Ever since I’ve been working at home for a few days a week I’ve been noticing that I’m finding it hard to keep track of time. I make rather elaborate schedules and plans and find myself not quite completing them the way I expected. Also the constant distraction by everything in my house is very often keeping me from reaching all of my goals for the day. There is just so much fun stuff to do! Like cleaning up, eating, making pie-charts and looking at funny pictures on the internet.
Now as much as I enjoy doing all of those things, improving personal effectiveness means finding ways to make enlarge the “actual work” slice of the chart while still having fun. In my everlasting quest for tools and hacks to increase effectiveness, I stumbled onto a technique that is as brilliant as it is simple.
The Pomodoro Technique
So basically you map out your work into timeframes of 25 minutes of very focussed work, not allowing any distractions to distract you from your work. I liked that the first youtube comment on this was:
I set my phone to airplane mode and, if I’m not doing wordpress or other things where internet is necessary, I turn of my wifi and close all of the tabs I don’t need at that moment. Here’s 3 reasons I like working in small timeframes of 25 minutes.
1: Your brain can actually focus for 25 minutes
As a teacher I have had to work with different attention spans for years, depending on your age, training and innate talent you can focus on one task or pay attention to one influence somewhere between 1 and 25 minutes. The graph shows a steep decline after about 15 minutes. For the record, I don’t know this test group’s age and level of training, but in my personal experience in teachning and coaching people with study and work skills, that is about right for most people. I think it is safe to assume that one would use the first 5 minutes of the pomodoro to get “warmed op” because you would not be at the top of that span right away, after about 15-20 minutes you start to lose attention and brain capacity, quickly finish your job and go have your well deserved break! Because here is the cool thing: If you spend your break in the right way, you will be at the top of that chart for your second pomodoro! And antother cool thing: Your brain is going to learn the pomodoro ritual and you will actually become better at them. If you just keep at it for more than half an hour you are wasting productivity. Don’t! Have a break, have a Stickman!
2: Your time awareness changes
Did you ever think “I wish I could stop time, get all my work done and put the time back on”?
When you set the pomodoro and you hear your time ticking away, suddenly everything you do really matters. It puts your focus at the task at hand and it is worth doing it because you know you are going to be rewarded with a nice break! We all know the feeling of starting a task, trying to focus on it until it’s done, only to look at the clock an hour later to realize that you have been not actually working for 2 hours…”better pull an all nighter”. For some reason, having a small timeframe gives me the feeling that time slows down. I know exactly how long I am going to work on this task, but because of my increased focus and productivity I get a lot more done. More work in a smaller amount of time means that you’ve basically discovered how time travel works! Well, not really but the feeling that time slows down is a great one.
3: It get’s you to actually start
Don’t know where to start? Turn on the pomodoro and see what happens. Especially when writing, I am noticing that if I don’t know what to write, I just turn on the pomodoro and start writing “I know what to write, I know what to write”. I don’t know if it’s my brain going “okay this is just silly, here is an actual useful thought” or that it is just the law of momentum, but whenever I don’t know what to do or how to start a task, I just turn on the pomodoro and start. No matter what happens, I am finishing this pomodoro, I won’t stop until the time is up. Just having to sit out your sentence really helps when you are not feeling very motivated one day. It’s a great thing!!
“Wow, this is just great, but can you Stickman it up to make it even better?”
Sure thing pal! There are a couple of things you can do to:
1: Plan Pomodoro’s instead of tasks
When scheduling your day, cut your time up into pomodoro’s with 5 minute breaks. That gives you 30 minute timeframes for both work and break time. When planning a set of tasks, it is hard to decide how much time to use for which task. Now, try to estimate how many pomodoro’s you need for a task, and schedule those into your day. I like to also schedule some empty pomodoro’s at the end of my day. If I don’t finish all of my tasks..Yay, free time! If you do not get something done in your set amount of pomodoro’s, don’t worry! You’ve got your own back with a backup pomodoro!
2: How to have a break
Of course you have deserved your break and you can do whatever you want. However, if you want to step into your next pomodoro at the top of the curve, there are some things you can do to improve on your break time. I once saw a BBC documentary where they did a study on the most effective way to spend your break (I’m terribly sorry for not referencing this but I could not find it anywhere, if anyone can point me to it that would be great!). They did a test where people had to do a concentration demanding task for 30 minutes, they gave them a 5 minute break. One test group had to spend the break doing absolutely nothing, just sit there and be quiet. The second group was given an easy task that did not require too much of there brain capacity and could be fulfilled easily. The third group was given a very difficult puzzle that required all of there attention. Afterwards each group was asked to continue their previous task and where tested for their level of performance. Personally I would think that the first group would do best, because they used their break time to really relax and wind down. But in fact, the second group did the best and the first and third group performed much alike. Going full focus on another task, like the third group did, really wears out your concentration. Doing nothing, being bored, winds down your brain enough to have trouble starting up again. Doing something that requires little concentration gives the best result, because the brain keeps going, but without actually using any capacity. So, what is the perfect way to spend a break? Have a walk and let your mind wander to things that interest you, but don’t wear you out. Walking increases the bloodlfow to the brain and get’s everything circulating again. Which brings us to the next post.
3: Stand up!
A very large part of your concentration depends on the bloodflow to your brain, the brain only takes up 2% of your body mass but uses about 20% of your energy. There needs to be a constant flow of blood to your brain to supply it with that energy. We will post more elaborately on working unseated but here it goes in a nutshell. When working seated, there are 2 things that cause your blood to not go to your brain that much. 1: gravity (yes actual gravity) causes the blood to sag down to your but…where you least need it! (depending on the work you are doing I guess. 2: contact with your seat presses on your blood vessels and inhibits bloodflow. Therefore, if you do not have a treadmill or hometrainer desk. Get up! Put some music on and move around a bit while working. It will help to keep your blood flowing and will greatly increase productivity. Plus, you get to dance while you work! Which gives another great advantage: moving and having music in the background are like a benine distraction. Because you are already mildly distracted, all of the other distractions will seem less present.
4: Drink water
You are about 60% water, your brain is about 73% water, your brain is basically a network of connections that needs to be suspended in a fluid in order to actually use those connections. When you do not drink enough water, your body reacts to it by subtracting the water from the brain to use for other bodily functions. Weird right? you’d think your brain is your most important organ and needs the water the most. Well, in terms of survival, thinking about the deeper meaning of life is not exactly priority number one. Keeping the blood running thin, collecting oxygen from the lungs and deporting toxic CO2 is a lot more important to your survival than wondering why it is impossible to think of a new color. Working and thinking requires a lot of water so drink it! And I’m talking actual water, not sugary beverages and not coffee. Coffee is a diuretic and depletes the body of water, sugary beverages contain carbohydrates that use a lot of water to store in the body. Now I love coffee and if you love sugary beverages, don’t worry, sugar also helps your brain think, but just drink an extra water for every cup of coffee or sugary beverage!
“But I don’t have a pomodoro, kitchen timer, stopwatch, clock, phone timer, wristwatch or anything like that!!”
Don’t worry bro, let me hook you up:
Do you use pomodoro? How do you manage your time? Do you use any cool timehacking tools? Let us know, leave a comment!!