The '33-minute rule' is something I have been using on and off in my work since college (2014). It has allowed me to better focus my efforts to get my music written and mixed. And, as of late, it has greatly improved my ability to effectively get blog posts written!
I honestly cannot remember where I had heard about this idea. But the term was coined by legendary copywriter Eugene Schwartz. And has been implemented by many creatives since then. I'm personally a big fan!
What Is This 33-Minute Rule?
Actually, I believe it was originally written as 33 minutes 33 seconds, but any arbitrary amount of time would work.
The rule is quite simple:
- Set your mind on a task (composing, mixing, studying, writing, promoting, etc.).
- Turn off all distractions (I sometimes go as far as disconnecting from the Internet).
- Set a timer for 33 minutes 33 seconds (or a specific amount of time).
- Work! Focus only on the task at hand for that amount of time.
- Take a break when the timer goes off.
- Rinse and repeat.
Simple, but ridiculously effective!
I've been setting a timer on my iPhone (in airplane mode) for 33 minutes flat, and have been taking 5-10 minute breaks. I use this working method for composing and mixing music, and for writing these blog articles.
What Makes The 33-Minute Rule So Effective For Productivity?
Thinking about this rule and my own work habits, I've come up with 4 points to explain how the 33-minute rule is so effective:
- The sense of a deadline. This ties into Parkinson's Law.
- Focused efforts > Multitasking
- Short, manageable timeframe
- Frequent breaks
Let's dig into each of these a little further, shall we?
The Sense Of A Deadline
33 minutes is an easy amount of time to imagine in the future. “Ahh, roughly a half hour!”
If a song from start to end takes, say, 10 hours to produce, there's a lot of inertia working against you. Personally, I have a hard time starting a new project knowing that I most likely won't finish it in the same session. What if my inspiration for the track goes away by tomorrow?
It's much easier to get started with a small goal of 33 minutes working-time than it is to tackle a 10-hour task. And getting started is most of the battle anyway. Often times once we get the figurative ball rolling, it's easy to keep it going.
This sense of a deadline also keeps us focused since we have a sense of when our time's up.
Parkinson's Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” I'm sure we've all felt this law in effect at school or work. Given 5 days to complete a project, we get most of the work done in the final hours, after having done very little for the first 4 days.
Since bedroom producers and composers often work from home and write music as a passion project or hobby, it can difficult to arbitrarily set a deadline. The 33-minute rule may benefit us the most!
This sense of a deadline will ‘trick' (for lack of a better word) our minds into crunch time. Often times this will result in increased focus and output in our projects. This leads to us actually finishing our tracks, or whatever else we're working on. And that's a great feeling!
The digital age is full of distractions. We're constantly asked to multitask, whether that's having a text conversation on the go, an email tab open in your browser, a television on in the background. The examples are endless.
Getting rid of your smartphone, email address, and television will most likely do more harm than good (well, getting rid of the television would probably help). But turning those devices off periodically can work wonders for our focus.
Truth is, our brains just aren't that good at multi-tasking. Sure, we can multi-task, but are we really doing our music and art any favours by working on them in such an unfocused way? I think not!
Plus, it should be mentioned, that getting into that ‘zone' when everything is creatively flowing is incredible. It's much easier to get into this state when there are no distractions around.
It is suggested to take regular breaks, but if this creative state is reached while using the 33 minute rule, the only distraction would be the timer going off, which is an easy fix. You don't even need to reset it in this case.
33 minutes is a very manageable timeframe. It's long enough to get a good amount of work done, but short enough that we don't feel like it's a strenuous amount of work-time.
Many of us “kill” time when we're supposed to be working. This is particularly true if we work a standard North American day of 8 hours. 33 minutes, as opposed to a full day's work, is a manageable timeframe in which we can dedicate ourselves solely to creating music (or any other endeavour).
Once again, it doesn't have to be 33 minutes and 33 seconds exactly. That's just a cool number… If you believe your attention span is shorter or that you work faster, perhaps 20 minutes of undisturbed work will do you good. Alternatively, if you feel you need deeper focus and have a greater endurance, perhaps upwards of an hour would be a good time to set.
For me, there are sessions when 20 minutes feels like a lifetime and I take a break before the timer. There are other times when I turn the timer off once my 33 is up and continue working because I'm in the zone. But generally speaking, I enjoy the timeframe of roughly a half hour, and I enjoy my brief breaks.
Which brings us to the last point I'd like to discuss.
These regular breaks act not only as a refresher but also as congratulations for putting in a set amount of time focused on your project.
Giving yourself a pat on the back will help to keep you going on your project. It doesn't matter if you achieved the exact task within the project as much as it matters that you worked undistracted for the set amount of time.
Reward yourself while refreshing.
I like coffee, so I'll fill up my cup at the end of a session (33 minutes makes me slow down on my coffee drinking, too since I only get to refill during breaks 😉 ).
Getting up and moving around stimulates your body and brain. Stretch, do some deep breathing, some push-ups, or whatever else you're into. It's important to not be sitting in a chair, staring at a screen all day!
One of my go-to productivity tricks is taking a cold shower (not as terrible as it sounds, I swear). About 1 minute is all it takes to really wake yourself up. Since most ‘bedroom producers' work from home, this is a perfect way to take a break while waking yourself up. (I realize I'm the minority in thinking cold showers are good).
During your break, especially if you were getting good work done, it's probably not a great idea to check notifications or email. Instead, just get moving around.
The idea here is that even when you're taking a break to get coffee or whatever, your brain is still most likely thinking and processing what you're working on. Rather than distract it with social media, keep those thoughts in there during your break so that you can hop right back into it for the next session.
Some of the biggest breakthroughs come from taking a stand back from the project!
Practical Application Of The 33-Minute Rule For Musicians And Producers
This working technique can be used in nearly all aspects of music. Let's name a few:
- Practicing your instrument
- Researching theory and production
Brian Tracy states that, when learning, we as humans remember the beginnings and endings of study sessions much more clearly than the middle sections. This makes the 33 minute rule effective since we're taking regular breaks when we practice our instruments and study our craft.
I like to take my time and feel out the writing and composing process. Sometimes that means taking a step back and some time away from the song in order for an idea to appear. Some of my best ideas for music come when I'm not thinking about music at all.
When mixing, it's very important to give your ears regular breaks so that they do not get fatigued. Ear fatigue will hinder your ability to make mix decisions based on critical listening. In college, I'd stay up until 5 am working on a mix, only to wake up the following morning and have it sound worse than when I started the night before.
Ear fatigue is actually what initially sparked my interest in time-restricted working and, in part, what inspired me to write this article.
And finally, with promoting and marketing, it's good to take breaks. For me, I find it draining to promote anything. And with marketing taking place on social media much of the time, it's doubly important to not spend hours doing it. This is more of my opinion than fact, but I figured I'd mention it here.
I used the 33 minute rule when writing this article (wouldn't it be weird if I hadn't?).
I encourage you to try this out in your music making and in other parts of your life (this 33 minute rule need not only apply to music). Please share your experience in the comments below. Has this method of working helped you, or worsened your output? Let's discuss further!
As always, thank you for reading and for your support.