It is a very trying time of year for me. Between my haunted house, full-time job and Web site, not to mention the other sites I write for, it is very stressful and I can feel as if I’m pulled in dozens of directions at once.
This can make getting anything done very difficult, especially on larger projects. The problem is fairly simple, when there is so much that needs to be done, it is too tempting, for me at least, to try and do everything. As a result, I tend to float from project to project, not really making any progress on any of them.
That, in turn, makes it possible and even easy to work for an entire day and have almost nothing to actually show for it.
This Halloween season, however, I’ve begun an experiment. I’m using the Pomodoro Technique, or at least a variation of it, to help me focus and stay on target. Though I’m early in the experiment, the results have been fairly impressive and I can see how it might help other bloggers, especially those who are divided up among many different sites and projects.
Best of all, the only thing the technique requires is a (free) timer and a few minutes to set up and learn, making it no-risk for you to try.
How it Works
The idea of the Pomodoro Technique is pretty simple, you just need to focus on one task for a certain length of time and, by using a timer, you can help achieve that. Here’s all you have to do.
- Get a Timer: You can use a kitchen timer if you want, but I found it easier to get a free Mac-native Pomodoro app. There is also one available for Adobe Air that should run on multiple operating systems.
- Set the Timer: Give yourself a set amount of time to work. The default is 25 minutes but you’ll likely want to experiment with that. The idea is to have something that is bite-sized enough to tackle but big enough to get something accomplished.
- Start Working: Pull up a task or project and then work for those 25 minutes straight. Work without stopping as much as posisble and focus only on the task (or tasks) you’ve assigned yourself during that time.
- Take a Break: Once the work period, or Pomodoro, is up, it’s time to take a short break. Five minutes is the default. This is time for you so feel free to get up from your computer, stretch or, if you don’t want to get up from the computer, read Blogging Tips.
- Repeat: Once the break is over, set the timer and do another Pomodoro. Every four work cycles, take a longer break. It should be quitting time before you know it.
If you do this technique correctly, you should be spending a solid amount of time working on just one task. Though 25 minutes may not sound like a lot, and it isn’t, it is enough time to get a lot done with dedication and focus. That, in turn, is what the technique provides.
To be fair, the Pomodoro Technique is a variation of similar techniques that came before it. The idea of timed work/break sessions is not particularly new, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. Still, it’s less important to follow the exact numbers in the method and more important to have a time period dedicated to working on a single project.
In fact, many, myself included, will find that the 25/5 system in the Pomodoro doesn’t work entirely well for them even if it is a nice average. I have been experimenting with increasing the Pomodoro time, using a 30/5 or a 35/8, as it fits the types of tasks I tend to do. This is something you will almost certainly want to tinker with as you learn how you work and the time you need to get various projects done.
It also doesn’t work well in environments where distractions and “fires” are not under your control. I shared the idea with my wife and she shot it down for her job because she is routinely handed “urgent” work while doing a longer-term project. She doesn’t have the ability to say that she needs to work on project X 20 more minutes and can’t do the new task, especially if it is due in an hour.
However, if you’re in a position where you can manage your own time, it can be a huge boon. I’ve noticed that I’ve been much more productive these past few days and am eager to keep trying and experimenting with it to see how much more I can get done.
In the end though, the Pomodoro Technique or whatever time management technique you choose to use is just that, a time management technique. Though they are often billed as a means to end procrastination and stop goofing off, its no substitute for willpower or determination.
In short, this can help give you the tools you need to work better, not necessarily the tools to be a better worker. After all, no one can force you to start the clock or stick to it.
Don’t expect it to be a miracle cure, but it an help if you’re finding yourself pulled in 20 directions and don’t seem to be getting anything done, it can definitely help you sit down, focus and work without distractions.
That alone makes it worth at least trying.