Many readers have reached out to me wanting to hear more about how I manage to juggle everything that I do, and how they can increase their productivity. Shen approached me recently and introduced the Pomodoro Technique to increase your productivity.
Although I am a big productivity junky and pride myself in being able to accomplish a lot more than the average person in the same amount of time, this is the first time I’ve heard of the Pomodoro Technique (Note: No one is born ultra efficient. There are several methods and habits I deliberately practice to increase my productivity).
And although part of my working routine involves variations of this method, and thus I feel I am incorporating a lot of it in my day to day already, I did not know what it was called. Here is Shen to introduce what it is and how it can increase your productivity…
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, I’m guessing that you’re somewhat like me – You’re a busy person with a fairly packed schedule trying to squeeze every last ounce of effectiveness out of your day.
The fact is that most successful people in business, work and life also tend to be the best ‘productivity-hackers’. Find me a successful businessperson who spends most of his time twiddling on Facebook in a disorganized environment and I’ll show you a liar, and a pretty bad one at that.
Now, there have already been a few excellent posts about productivity on this blog, such as Sunil’s article on Mind Hack Strategies, but I’d like to introduce you guys to a simple productivity technique that’s nearly doubled my work rate over the past few months.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to The Pomodoro Technique.
Are you easily distracted when you’re trying to focus on a particular task at hand? Maybe you’re trying to write a blog post and yet you’re juggling between twitter replies, instant messages and email notifications.
The human mind wasn’t made to process so many actions simultaneously, and the result of trying to synthesize all of these things at the same time tends to lead to a lack of focus over the actual task at hand.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management philosophy that focuses on focusing. Think of it as a punch clock for your brain, only niftier.
In a nutshell, this is how the technique works:
The Pomodoro system arranges each work cycle or ‘Pomodoro’ into 25 minute sessions.
After every Pomodoro, you take a short break of 5 minutes to recharge your brain batteries before you start a new Pomodoro. After 4 Pomodoro sessions, you take a slightly longer break of around 15 – 20 minutes.
At the end of the day, you tabulate how many Pomodoros you completed to get a sense of how productive you were.
It’s not particularly complicated but the best things in life rarely are.
Scientists have discovered that the optimal time span that most people can concentrate for is about 25 minutes. Having constant short breaks helps to keep your mind sharp and fresh, which maintains your focus for the next Pomodoro at hand.
The very commitment to timing your tasks adds a sense of urgency to whatever you’re doing. As you become more accustomed to using the system, you’ll develop a rough idea about the number of sessions you’ll need to complete certain tasks.
You’re constantly aware of how long you’re taking, and each mini-deadline within each cycle provides you with a motivation to beat the clock.
Well, I can only speak from personal experience but I’ve been using this system for the past few months and I’ve never felt more productive.
While the Pomodoro System is meant to help you achieve maximum focus, it’s not going to work out very well if you’re still going to continually be distracted during the 25 minute time block.
Phasing out silly distractions is crucial to completing more Pomodoros per day. It took a little getting used to, and I had to modify some bad habits I used to have in order to really take advantage of this technique.
For example, when I first started blogging on my website, Beginning iOS Development, each post started off taking about 5-6 Pomodoros to complete.
Whatsapp conversations, email notifications and little pet cats demanding to be stroked were sidetracking my progress. It’s only after I slowly filtered out these distractions that I was able to truly make full use of the system. Now each blog post takes me about 2-4 Pomodoros to complete.
The essence of the Pomodoro Technique is in maintaining full concentration during each 25 minute time block and seeing how many cycles you can finish. You’ll soon gain a good measure of your own productivity by the number of Pomodoros you finish each day.
I started out finishing about 4-5 Pomodoros per day and after a month or so, I was completing about 10 – 12 daily.
Now you might possibly be thinking that doing 10-12 Pomodoros in a day is child’s play. After all, that works out to be about 6 to 7 hours tops.
Let me just warn you that part of what makes this system so amazing is also what makes so tough to master. You may think I’m a scatter-brained fool, and that you won’t fall prey to distractions of any sort but I felt exactly the same way before I started trying this technique. (That I wouldn’t fall prey to distractions of any sort, not that I was a scatter-brained fool)
If you’re an entrepreneur, or an aspiring one, you’re probably used to having to multitask and having to wear many different hats simultaneously. There’s a constant struggle for most of us to want to do EVERYTHING at the same time. Dealing with this within the confines of the Pomodoro technique takes some getting used to.
Here are some tips on how to manage distractions:
There’re a few schools of thought regarding the best way to implement this system. The creator of this method, Francesco Cirillo recommended a low-tech approach as opposed to software, using a mechanical timer such as a kitchen timer.
Apparently, the physical act of setting the timer yourself triggers a psychological incentive to start the task while listening to the timer ticking down heightens the desire to complete it.
