Working in Chunks of Time

Working in chunks of time is the brain-friendly way to work. When you’re young, you’re more than tempted to believe that you should just plow through hours of work in order to finish homework, complete a project, or study for a test. As enticing as this may sound, this is not a sound approach.

Instead, start learning how to chunk your work so you can work in chunks of time.

Working In Chunks

Chunks here refers to chunks of time. Basically, you want to experiment to learn how long you can pay attention to your work without your mind drifting.

If it’s a topic or subject, say math, that you might already dislike, you might find your mind wandering from the beginning. That’s normal for the beginning of most of your tasks. Usually, it takes us anywhere from 5-20 minutes to settle into a task. That’s about how long it will take most of us to commit to any cerebral task.

After this initial adjustment to the task, you’ll want to find out how long you can stay focused. For you, this might mean about an 80% focus. We all can become distracted, especially with schoolwork. So, take some days to experiment how long you can stay focused. If it’s 30 minutes, your chunks ought to be 30 minutes long. If it’s 45-60 minutes, make your work chunks 45-60 minutes long.

Chunk length varies per task

You might be able to focus on an art project your passionate about. For you, you could spend hours absorbed in the project.

Yet, if it’s a subject you might not particularly enjoy, your chunk length might be closer to 30-40 minutes. That’s ok. Just start to learn about how long you can remain focused on the task, even as it varies per subject or topic.

Chunk length can be affected by Your background feelings that day

If you’re sleep deprived, you won’t be able to maintain your usual chunk time. That’s just the reality. Instead of blaming yourself or berating yourself for not being able to focus, be gentle to yourself. On an off-day, you might need to shorten your chunk length. Work in chunks that work for you.

Also, know when to take a break. Too many of us believe that we must work nonstop in order to be competitive. That is not true. A fresher mind retains more information. Your brain needs time to process even when you aren’t focused on something.

Surprisingly, scientists and artists mention that many of their breakthroughs happen when they’re not focused on a particular task.

So, think of chunks as eating information, data, etc. You want to allow yourself time to digest what you’re taking in. That’s why chunks are not super long.

How Many Chunks?

You’ll also want to experiment with how much work we can accomplish in a chunk. As humans, we suffer from ****insert term***. This means we tend to underestimate how long it will take to accomplish a task.

Basically, you’ll want to work in as many chunks as it takes to complete your work or homework. Also keep in mind that you will encounter fatigue if you work in too many chunks in a day. That’s when it helps to take a longer break, such as eating dinner. Sometimes you just may need a longer break to complete your work.

You probably want to limit yourself to a few chunks of homework per night. Better to stay mentally healthy than to punish yourself by working too much.

What Order to Your chunks?

You want to start your chunks with the most difficult work first. For you, that could be your math class, or your science class. It is whatever demands the most focus while you’re working. That’s what you do first.

So, before you set to working, figure out what you will do first. An analogy might be eating your vegetables before eating your dessert. Psychologically, it’s easier to get the hard work done first. Then you won’t be dreading it later.

Consider this: how do you feel when you keep putting off work you dread? Dreadful. That’s why you do it first. Even though there is some pleasure to be gained by putting it off, later you’ll feel regret at not doing it earlier, when you have more energy, focus, and resolve.

Final Notes on Working in Chunks of Time

There might be some nights when you don’t have to set your work into chunks of time. It might work out that you have only 30 minutes or so of work for each subject. In that case, you can batch together 2 subjects into a 60-minute chunk.

In the end, chunking your work is only a tool. You will decide how and when to use chunking to help you out. As you progress through school and in life, you’ll notice how chunking can help you. It’s all about allowing breaks between chunks in order to keep yourself fresh. You’ll like yourself more if you notice how your mind works and set yourself up to keep your work in manageable chunks.

Remember: working in chunks of time is meant to help you keep your work brain-friendly.

Good luck with your work!


By Martin

Martin McSweeney is a National Merit Finalist, Pomona College Graduate, and member of MENSA. He has worked at the Center for Talented Youth (Loyola Marymount University campus); Upward Bound (Harvey Mudd campus); various test prep companies; and Whittier High School. Now, Martin helps students of all abilities improve their relationship with math.