Do you sometimes look up at the clock and wonder where the time went? Do you get distracted by Facebook updates and email? Me too! I noticed my distractions increased in direct proportion to how interested I was in the task at hand. But let’s face it, not every task we perform is interesting or fun. I work from home, so I can find endless distractions if I’m not careful. I needed a system.
I tried hiding both email and Facebook, but I would just glance at my phone instead. I tried building breaks into my work calendar with reminders, so I could get up and move around. I just ignored those reminders. Then I read a blog post about the Pomodoro Technique. Basically, you set a timer for 25 minute increments. During those 25 minutes you ignore Facebook, email and every other distraction. You stay completely, 100% focused for that time. When the timer goes off, you get a 5 minute break. Then you sit down and do it again. What intrigued me about this approach was that it encouraged focused time and breaks. Really the opposite of how I normally work.
Here’s a typical work day for me: I sit down in front of my computer between 7 and 8 in the morning and dive in. I hit email and then work on other tasks. When a new email pings, I log over and check it out. I eat my meals in front of my computer. I rarely take a break or walk away until the work is done. No wonder my brain is fatigued and looking for distractions.
So, I decided to give Pomodoro a try. There are plenty of free timers on the web, or you can use your phone. This is the one I used. There’s also a book, an app and lots of blogs. The first day I had a schedule of client calls so I only had two Pomodoro sessions. I found myself unconsciously heading over to check my email and Facebook. It was almost an automatic reflex. I would be mid-read in an email and realize what I had done. The two sessions, even with my setbacks, felt focused and productive.
The next day was the real test. I had several reports I wanted to tackle. Often these will take me several days because while I love the strategic part of the reports, inputting the numbers and formatting the slides is the kind of tedious work that sends my mind wandering. I set out to do 5 Pomodoros and knock out at least 4 reports. If you’ve ever meditated and fought ‘monkey mind’ you’ll understand how this day worked for me. I would be targeted and on track and then, without even noticing, the monkey mind would be swinging through my Facebook feed. I would pull myself back, minimize the page, and do it again. I ended up doing 8 Pomodoro’s that day and finishing the first drafts of all my reports.
The most surprising thing was how much I looked forward to the breaks. I made myself get up and go into another room, do some jumping jacks, fix a snack, anything but think about the work I had been doing. Those breaks helped me come back fresh every time.
I don’t think the Pomodoro Technique is a miracle from the heavens, and there is no reason 25 minutes has any magic to it, but the system has worked for me. After a few days of struggling, it’s helped me keep my mind focused, keep the email beast at bay and it’s gotten me away from my desk throughout the day to refresh my mind and my spirit. I’m more productive and less burned out. Pomodoro for the win!
What do you do to stay productive?