However, I’ve been using a Pomodoro app on my Mac, and I feel that its been more than effective enough for me.
I suggest you try both ways out for a few days or a week and see what works better for you.
The best way to see if The Pomodoro Technique works for you is to give it a shot yourself. The system may not be ideal for everyone but you’ll never know unless you try it out.
All you need is one week’s commitment, and a timer.
Shen is the owner of Beginning iOS Development, a website that revolves around interviews with iPhone App developers and App Marketing. He uses the Pomodoro Technique daily for work and business.
Have you used The Pomodoro Technique before? Have you tried other methods that you feel are better?
How do I juggle so much is a question that I receive a lot. And while I am involved in several initiatives at any given time, it is never as bad as it may seem or as much as others think.
Truth is, while there are certain things that I would multi-task, for the most part I only work on one task at a time. Additionally, because I have so much that I want to accomplish while also living life, I have made a conscious effort to develop habits that allow me to work more effectively and efficiently. One of those habits is to permanently get on an information diet.
I have taken several personality tests and most of them have always highlighted planning, strategizing and organization as some of my key strengths. I agree. And in order to be highly effective at all of those, one must be highly productive.
This is not only important for those who work online, but for anyone. When I reflect back to my early years in University, as well as early in my career, I sought to consume any and all relevant information I could get my hands on. My belief was that the more information I consumed, the more educated and aware I would become and the more value I would be able to add to my employer and my own life.
This is true to some extent, but only to the extent you remember to apply the right information at the right place. In order to be effective with this approach, one must first remember everything they read, and then know when and how to apply the information.
Can you remember a time when you consumed so much information and had no immediate applicability for it? What happened when you needed that information? Did you remember it or did you have to go back and refer to it again?
This situation highlights exactly what the problem is. Most human beings only retain 10% of all information consumed. Reflect back to your school days. How much of what you learned in Biology, Calculus and Anthropology do you remember? How much of it can you practically apply today in what you do?
The realization that being an information hog, thinking that it would benefit me but it didn’t, was the first step for me in moving toward a complete information diet.
In retail and manufacturing organizations, many companies decide to set up their supply chain so that they only produce product when it is needed instead of over producing and then warehousing the product hoping that it would sell over time. This concept is called a just in time inventory system.
Similarly, highly effective individuals can implement a similar system when it comes to information consumption. A just in time information consumption system, or an information diet, is exactly what is needed in this case.
An information diet refers to cutting out all information that is not immediately needed and applicable. Often times we get distracted by the next best business idea, or the latest blog posts that we feel we must read immediately.
Think about what happens when we do this. Hours go by before we realize it, and the next thing we know is that a day has passed and we made no progress toward what really matters most to us.
I used to open every newsletter that hit my inbox only to end up wasting hours and not making progress in what I was working on. I had a bookmark list of hundreds. Not once did I go back to refer to any of those. I consumed blogs like a camel consumes water. All for what?
I can understand when people did this in the pre-internet age, when information came at a premium and was only available in certain places to certain individuals. Today however, we have the entire world at our fingertips on demand and mostly for free. There is absolutely no need to consume all the irrelevant minutiae the minute it crosses our path. Trust me, it’s ok.
Instead, focus on the task you have on hand. When you hit a wall, go seek the relevant information you need, read it and then apply it until you hit the next wall. For example, if you are brand new at starting an online business and are working on getting your domain and hosting, forget reading about WordPress until you get to that stage.
Instead, learn about how to secure the best domain and hosting for your business and get it. Now you can start reading about WordPress and putting together your website or blog. Don’t bother learning about email auto responders until after you are done building your website.
Getting on a complete information diet has been one of the best decisions I’ve made, and a key habit that has contributed to more productivity in my life. Think about the times you’ve forgotten what you’ve read and had to refer back anyway. Instead, start developing smarter habits that contribute to your working more effectively and efficiently.
What about you? What are some habits you’ve developed that have helped you become more productive? What do you think about the information diet?
I write about all sorts of ways to expedite wealth building both online and offline, but what I have failed to focus more on is productivity. Successful people are effective in what they do, and those who are most effective are typically those who are better organized and as a result more productive in what they do.
I want to write more about the “softer” side of entrepreneurship because I feel it is a critical part of being successful. I have written about how successful people achieve amazing results, but that discussion was from a theoretical perspective.
In my article about effective habits that help me get more done, the focus was more practical. In this article I want to focus on the mental aspect of productivity, and how “mind hacking” can help us achieve better results.
Life, as beautiful as it is, has a lot to serve us in our plates every day. With work, family, our health and everything else we’ve got going on in our lives, it is difficult to stay organized and focused at all times. We all struggle with this at some point on various occasions. So how do you stop the madness?
