginning of the day aren’t there.

The 15 Minute Check-Out has three questions:

1. What did you accomplish? (Celebrate!)

Acknowledge what you did do rather than just focus on what you didn’t. Always, always, always celebrate what you accomplished – life is but a series of small steps, but if you don’t celebrate the small wins, it’s harder to build up the momentum for the bigger ones.

2. Is there anything that you need to do right now to be able to disengage?

This question answers that nagging feeling that you’ve forgot to do something. Check your Inbox and ToDo list for those things that have to happen today. Ask yourself what would really happen if you don’t do whatever you’re considering – you’d be surprised how many things can wait until the next day.

3. When do you need to do the things that you didn’t get done today?

There might be a lot of things that came up during the day that need to be done sometime soon, but they don’t have to happen today. If it needs to happen tomorrow or some specific day in the future, put it in whatever solution you have so that you’ll see it tomorrow. That way your mind can let it go and you can get some peace.

If you didn’t finish whatever you were working on today, make a note of where to start for the next time you pick it up. This is great for those creative projects that you need to maintain momentum on but might not be able to work on every day.

The 15 Minute Check-Out serves two purposes: 1) it helps remind you that you did push the ball forward and 2) it makes it really easy to get started the next day.

The 10 Minute Check-In

If you start the 10/15 Split with the 15 Minute Check-Out, you’ve done most of the hard work – all you have to do is show up and do what you told yourself you were going to do.

Here are the questions to ask yourself during the 10 Minute Check-In:

1. Is there anything significant that’s changed between now and the last check-out?

The key word here is significant. Some events do change the course of your day. For instance, your kids might get sick and you’ll need to change your plans to be able to take care of them.

2. What did you plan for today?

This is where you review the plan you made yourself the day before. Remember, you probably had a better idea of what you need to do today when you did your check-out than you do right now.

3. What is one thing you are going to start on right now?

This step is all about setting the intention to focus on this one thing for this one period of time, rather than shuffling through a few projects and not making any real progress on any of them. Better to complete or make some real progress on one thing than shuffle through three.

You might be tempted to answer the first question by checking email and voicemail, but before you do, ask yourself what’s in there that should change your day. Did you start scheduling something? Are you waiting on something that’s related to a project you’re working on this morning? Plan on how you’re going to process email and voicemail – at this stage, it’s best to look for a few key messages that are relevant to what you need to do right now rather than just jumping on to check email.

Give The 10/15 Split A Trial Run

You might be wondering why it’s a 10/15 Split and not a 10/10 or 15/15 split. It’s a 10/15 Split because I’ve learned through trial and error with myself, clients, and friends that it’s a good balance between not giving yourself enough time and requiring too much time. It’s hard to get the right level of perspective and thoroughness in less than 10/15 minutes, and much longer than that makes it just another thing to resist.

If you raised your hand at the beginning of this post and haven’t found a reliable way to build daily momentum in a peaceful way, give the 10/15 Split a trial run for five days. If it doesn’t work for you, then, worst case scenario, you’ve “wasted” a little under two hours, but these are the types of questions that peak performers ask themselves routinely throughout the day anyway.

I hope you’ll make time to build daily momentum using the 10/15 Split. (Click here to share this – thank you!)

Let me know how it works for you.

You can put your hand down now.

Comments

  1. Archan Mehta says

    Yeah, Charlie, I agree. Thanks for the post.

    All good ideas–no doubt about it.

    My experience has been that I need to write things down, whether it is a simple “to-do” list or something more elaborate and long-term, such as a diary or calendar.

    Otherwise, I have a tendency toward being absent-minded: I forget to get things done.

    And later, I find it hard to forgive myself, because I am a task-oriented person.

    I also tend to get carried away, following my own whims and fancies.

    On the one hand, this has led to creative ideas, such as writing a poem or article.

    On the other hand, I also know I could have used that time to work more productively on other projects/assignments.

    What has helped me is to keep a daily time-table or schedule: write it down.

    This helps me to stay on track and get work done in a more focused way.

    Otherwise, there is a tendency to get side-tracked by email and trivial things.

