Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Works For Me Wednesday: The Pomodoro Technique

One of the things we tend to think about during the beginning of a fresh new year is our productivity levels and how much we wish  we were getting done. We make goals and set resolutions involving all aspects of our lives from our appearances to our incomes to our love lives, and these goals and resolutions tend to vary greatly from person to person - but there's one category of goal-setting that all of these things have in common: productivity.

If we've resolved to lose weight, the plan is to accomplish the goal by attending the gym more, running more, walking more. Dieting more, being more accountable. If we've resolved to make more money, the plan is to accomplish the goal by working more, by putting in more hours, by being more efficient.

And, while I like to think that I am a truly special little snowflake of unspoken wonder (at least, in January when I'm still sticking staunchly to my positivity goals), I'm not all that different from most people in that I think about my own productivity. I think about my writing goals, and how to accomplish them. I think about my financial goals, and how my writing goals could (in the perfect world I'm trying to create for myself) help me accomplish them. And I try to spend time actively learning and implementing techniques that help me set my efficiency levels on overload.

Disclaimer: I haven't been at all secretive about my struggles with anxiety, depression, and even PTSD. With these struggles, I spend a lot of time agonizing over my productivity - mostly because when I'm really depressed or in the midst of a strong episode of panic, my productivity bottoms out, which often lasts long enough to completely sabotage whatever momentum I've managed to build during better times. Sometimes it takes me as long as a month to build back up, only to have another crash a month or two later. That being said ...



One of my favorite productivity strategies is called the Pomodoro Technique. Developed by Francesco Cirillo, this technique works by breaking down the work day into smaller segments, thereby making them more manageable - especially for people with short attention spans, small bladders, or work-at-home schedules that include frequent interruptions. I like to think of it as the workday version of High Intensity Interval Training, a fitness training method with a similar concept that I've used in the past.

With HIIT, the idea is that alternating high intensity workout periods with frequent/short breaks will make the workout more efficient and more productive - and the best part of this is that you can actually have a more productive workout in less time. Let me specify here that officially, the Pomodoro came before HIIT, but since I learned HIIT before I learned that my favorite workday strategy was called the Pomodoro, I thought it worth mentioning.

Anyway, applying this concept to my workday makes all the difference in keeping my workday from getting overwhelming - and it helps me to juggle the various aspects of my life as I struggle through working at home while balancing all the different parts of life as a single mom.

In it's most basic, traditional form, the Pomodoro technique divides time into 25-minute increments, and this is generally what I try to stick to - not only because it's productive and helpful, but because sometimes that's the best I can manage while working with my kids underfoot and trying to make sure no one feels neglected. Other times, it works because that's about as long as I need for a load of laundry to finish in the washer or for dinner to bake in the oven ... or it's as long as the time I end up sitting in my car in the parent pick-up line at school.

The truth is, it's easy to let those small chunks of time slip away, but I find that in using those moments, I can usually balance my work life with my mom life - without dropping the ball too often. So here's a basic, very simplified example of how this works for me on an average productive workday:

9:00 - 9:25 am:
I usually spend this time trying to deal with the notifications that have come up on my phone overnight. I never sleep without silencing my phone, because if I don't silence my phone I will NEVER sleep. I'm a somewhat light sleeper at times, and I get A LOT of notifications during the night. It isn't uncommon for me to wake up to twenty emails, thirty Facebook notifications, fifty or more Instagram notifications, and often, a few from Twitter as well. This usually comes along with personal text messages, Facebook messages, missed calls, calendar reminders, and other things. I can't focus on my workday without clearing these things right from the beginning, otherwise the phone clutter creates an equal sense of mind clutter.

I end this first shift by giving myself a few minutes to pee, get some water, and change focus from real life to fiction. This is also generally when I leave the couch and head upstairs to work in bed. My room is my comfort zone, and since it's the one place in the house where I'm truly comfortable, it's also the place where I'm most able to be creative.

9:30 - 9:55 am:
Read through whatever I wrote the day before. This isn't a detailed read-through, just a basic skim to refresh anything that may have slipped my mind since I last looked at my work. I also use this time to open and arrange my various writing files on my desktop. These usually include any character inspiration photos I've been using, story timelines, scene notes, story outlines, etc. Most days, I'm also drinking my coffee, trying to get my focus going for the day. I don't beat myself up too much about being unfocused at this point, and this is why I keep the first shifts simple.

Generally I end this shift by just sitting back for a minute to think on what I've written, glance over my outlines, and get a general idea of how I'm going to get from where I left off yesterday to where I want to end the next scene in my novel.