While you can’t stop getting distracted all the time, there are ways to mitigate the damage resulting from the derailing or losing focus. I want to share with you a handful of mind hack strategies that have worked well for me. And while they have worked effectively, I am always looking for more advice to incorporate into my day to day life to become more effective and efficient. I’d love to hear your thoughts in comment section below.
What better way to learn from than first hand experienced history? One approach that has worked well for me is to reflect back on activities I was involved in before I started “working” after which I was really productive. For example, working first thing in the morning after brushing my teeth and preparing my morning beverage works best for me. For you it may be after a nice run and a warm shower?
Although I was reluctant to do this at first, I eventually started taking notes of the activities I was involved in prior to my most productive work sessions. After some time you will have a nice list of activities that you know will energize you for an effective and more productive working session, as well as those that are ineffective. For example, when I work out in the evenings, I just cannot be productive in the wee hours as I am “too distracted”.
My wife always told me about this and my egotistic self didn’t make much of it initially. Men are terrible at multi-tasking, and we should really stop trying. I understand the feeling of being super productive while multi-tasking, but how often does it really work? It is just a “feeling” indeed. Personally, the more I try to multi-task, the more I find myself getting less done. And for the tasks I do get done, I don’t get them done as well as I would’ve had I not been multitasking.
Turn your focus lens on and focus on one and only one activity at a single time. Sure there are certain tasks such as mindless driving in a familiar, long and uncrowded road while listening to a podcast, but even that, whether we realize it or not, shifts some of our focus away. I mean God forbid a deer runs across the road?
This strategy is not biased only toward men. My wife and I have both tried this and both “reported” not only much better productivity, but also more satisfaction and enjoyment.
The flip side of being too focused is sometimes we don’t know when to stop. This is particularly true for ambitious entrepreneurs who are trying to make “it” happen. While all that is well and good, it is important to step back from work periodically, even if it is to stretch your back, grab a glass of walker or go out for a brief walk.
For me, taking break from “work” and doing personal or household chores helps clear my mind, re energize me and allow me to refocus back on work when I sit back down to do it. A friend of mine does his workouts in his home gym between working spurts.
I have read about people setting up buzzers to signal a hard stop from work. Others do crunches or sit ups. It doesn’t matter how you do it, rather that you do it. Taking breaks and working in spurts results in more productivity. Even wonder why you are so much more productive at work right after a break / vacation?
Our brain is the command center of our body. Fine tuning that command center will enable to rest of the body to be as effective as it can be. Scientifically speaking, a good diet, regular exercise regimen and good sleep (typically 8 hours for many) all lead to a finer tuned brain. Therefore, take time to eat a healthy-balanced diet, exercise often and get yourself enough rest.
Science has discovered that our brain has a short term capacity to store information we think about in random spurts. Think about this as the RAM, or random access memory of a computer. Just like computers, we can store quite a bit in our RAMs as well, and a finer tuned brain has a larger RAM (more capacity to store information).
Why is this important? Personally I have many thoughts that cross my mind throughout the day. I may be working out in the gym and the next business idea will cross my mind. Though it is good practice to document such thoughts throughout the day, I do a pretty good job of mentally storing the information and later unloading it on paper (or computer).
The beauty of this mind hack strategy is that the components are interrelated. Here is what I mean. When you work out, you free your mind of stress (say from a long day in the office), but at the same time you may be getting random, fresher thoughts and ideas that are stored in your RAM.
When you get home, you are hungry and tired from working out, so you prep yourself a healthy meal and go to sleep and wake up well rested. One activity naturally feeds off the other. When you wake up and sit down to do work, you unload all those beautiful thoughts and ideas that are stored from the day before.
I’m a very confident individual and I’ve always thought I had things under control as best as I could. I never gave mind hacks or other similar “manipulative” strategies the time of the day, often brushing them aside presumptiously. Little did I know how big of a fool I was.
These mind hack strategies not only work, but they work wonders. And while I was already practicing some of these sub consciously, reading more about them and consciously apply them made me more cognizant of them and as a result much better at executing them. As a result I have definitely experienced more productivity, more satisfaction and much better results.
Effective people are not effective by accident. Getting over our ignorance is the first step to moving closer to more productivity. Learning and applying mind hack strategies that work best for us is the next step.
We each need to think about what is it that we need to do in order to achieve a better balance in life so we can be more productive and achieve better results. The answer will vary for each of us.
For me, the mind hack strategies above are one way to better productivity. I can apply these to most anything I do, and I have truly experienced more happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment from doing so. Inherently, the more I practice these over time the more they become a part of me and my success.
Readers: What do you think about these mind hack strategies? What are some other effective mind hack strategies that have worked well for you? Are you interested in reading more about staying organized and productivity on this blog?