By September 13, 2010 Read More →

And your time starts…now

Stop procrastination with the Pomodoro TechniqueA few weeks ago we were talking about procrastination, and ways of getting inspired to do something you’re putting off. I was interested to read iPhone/iPad developer Andrew Ebling’s description of what works for him:

‘Breaking off a chunk of work that I think I can achieve in 25 minutes, writing this down, winding up the kitchen timer and working until it rings. Then I have a time 5 min break. It’s a trick borrowed from, or is rather the essence of, the Pomodoro Technique.

‘I’ve recently figured out an enhancement to this trick – as well as writing down what I hope to achieve in the next 25 mins (which I find in an important part of crystalising exactly what needs to be done), I also now write down the very next trivially small thing I need to do in order to get started. So for example if I’m preparing a presentation, it’s “Find the presentation template I was emailed the other day and open it in PowerPoint”. I really find this lowers the barrier for engaging in the task and then I tend to get on a roll and complete the task.

‘I think slicing tasks up is effective because it makes starting on seemingly over-whelming tasks much more possible, giving you a tangible amount of work you can do in manageable amount of time.
Ironically, it’s actually defining work to be done that seems to be 90% of the effort for me. It doesn’t take very long but requires the most mental energy.’

This sounded so effective that I have attempted the technique, but so far I’ve found that either I’m engrossed when the timer goes off, switch it off and just carry on working oblivious to time, or I’m on a roll and unwilling to stop. I’m going to persevere, though, because I think there are all sorts of reasons this is beneficial – to be more productive, move around more, rest the eyes etc.

Posted in: Procrastination

4 Comments on "And your time starts…now"

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  1. Dee Bourne says:

    I use this technique when I am suffering from a butterfly brain. I’ve got 5 very different clients and find that I can focus in one each one and be very productive in the allotted 25 minutes. It also makes you move away from the pc screen and have a quick break, coming back refreshed to tackle another task.

  2. judy says:

    Thanks, Dee, just what I’m hoping for! I’ll keep at it. Actually I need to buy a new timer from Muji, one of my favourite stores, when I go to London later this week. Unfortunately the current one got knocked off the desk when I was starting to experiment, and now the buzzer doesn’t go off, although it still counts down OK! I’m sure I’ll have more success then!

  3. Andrew Ebling says:

    Thanks Judy – I feel honoured!

    I know what you mean about being engrossed when the timer goes off. Sometimes I, like you, just plough on. There are however some good reasons I’ve discovered to stop for a break:

    – as you say, it gives your eyes a rest and encourages you to get up and move around, get the blood circulating again.

    – it puts limits on a task. For example say you’ve set yourself a task to research contact management software on the web. If you’ve decided that you should spend 25 mins on it, it’s very easy to plough on for 90+ mins without stopping to take stock of whether you are still locating useful information. Or have got distracted by something else.

    – when programming (a task requiring a high degree of focus and concentration) it’s particularly tempting to plough on when the timer goes off, because I feel like I’m “in the zone”. But often when I take a break in spite of this, I come back 5 or 10 minutes later with a clear head and spot that I’ve been heading down a blind alley, have been working with invalid assumptions or have simply got bogged down in something that in the grand scheme of things is really not that important.

    In summary – I find a break can help you regain perspective.

    So for some types of tasks, I think it’s advisable to take a break even if you feel like you don’t want one.

    Another enhancement I’ve found is to quickly write down what I think I need to do next when the timer goes of; I define the next 25 mins of work I need to undertake, so I can relax without worrying about where I got to. When I come back from the break, I re-asses whether that’s the next best step – roughly half the time I was right.

    Best of all though, I find the Pomodoro technique puts an end to those days when you stop for dinner and think “Exactly what did I actually achieve today?!”

  4. judy says:

    Thanks again, Andy. Once again you have given me lots of food for thought – quite sobering to hear that you feel you’re only right about the direction you were heading in about half the time! That could add up to an awful lot of not very well used, even if not totally wasted, time 🙁

    Once I get my new timer I shall be raring to give this a go, and I’ll report back on progress.

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