This post is a continuation of my search for motivation super fuel. It builds on Part I of this series. I practiced Trent’s tips for a few days and found them very helpful. At the end of my work day, I made a list of 3 or 4 items that were high-priority and set it on my desk next to the keyboard. The next morning, before giving attention to anything else, I started a 1-2 hour chunk of focused effort on the list items. The benefit was immediate. Instead of fighting the various rip tides pulling in different directions, I was singularly focused and productive. However, I noticed a couple problems with this system and, if I may, I will continue with some oceanic references.
I know next to nothing about sailing, but, still, I liken freelancing, running your own business, or managing a complex project to sailing a ship at sea. The problem I discovered is that I was running around the ship plugging holes and bailing water. both of which are important activities, but they offer no perspective. What about all the other projects on the ship? Not every project I have is urgent, so it could easily escape attention when making a daily list of high priority activities. There needs to be some system for tracking a master list of projects and tasks associated with those projects. Also, the daily activities can’t be driven solely by urgency; they must take into account the full scope of current projects. Shortly thereafter I happened to read a blog on Lifehacker.com that mentioned The Pomodoro Technique.
Francesco Cirillo created the Pomodoro Technique in 1992 to improve his study habits. It incorporates:
- an ‘Activity Inventory’
- an ‘Activities To Do Today’ list
- individual, 25 minute spurts of concentrated effort called ‘Pomodoros’
Each Pomodoro is followed by a 5 minute break. 5 minutes to let your mind breathe and expand before returning to a focused state. The work day is composed of several sets of 4 Pomodoros. Each set is followed by a 15-30 minute break, a break to walk, move your body, have a snack and, again, let the mind expand. Here is a quick and simple application of the Pomodoro Technique to a day’s work:
- The first Pomodoro of the day is spent planning. Make a To Do Today list based on the items in the Activity Inventory. Schedule 1 Pomodoro before lunch and another later in the day dedicated to handling emails and voice mails. The schedule might like this: [1,3] break [3,1] lunch [3,1] break [3,1]. The 1s are devoted planning, correspondence, correspondence, and review, respectively. The 3s are just pure productivity.
- Complete sets 1 and 2 before lunch.
- Enjoy Lunch
- Complete sets 3 and 4 after lunch.
- The last Pomodoro of the day is spent in review. Review what was accomplished over the day. Update the Activity Inventory. Clean and tidy your workspace so it is ready for another productive session the next day.
That’s it! It seems startlingly simple, but aren’t most things of genius? For each Pomodoro, set a timer and respect it. Don’t allow your mind to wander from the task at hand. The result will be intense and awesome focus. If you finish before the timer ends, review your work, improve it. I’ve been doing this for three days now and my productivity has gone through the roof. I’ve even been waking up looking forward to the work day because I know that I’m going to make huge strides forward on projects. Amazing. Here are the basic tenets of the Pomodoro Technique:
- A Pomodoro Consists of 25 minutes Plus a Five-Minute Break.
- After Every Four Pomodoros Comes a 15-30 Minute Break.
- The Pomodoro Is Indivisible. There are no half or quarter Pomodoros.
- If a Pomodoro Begins, It Has to Ring:
- If a Pomodoro is interrupted definitively – i.e. the interruption isn’t handled – it’s considered void, never begun, and it can’t be recorded with an X.
- If an activity is completed once a Pomodoro has already begun, continue reviewing the same activity until the Pomodoro rings.
- Protect the Pomodoro. Inform effectively, negotiate quickly to reschedule the interruption, call back the person who interrupted you as agreed.
- If It Lasts More Than 5-7 Pomodoros, Break It Down. Complex activities should be divided into several activities.
- If It Lasts Less Than One Pomodoro, Add It Up. Simple tasks can be combined.
- Results Are Achieved Pomodoro after Pomodoro.
- The Next Pomodoro Will Go Better.
How do I handle interruptions at work?
Invert the dependency on interruptions, and make the interruptions depend on you. Handle interruptions efficiently by jotting down future tasks to be incorporated into the Activity Inventory. Respectfully ask people if you can get back to them in 10/15/20 minutes etc. Most ‘emergencies’ can stand to wait that long, and people won’t mind if you honor the promise to get back to them when you said you would. In fact, they might even grow a deeper respect for you and your time.
- Write down the new activity on the To Do Today Sheet under Unplanned & Urgent if you think it’s imminent and can’t be put off.
- Intensify your determination to finish the current Pomodoro. Once you’ve marked down the interruption, continue working on the given task till the Pomodoro rings.
Two last notes
- It is recommended that you be able to wind up your timer. The act of winding up the Pomodoro is a declaration of your determination to start working on the activity at hand. It has to clearly show how much time is left, and it should make a ticking sound as time passes. This is a way we can practice feeling time and staying focused. I purchased the ‘Pomodoro Timer’ iPhone app by Navel Labs for 0.99¢ – it winds with a finger gesture and works great. At first the ticking sound is unnerving, but after a while, it is very reassuring and assistive. Time is no longer slipping away…it is helping to maintain focus.
- Inherent in this system is the concept of time estimation. You’ll have to estimate how many Pomodoros a task will take when planning your daily activity list. This is very useful, and it will also hone your ability to make accurate estimates over time.
Francesco has written a 45 page e-book that goes into great detail on the philosophy of the Pomodoro Technique. It also gives some very helpful implementation examples and discusses further how to record estimating and time tracking metrics. I read the entire book and strongly encourage it. http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/pomodoro-technique-book.html
Today’s attempt to draw a perfect circle