10:00 - 11:00 am:
Now I dig into the actual writing for the morning, which is, in itself, a start-and-stop process of writing, researching, double-checking my outlines, staring at my inspiration photos, and sometimes even cursing my characters. Or myself for inventing them, depending on what they've done. This one is a longer shift for me, because I have a hard time keeping creative flow if I break in the middle of writing. Sometimes this stretches out until closer to 11:30, but not usually. I find that after an hour of steady creating, my focus dips, my frustration levels come up, and I end up either angry with myself or bored with my story, neither of which is good. 

This is usually the time when household life begins to intrude on work life, too. Notifications have, of course, been coming in while I've been ignoring my phone. Dishes probably need to be done, laundry may be screaming my name, and whichever daily household chores I've assigned myself are generally begin to assert themselves in my mind.

So once I've burned up the creative juices for the moment, I'll stop a while to clean house, wash some laundry, and grab a quick shower.

1:00 - 1:25pm:
Clean and with the house mostly taken care of for the day, I'm back to work, clearing notifications again. I go back and forth between being excited that there are so many (because I'm getting more interaction, which is lovely) and being exhausted that there are so many (because I feel tethered to my phone sometimes, and I don't always love it).

1:30 - 1:55pm:
If whatever story I'm currently working on has started flowing through my mind again, This will extend into another hour-long writing shift, but most days this is a marketing shift. I'll send emails and messages promoting my Patreon page, my latest book release, my latest blog post, etc. Sometimes if I'm feeling really ballsy, I'll send review requests to book bloggers and pretend that I don't feel like a total putz, begging to be added to their already busy schedules.

I generally end this shift with a little self-flagellation, because I live under the full awareness that I am a writer and not generally a sales-woman. While I would like very much to be both, I just haven't quite gotten the knack for it yet, and because my livelihood depends on my ability to learn to sell my books (and my affiliate products, etc), my lack of expertise meets with no small amount of ass-kicking from my inner perfectionist.

Speaking of which: one of the members of my street team has decided to help me out with this by gifting me a blog hop for my birthday! She's organizing all the bloggers and the content, arranging all the media kits and even setting up the HTML for posting. At my last check, there were still slots available for this, so if you have a blog and you're interested in helping out (and if you have open blog days in February, which is when the hop takes place), then you can sign up here.

2:00 - 2:25pm:
The last shift before I head out to pick up the girls from school. This time is usually unfocused as I'm watching the clock pretty closely - but I try to make the best of it and get something done. Sometimes this is fine-tuning whatever I wrote that morning, sometimes it's writing just a bit more. Sometimes it's putting a blog post together or working on a newsletter - other times it's social media interaction. This one various a lot depending on how much focus power I have left how much I've been interrupted or distracted during the day.

This one ends pretty hurriedly. I save whatever I'm doing, get downstairs, top off my water glass, grab the dog's leash, and we run out the door to head to Eden's school. Once we have her, we head to Joey's school, and then it's back home. The rest of the day at that point is filled with the variances of what makes up the life of a mom. School talk, counseling over friend battles and boy problems, questioning about homework and talking through test prep. We have dinner and work through our bedtime routine, and once the girls are off to bed, I have one more short shift to round out my day - and my self-care.

8:00 - 8:25pm:
I spend this time reading most nights, working through the next book on my TBR. Sometimes the book gets finished and featured on my review blog - other times, the book is discarded as being unpleasant, unedited, or otherwise unreadable. Either way, this is the end of my workday, and then I switch over to watching WWE or browsing around on YouTube.

I love how this technique leaves me relaxed and feeling accomplished at the end of the day, while still allowing me to balance the other aspects of my life - generally without being too overwhelmed with everything I'm juggling. That's why it's my number one favorite productivity hack!



Questions for the Comments Section:

  • Do you already use the Pomodoro Technique - or do you plan to try it?
  • What's your favorite productivity hack - and why?

38 comments:

  1. I love this method. Mine is similar minus the kids, not yet! I have one on the way. I am trying to prepare myself by writing and planning everything in advance. I know bloggers that have content written out until May. This is my plan.

    Divine

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    1. Wow, until May? That would be awesome - I imagine that's how they can manage to turn their focus to promoting without being torn between tasks. I've got about a week of posts usually written up but I've never gotten much more ahead than that.

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  2. Very good method and very good writing!
    Thank you for sharing these ideas with us :)

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  3. This is the first time I have ever heard of this method. It makes perfect sense to me, though and I can see why it works.

