I am a big fan of using the Pomodoro Technique to help me focus on projects and get done the work that needs doing.
This technique breaks your work into time periods called pomodoros with a short break in between. The idea is that you work in short bursts with built-in rest periods so that you can maintain your productivity. I personally call these Micro-Sprints.
Here are a few things that I try and do when using this technique:
Close your email, Skype, and any other application that pops up a notification. Also put your phone on silent, and place it face-down on your desk. You can check these things during your break.
Listening to music helps me focus more than when I listen to nothing.
I like to move around during my break. I take a walk down the hall, around the building, or whatever, so that I’m not stuck in my chair for hours.
When the timer goes off, make every effort to actually stop working. While this is hard at first, you can train yourself to do it so that it does not feel like you are quitting in the middle of work.
While in the middle of the sprint, I make every effort not to do anything but work on the pre-assigned task – no matter how shiny the object. This is personally my biggest struggle.
The actual pomodoro timer looks like this:
but you can use any type of timing device. I personally use an iPhone app called Wind Up Timer which looks something like this:
Or you can just set an alarm on your phone.
The original interval was 25 minutes, but I think the interval is a personal preference. I have found that 45 minutes of work, with a 15 minute break, works best for me. Everyone is different so modify the interval until you find one that works best for you.
I will occasionally use a modification of this technique to allow myself to break away from what I should be doing, and dive into something that interests me. I used that technique this morning to do some research and setup on a community-based development project that I am thinking about contributing to. I simply set my timer for 60 minutes and jumped in with both feet to try and get as much done as I could setting up my environment and reviewing the project. While I actually ran over on time by a few minutes, I did accomplish my goal and did not feel my normal guilt of “wasting” my time working on something that was not driving my business forward.
I have also found that I generally only use this technique for about four hours straight. While I have gone longer, I see my productivity decline due to the increased level of concentration that I am exerting. Your mileage will vary, of course, but keep this in mind as you explore this technique.
As I mentioned, this technique is really helpful if you have a lot on your plate or need additional help focusing on a project.
Leave a comment if it works for you.