The notion of trying to utilise every moment of your 16 waking hours per day is exhausting. I tried it and this is what I learned.
Do you have the constant feeling that you should be doing something to feel useful? Maybe you have a project that you just can’t seem to be able to see though? Perhaps you are doing way too much overtime than what is required, or you finish your day with a lack of satisfaction about what you accomplished? Have you ever drowned yourself in overly ambitious goals that simply cannot be done in a day?
I have done and felt all of these things and more. Allow me to reluctantly take you back to a time, 2020. A year that we will forever be etched in our minds. Last year I set out to become a productivity machine, I want to share with you what really happened, what I learned and how a Tomato can save you, too.
I found myself on furlough in May of 2020. Naturally, the opportunity arose for me to delve in to the “non-work” pursuits I had dreamed of doing for so long. It all started off brilliantly as I took my pick at what I created, built, played with and expressed as I pleased. Because of my free-wheeling lifestyle, stretching on in to the distance as far as I could see, I soon realised that I could make a “workday” out of these new pursuits, keeping me in check with a state of purpose and structure.
I remember sitting in the Park, every sunny afternoon for a week. I began etching out my goals, creating 10 metrics per goal, the perfect daily schedule and a weekly review system that took half an hour to complete. My obsession with productivity had ended up being the very thing that had made me unproductive!
Did I hit those metrics? Did I end up enjoying the very things I had so freely set out to achieve, NO! How did I checkmate myself in a game no one else was playing in? After reflecting on the year, there was a clear theme that came from this experience (aside from my clear perfectionism complex): Quality over Quantity. When it came to the work, the single constant during the year that kept me mildly sane and more positively productive, in flow and satisfied; The only thing I needed in the end to manifest more freedom than anything else, was the Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique was developed in the late 1980s by then university student, an Italian named Francesco Cirillo. Cirillo was struggling to focus on his studies and complete assignments. A Pomodoro are those handy little Twist-Timer Tomatoes (I trust you have worked out the translation now) that are used as a timer in the kitchen. Cirillo transformed this domestic mechanism in to a tool that added time pressure and kept the mind on track to complete a task, known as a sprint. A traditional Pomodoro sprint (of focus) is for 25 Minutes, followed by a 5 minute rest, repeated 4 times before a longer break of 15–30 minutes. Modern versions of this device are found in Apps like Focus Keeper. The idea is that it is inefficient for the mind to keep changing cognitive gears when multitasking and that a flow and momentum can be built from one-tracked focus for longer periods.
Here is how you get the things that need doing done, so that you can free up the time to enjoy life:
In the morning, write down 1–3 tasks that you want to complete for the day and that are of most importance and ask yourself the following:
-Task 1: If this was the only thing you did today you’d be satisfied.
-Task 2: Completion of this task will make the day even better.
-Task 3: Do this task only after you have completed the tasks above.
Now, write next to each task, how many sprints you think each task will take until it is complete.
Task 1: Complete the monthly budgeting spreadsheet- 4 Pomodoro's (2 Hours).
Next, make sure that the task at hand is set to be distraction free. That means, if possible, electronic devices are treated the same way as a standard Aeroplane take-off. I cannot stress how vitally important this is. Equally, make sure you are in the right state of mind and that your working environment is set to do great work.
Now, wind up your Pomodoro or set you Focus Keeper App to 25 minutes and away you go! Give the task your undivided attention, immersing yourself in the journey and catapulting your task toward its final form. Until the timer rings… Now take a 5 minute break.
Repeat the process until you have completed the task, then take a longer break of 15–30 minutes and move to the next task.
It is important to note that for larger projects, it may take a set number of Pomodoro sessions stretched out over days, weeks or longer. The idea is that the sum of the focussed time amounts to great, satisfying, completed work. Also, this technique is not solely focussed for the desktop, or exclusively for the workplace. It may be tidying up, finishing editing that podcast or a DIY project and so on. One thing to remember for creative and artistic pursuits; be sure to air on the side of caution, as time pressure may hinder the creative process.
If there is one thing that I took from last year and in to this, it is to do the things that matter most with your undivided attention. I’m not just talking about some task or project, it applies to life (maybe don’t use the Pomodoro technique when with the ones you love). In all seriousness, give this technique a try for a week and I welcome anyone to come back saying that they are less satisfied with their day.
Now go forth and be great!