The 90-Minute Rule: Carving Out Time For Your Most Important Tasks

Kimberly Medlock's picture

You work hard, eat lunch at your desk, stay late, catch up on email after hours, but you rarely ever get caught up. You are busy, you are getting things done. So why is it that at the end of the day, you still feel like you didn’t get anything done? 

It’s because the big things that will require more of your mental focus are being avoided in order to attend to more of the tasks that don’t require as much of your focus. Getting and staying focused can be difficult for a lot of people. 

I believe that there are a handful of key habits that most all highly productive people use to help them achieve a much higher level of productivity than everyone else and one of these is what I call the 90-Minute Rule.

The 90-Minute Rule is carving out and protecting time each day/week used for working on their most important tasks or projects. This helps them to not just get things done (we all get things done), but gives them the focus power for doing the most important things: tasks that when left undone keep us up at night, nag at us throughout the day, and leave us feeling beat down rather than built up.

The 90-Minute Rule is a strategy mostly derived from a productivity formula created by Vilfredo Pareto in the 1906, which basically determined that "20 percent of X is responsible for 80 percent of Y.”

Given the fact that there is so much and too much to do, highly productive people have learned to carve out and protect time in their day/week to work on their most important or "relief-giving" tasks. Using the Pareto Principle (a.k.a. the 20/80 Rule) means that you would protect at least 20 percent of your day or week to focus on your most valuable tasks or projects. 

For the average 8-hour day, this equates to 96 minutes; however, to simplify the scheduling process, I recommend rounding off to a good solid 90 minutes of planned, prepared for and uninterrupted time.  Don’t check email; close the door, clear your desk of distractions, get in the zone and work. (Note, research shows that it typically takes 15-20 minutes for you to "get in the zone" when working on a task or project.)  

Imagine what your day would feel like if you knew you were systematically working on and making progress towards your most important priorities. Chances are, whether you use or squander the other 80 percent of your workday, you would still feel it had been a wildly productive day! You would feel energized, happy, in control.

There is another thing that most folks realize as this is applied. Many of those "other things" you used to stay so busy doing often become less and less of interest or importance. Thus, lightening your load. It happens; you'll see. 

Imagine what a difference it would make if your company, co-workers or department supported and encouraged the 90-minute rule. No meetings scheduled before 9:30 a.m. or after 3 p.m.? Could you adapt some version of this in your office?

Carve out 90-minutes of your day for the next week to focus on your most important tasks. Try it for one week and let me know how it goes.  

(Kimberly Medlock is a productivity expert and president of Smarter Training Matters. She works with companies that want happier, healthier, more productive employees. Her signature training courses include Get Organized with Outlook, Smarter Time-Management and Smarter Teams.You can learn more about why and how she does what she does at  or email Medlock will be taking her expertise to EFAM 2013 July 27-31 in Anaheim, Calif., where she will be a workshop leader.)