How to use Pomodoro and other productivity methods to accomplish more
“Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.” Peter Drucker
Do you ever sit down at the end of the day and think that you didn’t really accomplish anything that day? Or do you have a problem stopping work because you feel like you have too much to do?
Every person I have met in the past year has experienced one or both of these issues. I remember reaching the end of a hectic day at work and not one item on my to do list was completed and I would just think, “what did I actually do today?”. It is a common issue in the American workplace.
Being a time creator involves many different tasks, but one of the biggest things is getting control of what you are doing and scheduling your biggest priorities. I covered this in the blog post about loving your calendar a couple of months ago. I find though that one of the biggest struggles people face in loving their calendar is staying focused on their immediate task at hand. They think they can multi-task and get more done during the time they scheduled. But, multi-tasking is just counter productive when you are trying to get a specific task done.
For my most important tasks, I use the Pomodoro method. While I write my blogs, I turn off email and close everything that is not necessary for the blog post. I put my phone on silent and set it down where I can’t see it. With this, I eliminate the distractions that might cause me to want to multi-task. I then research and write in short blocks of time with built in breaks to give my body and mind rest, which allows me to be my most creative. The whole process takes me 3-4 hours of time but I might schedule it into my calendar as 3-4 different tasks at different times. Or, I might have a whole block of time on one day where I accomplish everything, but either way, I am completely focused on each task for its scheduled time. I do this for all of my activities during the day and if I randomly remember something that needs to be done while I am focused, I make a note and add it to my big to do list during my to do planning time. These things are key to how I get work done during the day. I realize this because there have been days when I didn’t use this system and I come to the end of the day and nothing has been checked off of my to do list. Those unproductive days found me reading an email and then going to check out an article and then looking at social media and then watching a video and all of a sudden, the day was gone. Have you ever done that?
I do a lot of research and continuous learning on productivity and time management, and almost everyone in the industry agrees that focusing on one task at a time is the most productive way to accomplish tasks. Many of these experts will offer up some sort of system to help you do this and most of them are great systems to use. The challenge becomes choosing one for you so I am going to offer a quick summary of a few that I use in my daily life.
- The Pomodoro method: Originally created by Francesco Cirillo, this method uses 25 minute time blocks with a 5 minute break (for a total of 30 min) that you work throughout the day. Every 4 blocks you complete, you take a longer 20-30 min break. This is the basis for the system that I use for my daily work. I find it so helpful for both of the issues we started out with above. I can do anything for 25 min and a lot of my tasks don’t take any longer than that so I get stuff done. It also keeps me from working for hours on end without stopping because I have a timer that tells me I have to take a break. This part is so key because you can do horrible things to your body if you don’t get up from your computer and take regular breaks.
To start doing the Pomodoro method, you need a timer for your 25 minute cycles. The creator used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato and called his system Pomodoro because that is tomato in Italian. He even sells one on his website if you want one just like the original. If you need to be completely away from your digital devices, use a manual kitchen timer.
If you do better with the countdown timer on your phone, use that but make sure that you don’t end up looking at notifications or emails when you check your phone. Or get one of the many apps that follow the Pomodoro method. I have no willpower, so I don’t use these methods.
Digital timers on the computer work as well. I use one that is a tab on my browser called timer-tab. It will blink when it is done and if you have your sound on, will play a sound when you are supposed to stop. I like it because it is really simple and I can set my own times when I need shorter or longer blocks. Another one I like is tomato timer and it follows the Pomodoro method to a tee allowing you to do your break times as well.
The key here is to get your timer, schedule your block, and get the task done.
- The Getting Things Done (GTD) method: Originally created by David Allen, this method has a five pillar approach to organize all of your to-dos, your schedule and your priorities in order to keep all of it front and center and get it done. The five pillars are Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect and Engage.
Capture has you writing everything down in one place so that you don’t lose any of your items and you see them all in one place. I like to use Evernote for this because I can sync Evernote to all of my devices and thus my list is always with me. A good, free, step by step guide for integrating with Evernote comes from the folks over at Braintoniq called The Secret Weapon.
Clarify is the step where you look at your to do items and break them down into steps that you make sense to you. So, the large task is plan the vacation and in clarify you would break that down to book airline, book hotel, etc. These tasks then make it onto the to do list.
Organize is the step where you categorize the items and give them due dates if you can. I use this part to plan where the task will go in my short and long term and I also give it a priority if it doesn’t have one already.
Reflect is the step where you review the list and determine what actions to do right now, and short term. I do this daily and weekly for the main part of my list. This will help with the next pillar.
Engage is the step where you actually do the work. If you have done all the other pillars, you will be picking things off the list and getting them done.
This method does need some prep to start doing. You must first decide how you are going to capture the information and keep your system relevant to you. I recommend you use whatever list method you are most comfortable with even if it is pen and paper. This will help you use the system because you are already comfortable with the capture method. Take some time to capture, clarify and organize all of your current to dos. For some people, gathering all of the different pieces of information takes time. Finally, make sure to do the Reflect and Engage part at least once a week. For maximum results, I recommend some form of it daily.
There are many other methods available, but I use a combination of these two in my daily life and I find it very easy to keep track of what I need to do and then focus on what needs to be done. I also use a number of project management methods in the Organize part of GTD that help me really plan out the tasks and when they need to be done. The beauty of both of these systems is that they can and will conform to how you want to use them. I actually prefer to do my time blocks in 45 -60 min chunks with a 15 min break so I can go for a walk and get some exercise. Or if the tasks are short, I will do three 15 min chunks and then take a break.
I think the biggest drawback to any of these systems is trying to figure out how they fit into your life. While you can do all of this on your own, it can take time for you to figure out exactly what combination of systems is your best fit. This is where I can help you. My productivity and planning program will take you through a process of determining your particular style and then creating systems that will work for you. I take you through the same steps I use daily to create a system that is easy for you to use and will keep you on track. I can also help you with decisions about what to delegate and what to keep in house. If you are interested in learning more, check out the program here or schedule a free consultation and ask any questions you might be having.
I hope the information here was helpful to you and you are on your way to being more productive and creating some more time in your life. Let me know in the comments below if you have any more great tips to create time and how this helped you.
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Thanks so much for reading.