Four Cities


I learned an earlier version of this jolt from Tracy, who learned it from the participants in one of her workshops. I played with basic structure of this activity to come up with a version that can be played individually and within a reduced period of time.


The participants write the names of four different cities, one letter at a time, rotating through the cities. Later, they write the entire names of each of the five cities. The debriefing discussion focuses on the inefficiency of starting and stopping the work on different tasks.


To increase personal productivity by avoiding inefficient work practices.


Minimum: 1

Maximum: Any number

Best: 10 to 20


5 minutes for the activity

5 minutes for debriefing


Pieces of paper (4 pieces for each participant)

Pens or pencils




Prime the participants. Ask each participant to think of the names of four different cities.

Explain the first task. Distribute four pieces of paper to each participant. Ask them to listen carefully to your instructions before writing anything:

Take a piece of the paper and write the first letter of the name of one of the cities you thought of. Place this piece of paper aside.

Take another piece of paper. Write the first letter of another city.

Continue this process of picking up a new piece of paper and writing the first letters of the third and fourth cities.

When you have written the first letters of all four cities, pick any of the pieces of paper. Now write the second letter of the city.

Continue the procedure, writing the second letters of all four cities.

Repeat the process, adding one more letter at a time to the name of each city.

During later rounds, one or more of the pieces of paper may contain the complete name of the city. Put these pieces of paper aside and continue with the other pieces of paper.

Conduct the first task. Blow the whistle and ask the participants to get started with the first task of writing the names of four cities on four different pieces of paper, one letter at a time. Ask them to complete as much of the task as possible within 2 minutes.

Conclude the first task. Blow your whistle at the end of 2 minutes. Reassure the participants that it does not matter if they have not completed the total task.

Explain the second task. Tell the participants that you will have them write the names of same four cities on the other side of the pieces of paper. This time, however, tell the participants that they are to write the entire name of each city on each piece of paper.

Conduct the second task. Ask the participants to begin the second task. Remind them to write the entire name of a different city on each piece of paper.

Conclude the second task. The participants should be able to finish the task within a minute. When everyone has completed the task, congratulate them and proceed to debriefing.


Ask the participants how many of them found it took more time to write the names of four cities, one letter at a time than writing the same names one city at a time. Keep a poker face and use an innocent tone of voice as you ask this question.

Ask and discuss these types of questions about inefficiently switching tasks before each task is completed:

  • Why does it require more time to complete the same set of tasks when you keep switching from one task to another?
  • What are some examples of switching from one unfinished task to another in the workplace?
  • How frequently are you able to set aside an uninterrupted block of time to complete a task?
  • What are some of the causes of being distracted from completing a task?
  • Technology is making our world hyper-connected. How does this trend increase distractions, interruptions, and inefficient work habits?
  • What can you do to prevent frequent interruptions while you are working on a task?