By Bob Walsh

In my seemingly never-ending search for ways of Getting (more) Things Done, I’ve hit upon a pretty good method I call Butterfly Stroke Productivity. Now I will be the first to admit my swimming techniques look more like drowning than the Thorpedeo, but Butterfly Stroke Productivity (BSP) works and has been keeping my head above water for the past year as I juggle contracts, development and writing.

Here’s how it works. As you plan each day’s work, focus on the 2 or 3 things which you’re going to have to really work at for an hour or two each to get done. These should be things you want to reserve your best efforts for because they will make the most difference in your life.

Now, make a 60-120 minute appointment for each. You can make it an Outlook Appointment, a Task Appointment in the program I sell or an entry in your daytimer. Leave time between these task appointments so you can come up for air, re-orientate and deal with other, less important stuff.

The goal for each of these Task Appointments is to get into the highly focused, creative mental state Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defined as Flow. We’ve all had the experience of being so engaged in something that time flies by and we’re riding high; that’s Flow.

Since I make my daily bread writing code and writing words, I want to get into the Flow whenever I sit down to design an app or write. So, I start each Flow by filling in the basics of my Flow Form:

Nothing fancy, but it sets up the Flow.

Nothing fancy, but it sets up the Flow.

For the next 90 minutes or so, no email, no phone, no web, no anything that is going to be a distraction. I’m head down and pulling. I have a plan for what I’m trying to do; clearly restating my objective and the goals that furthers dampens procrastination and I know that at least for the next little while I’m going incommunicado to get some work done. Then I set my (physical) desktop timer and go for the Flow.

An hour and a half later, my concentration is fading out and I come up for air and wrap up the Flow with whatever notes I need, follow-ups and rating of how good I did. Then, like satisfying a sweet tooth, I check email, blogs, news web sites and decompress.

What really makes this practice work is repeatability. Starting it by doing the form, setting my timer, turning off my phone etc. “cues” my brain that its heavy lifting time. Give it a try, and if you use Microsoft Publisher, drop me a line and I’ll send you free the form I use if that’s helpful.

There’s nothing more practical than a good theory!

Late afternoon swim

Author Bio: Bob Walsh divides his time between improving and selling MasterList Professional, a personal task management application, writing a book for Apress (Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality) on how to start a self-funded startup, blogging here and at, writing custom software applications for companies with needs and budgets and trying to remember what the words “time off” and “vacation” mean. He can be reached at [email protected].

11 Comments on Butterfly Stroke Productivity

  1. Bob Walsh says:

    Like the Butterfly stroke, the mental state of Flow is tiring. I count it a very good day if I can make this work 3 times.

    As for RSI vs. Flow, the trick to sneaking in a few stress-relieving exercises is hard to describe in words. Consider when you are working and you have a drink of coffee: you are aware of drinking the coffee, but your attention is not on it.

    In the same way, if you have your RSI exercise defined (squeezing say a tennis ball) and at hand, you can do that without breaking your concentration.

    And like most things, the more you prepare and practice, the easier it gets.

    Thanks for raising this point; its a good one!

  2. Todd says:

    What task/appointment program do you sell?

    Very useful site, btw. Thanks!

  3. Bob Walsh says:

    MasterList Professional – more info at

  4. Alan Nelson says:

    Interesting. Reading your post I immediately thought of the pre-shot routine in golf. The sports shrinks have likely studied “flow” in golf more than any other sport, given the player’s need to remain in a state of focus for many hours on end.

    A good pre-shot (1) always involves the same steps, and (2) because of that regularity, signals to the body and mind that it’s time to perform.

    Your Flow Form is like a pre-shot for work. Very cool.

  5. Seat 1A says:

    Pre-Shot For Work

    THIS IS INTERESTING: A pre-shot routine for work.

  6. Bob Walsh says:

    The inner game of Tennis started this off years nad years ago: concentration and focus are the only resources we can increase. More on that point my next post!

  7. Elaine says:

    If anybody’s interested, I’ve made my own quick web version (PHP/MySQL)…I tried the technique this morning with a project I’ve been dreading, and it worked AMAZINGLY well. Thank you!

  8. Bob Walsh says:

    Good to Elaine! If enough people do this, maybe we can all get something done!

  9. Butterfly Stroke Productivity

    Bob Walsh has shared a productivity method he uses for Getting Things Done which involves setting aside specific time each day for the big task. It’s called Butterfly Stroke Productivity. This is done in the morning as you review what…

  10. Harmony says:

    Great post and a great idea :) I’ve been doing this unintentionally for years with web work and painting, but it’s good to see there’s method behind my madness.

    Elaine if you’re reading this and you have a link to your web version of this I would love to check it out :)

  11. courtney says:

    madd cool info on buterfly cuz im a butterflier

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