A while back, I wrote a memoir piece about the road not taken and how 38 seconds changed my life.
It was a pivotal moment for me, and I will be forever grateful for the road I chose following that brief moment.
But this article isn’t about a single twenty-second portion of my life. It is about a series of twenty-second periods repeated over and over.
Let me tell you how all this started.
Like many of you reading this right now on some sort of device, I spend all day, every day, looking at some kind of screen: my laptop, phone, tablet, TVs, and all the other devices that have taken over our lives. This never caused me any concern, and I never noticed my eyes getting tired or my vision worsening because of it.
The keyword here is noticed.
Then, I discovered something odd happening. If I were wandering around anywhere without focusing on something close, my eyes began to feel strained. They also began to always water when I was out and about.
It didn’t worry me, but it did make me curious, so I whipped out, you guessed it, a tiny screen to research it. The research confirmed what I already assumed. That I was asking my eyes to do something they weren’t accustomed to doing; focusing on things far away. It’s a common problem in this modern world, and the universal solution was to train my eyes to focus near and far.
I discovered the 20/20/20 rule. What this rule simply states, (20–20 get it?), is that every 20 minutes, you spend 20 seconds staring at something 20 feet away.
Okay, that makes sense; I can do that. So I started trying to remember to take frequent breaks and look at the wall across the room.
Of course, that failed.
What are the chances that I am going to remember to tear myself away from the scintillating drivel on Twitter every twenty minutes?
Approximately zero percent.
A few weeks later, I’m wandering around Costco, happily digesting my buck-fifty hot dog, when my eyes started watering to the point that I couldn’t see the price on a new screen I was contemplating. When I got home that day, I decided I needed to get serious with this 20/20/20 stuff.
I started researching timer apps.
It was then that I discovered that one of the productivity apps I am using, has a built-in Pomodoro timer. The Pomodoro method is a productivity technique using a timer, traditionally looking like a small tomato, hence the name. The idea is that you put in a dedicated period working, usually 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. Rinse and repeat.
I programmed that timer for my 20/20/20 initiative. I could set the work time to 20 minutes but had to settle on wasting an entire minute on saving my eyesight. Oh drat!
So, I set the timer to repeat until I turn it off, cranked the volume on my laptop to a subtle 10%, and went to work.
Twenty minutes later, ding!
I stood up, opened the blinds, and stared out the window.
For about fifteen seconds.
That’s all I could stand. It was 5 am, so not much to see, but at least I was focused on the distance. But as the timer repeated, I found I was letting that fifteen seconds draw out. Finally, it became a minute. One minute that I was doing nothing.
After only a day of that, I can tell you that the results were terrific.
No more wandering around the mall, dabbing at my eyes with a napkin, looking at the world through blurry corneas. Problem solved. Tick that off my list and move on with my life.
But that’s not really a life-changing event, is it? Read on.
After a few days, like Pavlov’s dog, the bell would signal me to stop doing what I was doing and do something else for a minute.
It’s what I discovered then, that changed my life.
So, I’m on Medium, typing away at the next brilliant sen — Ding!
I fought every instinct I have not to finish the sentence, just stand up and turn to the window.
First, I thought, I can’t believe I’m doing this. What’s wrong with just finishing the sentence and then standing up? You know what’s wrong with it. If I finish the sentence, I’m going to want to finish the paragraph. And then the story.
And sometime soon after that, I would silence that damned bell forever.
But I didn’t do that. I turned and stared out the window. My neighbor was walking his dog, Bernie, in case you are wondering.
A few seconds after the physical bell rang, the metaphorical bell went off.
I realized I’m not doing brain surgery here. Nothing I am working on is so damned urgent that I can’t take one out of twenty minutes and do something good for myself. I wasted an hour this morning scrolling through Facebook; I can’t afford to lose three minutes of that hour, not looking at a screen?
It was then that I began using that minute doing other things. Thinking up the idea to write this article, for instance. Doing deep breathing, another habit I have been trying to develop, or just thinking. That’s not so bad, is it?
After a week or so, I began to look forward to my little breaks. Occasionally, I find myself checking the timer to see how long before my next minute of reflection.
And here come the life-changing parts. I find that I am more productive. I turn away from the window when the one minute bell goes off, and do a brain dump of all the ideas that just pumped through my head. I also am learning to be a much more patient person. I discovered that nothing I am doing at any time of the day is so important, I can’t afford to wait just a minute.
The red light will change in a minute. The queue will start moving in just a minute.
I discovered dozens of moments all through the day when I am forced to wait a minute on something. And instead of getting pissed and impatient, I use that minute to breathe, to reflect, or just be.
I’m glad you finished this article, and I hope you found it useful, educational, or entertaining.
Now stand up and look out the window.
Just twenty seconds.