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Get more done with Gene Schwartz’ 33 minutes rule

For the last few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with a productivity tip called Gene Schwartz’ 33 minutes rule. It’s a ‘system’ designed by famous copywriter Eugene Schwartz that allowed him to write many books, successful ads and much more in just 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. So I gave this rule a test drive and I have to say the results have been far better than I expected: I’ve worked more focused and gotten more work done in less time.


The 33 minutes rule

Gene Schwartz’ 33 minutes rule is brilliant in its simplicity:

  • Choose one (bigger) task you want to work on that requires focus and concentration
  • Turn off all notifications and anything that could distract you
  • Set a timer for 33 minutes and 33 seconds
  • Don’t stop and don’t do anything else till your timer goes off
  • When the times goes off, take a break for 5-10 minutes
  • Reset the timer for another 33 minutes and 33 seconds and repeat

hour glass

Why does the 33 minutes rule work?

It’s incredibly easy, but for me the results have been amazing. I’ve been thinking about why it works so well and here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • The time slots give the impression of a deadline, meaning I work a little faster and certainly more concentrated than I would otherwise.
  • Even though we think we can multitask, our brains really aren’t that good at it. Focusing on one task for 33 minutes helps us therefore to concentrate and thus do better.
  • Because I get breaks between two slots, I’m less tempted to check my email or go on social media while I’m working (Tip: for maximum effect, allow yourself to only go ‘online’ after three ‘work periods’).
  • It also works well with tasks that seem daunting, because you only ‘commit’ yourself for 33 minutes. It’s less of a hurdle to start on something you’ve been postponing that way.
  • It’s a great idea to get up from your chair after the 33 minutes and do something else, something physical. It helps prevent back problems for instance. Because I work from home, I use these breaks to do small chores like (un)loading the dishwasher or doing laundry. I’m more productive on work and household!
  • Research supports that working in time blocks with pauses in between is far more effective than trying to stay concentrated for hours in a row. That being said, the 33 minutes limit is fairly arbitrary in my opinion. It works well for me because it’s about the time I need to write a blog post for instance. But if you have bigger tasks to complete, you could try going for 45 minutes to an hour, or keep the break in between the two 33 minute periods short.

One last thing: turning off the distractions is really important, otherwise you will disrupt your concentration. Studies show that it takes your brain 15-20 minutes to recover from an interruption and get concentrated again. So be sure to switch off your phone as well if you get calls regularly.

Remember: you don’t need to use this 33 minutes rule all day, but use it in those hours where you are most likely to be productive. If you are a morning person like me, that would be from 9-12 for instance. In the afternoons, you can do tasks that require less concentration (like handling email) and turn your phone back on.

I’d love to hear if you’ve ever tried this and if so, what your experiences are! And if you are looking for more tips and trick to work smarter and become more productive, check out our Time Management in Youth Ministry series!

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2 thoughts on “Get more done with Gene Schwartz’ 33 minutes rule

  1. It was great to find your article! I learned about this technique when I was studying copywriting in my early 20s. I’m 36 now, and this April marks 13 years of me being in business. So I can say from experience this technique works. It does help me stay focused. I do find I have to be careful my “break” time doesn’t extend too long. I also find I work in 30-minute blocks of time the best. I also like working in 30-minute blocks of time because on occasions when I’m getting paid by the hour, it’s easier for me to add up the time I’ve worked and calculate the fee for clients.

    1. I can see why the 30 minutes have that added benefit for you. It’s the same when you’re logging time for anything really, like time writing for yourself. Half hours make that a lot easier than 33 minutes or 45 minutes.

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