    If you check your email all the time, when will you ever get your actual work done?

    What operates on the periphery, however, can hold a seductive charm, and it is not always easy to wean yourself away from such deleterious influences.

    In the end, it is better to work smarter instead of harder.

    Working longer hours inevitably will take a toll on you, and can lead to burn out.

    Thanks for the reminder. And cheers to you!

  2. says

    This is a good reminder for me–I always make a to-list for the next day, but quite often I get distracted by email before I get to it in the morning.

    I love your suggestion to make a list of everything we got done that day. What a great way to finish off the evening.

    • says

      What a great way to finish off the evening

      When most of what you make isn’t tangible, you have to work even harder to feel that you actually did something. It’s not like building a brick wall that you can see and feel at the end of the day.

      So it’s important to celebrate what was done because there will always be more that’s undone.

  3. says

    I love this. It’s very similar to the system I use. It’s really important for me to plan my day at the end of the previous one because I’m just not with it enough in the morning to focus myself before getting distracted.

    Having that little plan there waiting for me in the morning is great kick in the pants.

  4. Zachary Soard says

    What’s funny is that if I was doing all of the things you talk about in your post I wouldn’t have found your article…

    • says

      Sometimes that happens, Zachary. We also place content in the exact places people are likely to be distracted and running amok just so that we can support them there. It works! :)

  5. Bill H says

    Would you only apply this to the work day or would you expand it to include errands and other tasks you might need to take care of?

  6. says

    Thanks for the tip Charlie. I put this to use this week at work, as I’ve just started a new 6 month contract implementing a very complex project, I’d habitually done the 10 minute startup before, but never given myself permission to complete an end of the day wrap-up.

    After a day of side project meetings with a bunch of to do items and strategic follow-up actions I wrote them all down during the 15 end of the day session, and put them in a tickler file. Job done.

    My sense of overwhelm has reduced and my sense of control has increased.

    Such a simple tip, but so worthwhile.

  7. Gary Robbins says

    Hi Charlie,
    Great principle to operate by. I first heard of this from Dr Denis Waitley – Plan your day the day before; Plan your week the week before; Plan your month the month before;… I would add that it works to plan your project before starting it, eg. before starting to view emails consider how much time you have to do it or if you are going into your email to respond to a particular email consider if you only want to do that one and how much time you want to give to it. Plan your work before the work!

  8. Wayland says

    I would add after this “The 15 Minute Check-Out serves two purposes: 1) it helps remind you that you did push the ball forward and 2) it makes it really easy to get started the next day.”
    that it also helps you to disengage tour mind from work. You can go home knowing everything is under control.

    • says

      Think of the plan as a map that follows a trail. Every once in a while, you’ll come up against an intersection and need to check your map against all the other trails you might go down. And sometimes you look up and realize that you’re nowhere on the trail!

      Checking in a couple times a day helps you stay on that trail or to at least make conscious decisions about where you want to go.

    • says

      Hi, Geoff! Working from home can be challenging, largely because it requires more self-discipline and intentional structuring for it not to devolve into “trying to work from home while you do all the things you normally do from home.” That’s one of the reasons I focus so much on providing tools for creative people who are more likely to be working from their own homes, studios, or offices – the tools augment the self-discipline and desire to do our great work.

  9. says

    The timing of this post was eerie, Charlie! I thought you might have been sitting in my office. My hand is definitely raised and I will try this as I really need some help getting more of the important stuff done.

  10. says

    I use to do it but not everyday and without any established time. From now on I’ll try to do it everyday with your 10 and 15 minutes proposed. Nice tip. You have a new follower. :)

  11. says

    Yep, totally agree that we need to ‘check out’ at the end of the day. And for checking in I do it mentally before I even leave my bedroom – why? Because otherwise I am already caught up in the minutiae (like responding to blog posts lol!) before I hit my desk.

    Cathy

    • says

      Because otherwise I am already caught up in the minutiae (like responding to blog posts lol!) before I hit my desk

      Nice! I usually have to do it in front of my computer or planning because I use them to remember everything for me. But I do it before email and blog interaction, though, for many of the same reasons! :)

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