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  4. Great method. I've never hears of this before but I'll do some research and see if I could implement this in my life too.
    Katja xxx
    www.katnapped.com

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    1. It's literally my favorite way to manage my productive time. It gives me enough breaks that I'm not always kicking myself for being unfocused, but takes advantage of the time I can focus and leaves me getting much more done.

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  5. I really need to try this. Sometimes I have issues with my time management.

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    1. Definitely give this a try! Another trick I like to use us to have a to-do list already going for the day, that way I don't waste my 25 minutes trying to think of something to do. It helps to already have that sort of lined out, so that I'm just going through and checking boxes.

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  6. This is a really great idea! So glad I came across your post! I definitely have trouble staying focused for too long so I'm sure this would help!

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    1. Thanks, I'm glad you found it helpful. I definitely think that's why this technique works so well for me - I don't focus well for long periods of time, so this allows me to keep it under control without pushing beyond what I'm able to give.

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  7. love this method! Ty for sharing this I think its a great idea to stay more focused! I am going to apply this asap!

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    1. Glad you liked the post - I hope the Pomodoro works as well for you as it does for me!

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  8. Wow.. I like this method and gonna try it out to get focus.. Nice and lovely!

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  9. I've never heard of this method, but I really like it! I have been having some difficulties with focus lately myself, and I will be trying this method out.

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    1. It's a great one to try. I like that it takes advantage of my ideal focus time while allowing me breaks when I need them.

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  10. This technique is so for me! I need small tasks but still be able to get things done in a timely manner. Thank you so much for sharing this! Oh, and I love your blog set-up! You'll go far with great material like this.

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    1. Thanks - I hope this technique works well for you! I have found that prepping my to-do list during the quiet time before I start my day has helped too - it gives me something to focus on right from the beginning and keeps me from wasting time trying to figure out what to do.

      I hope you're right about this blog, too - I would really love to see it grow!

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  11. great method! a really good idea to schedule time for each different activity. is it difficult to stick with it?

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    1. Not at all! It fits perfectly with my short attention span, my need for breaks, and the frequent interruptions that are part and parcel with being a single work-at-home mom. In later years I imagine having more focused days and more steady uninterrupted work time ... But in this phase of my life, this meets the need for balance perfectly.

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  12. I think breaking down your day into smaller, more do-able steps, is so helpful. I am going to suggest this to my husband for his work day. Great post!

    Kaitlyn
    www.mypostpartumlife.com

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    1. Thanks, I hope it works for him! It has made a huge difference for me.

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  13. This technique sounds awesome! Since setting a bunch of goals myself, I have started breaking them down and working to start scheduling them in, but need to be a little more specific about it. I think that doing this will give me a dedicated work time and will help me see if I've put too much on my plate! Thanks for sharing your work flow, it was very helpful!

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    1. Of course! I also find that this strategy helps me stay task-oriented too - having a list of things to accomplish during the day keeps me from getting lost in how big my long-term goals are and helps me stay grounded in completing one day at a time - one task at a time.

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  14. I do something similar, but it's called the waterfall technique. Find something that works for you and stick with it!

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    1. Now I'm curious - I'll have to look into exactly what the waterfall technique entails. I've never heard of it before.

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  15. This sounds like a really great technique. Your day looks like a good, even, manageable pace and I hope 2017 is the year when you reach your goals :)

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    1. Thanks - me too! I've been working toward this for a long time so I'd be thrilled to reach the end of this year and realize I've finally gotten what I've been after for so long.

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  16. The pomodoro technique has worked wonders for my productivity as well!

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    1. It's amazing what a difference it makes, isn't it?

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  17. I love that you take some time to read before bed. I used to do this before having kids. It's not as easy anymore.

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    1. I don't make it everyday ... sometimes I've had a busy and I'm so exhausted I go to sleep when the girls do! Other days, I still have work stuff to finish, so I get them to bed and work more, and then I'm off to bed myself. But this post is the ideal day and doesn't include interruptions, phone calls, issues with family that might come up or extra chores/errands that might need to be done. It's sort of the ideal workday - it's what I strive for.

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  18. I agree with your method. You cannot eat a whole elephant, likewise we cannot finish everything all at one. It is a good thing to break those big goals into smaller ones. That way, it becomes more achievable.

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    1. "Eat a whole elephant." That made me laugh - but it's true.

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  19. This is the first time that I've heard of this technique. I'm glad you found a plan that works well for you and one that will keep you productive at all times!

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    1. Me too - I love that it even works in the short waiting times between different parts of my day, such as when I'm in the pickup line at my kids's schools.

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