In the last year I slowly progressed from being a college student to a full-time freelancer. While it is awesome to utilize my hard work at the university of the last years, my slacking self-control of my productivity started to show up. I could handle difficult tasks and get everything done on time, but since working full-time I had a hard time staying focused all day. Often, in the middle of a task, I slowly glided to twitter, my email inbox or reddit and an hour of daylight was gone.
It was clear to me that I needed to manage myself better. I have read productivity tips and getting-things-done books before, but they help with planning, not with my lack of concentration at times. Finally, I found a solution, which is working very well so far: the pomodoro technique. Recently, my responsibilities grew to two projects, which deserve full-time attention, and multiple smaller endeavors. The pomodoro technique works for me, so it might work for you, too.
The pomodoro technique is a time management method, which uses fix-timed intervals of work and breaks (similar to your time as a child at school). The work period is completely focused on one particular task. No distractions (food, chats, email) are allowed during that time. After a successful work period, you can take a short break and relax your brain.
The common application is to work for 25 minutes, then take five-minute break. After four pomodoro (i.e. two hours), you take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes. This is the element of the pomodoro technique, which boosted my productivity immensely. It forces me to be productive for the work period. It also keeps my mind fresh. If I get distracted during a work period, the pomodoro does not count. I am tracking my amount of finished (and interrupted) pomodoros every day and can visualize my work habits.
However, the pomodoro technique goes beyond the simple switch between defined work and break periods. It also incorporates task planning. Ideally, at the beginning of the day you should list the tasks you have to do and estimate how many pomodoros each task will take. Since each work period has an exact time frame, you can control how well you estimate your tasks. Consequently, you can improve your estimation skill. This also helps you knowing how much you can get done today, tomorrow or next week.
Adjust to Your Own Habits
The basic principles sound fairly easy, but they are effective! It helped me tremendously to increase my focus and productivity every day. I made several adjustments to the standard flow though.
First, during my work week I often use 45 minute pomodoros. Remember, a pomodoro is recommended to be 25 minutes. I increased my work time to better match my tasks. During my day I often deal with particularly tricky things, which require my full concentration, but also demand about ten minutes to get into the problem. 25 minutes were often not enough time for my complex topics. I do use 25 minutes for lighter task – like this blog post.
Secondly, the pomodoro technique recommends to stop working when your clock rings and the time is over. I do not feel that strict about it. If I am finishing up a task that only takes me five more minutes, I might as well get it done before I have to switch tasks in the middle of my next pomodoro. But I am very careful of really being done after five minutes.
Thirdly, I use an electronic tool, namely kanbanflow.com, to track my tasks, estimate the probably pomodoros and visualize my progress and work habits.
What to Do in My Break?
Lastly, I prefer to do things in my break, which do not require any brain activity. I might do some stretching, refilling my glass of water, eating a snack or doing some fast cleanups of my desk and room. A very positive side effect of using the pomodoro technique: my workspace has never been so clean...
Are you using the pomodoro technique? How did you adapt it? Let us know on twitter: @futurestud_io.