The 1st Step to a Productive Working Day, Everyday

First step on the ladder

If you think that productivity is doing more in the same amount of time, think again! Actually, you need to erase that thought. Embrace this one: Less is More and One is The Most. 

You don't want to juggle a dozen of tasks, racing through eight hours a day. I know many of you do because you think you have to. So did I, but it does not have to be that way.

Using this Pomodoro technique, you focus solely on one task at a time, eventually work less, accomplish more and run no risk of burnout. The key is to avoid multitasking because doing more than one demanding task at a time literally drains the energy reserves of your brain. It makes you tired quickly, so it's counter-productive.  

 

THE SIMPLE TIME MANAGEMENT SYSTEM THAT WORKS MAGIC 

In his 2006 paper, its creator Francesco Cirillo explained the technique, the psychology behind it, and the steps to start applying it correctly. 

The bottom line is that you do only one task for a period of time, traditionally 25 minutes. You don’t multitask and you stay away from distraction: not making phone calls, not checking your email and not wasting time on Facebook. In a study from the University of California Irvine, researchers concluded that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after being distracted - so just think about it! 

If the task at hand requires more than 25 minutes - a Pomodoro, split it into smaller segments and remember to take breaks. Experiment and learn how to divide a specific type of task  into Pomodoros. For example, an action plan for marketing activities in three months might take five to six Pomodoros, while the editorial calendar for the week would take two to three Pomodoros. 

After every four (or five) Pomodoros, take a longer break of ten minutes. Go get a coffee, make yourself a snack or walk around the block to stretch your leg. 

That’s the basics, and here's a step-by-step guide to apply it to your everyday work life. 

 

GET UP AT LEAST HALF AN HOUR BEFORE YOUR SCREEN TIME 

You need to give yourself the time to be fully awakened, to collect your mind and to visualise your day. Don’t check your email the minute you open your eyes. Don’t scan the news on Twitter while brushing your teeth. 

Instead, make a cup of tea or coffee, get into the shower, do some stretches or whatever morning rituals you need. 

Now sit down with a pen and paper (or your note-taking app if you promise not to check Facebook while waiting for the app to load). 

Write down one thing that you really want to accomplish with your day - the one thing that counts. Pick a project that would make you a better version of yourself because you strengthen a skill, you finally stop procrastinating or you would make something good to show the world (like this article). 

The next step is to find a block of time that you are least likely to be interrupted, either my other people or yourself. If you are a morning person, don’t pick the late afternoon when your mind often wanders. Stay away from scheduled meetings or child pick-up responsibility. Once your find the perfect time, block it off in your calendar for the one thing you've chosen.

Now feel free to fill your day with other tasks and responsibilities required of you. Plan the amount of Pomodoros accordingly. Leave some space for urgent tasks or unexpected interruptions. Whenever you have the urge to cram more things in, remind yourself that these tasks are just bonuses. You have already done the one thing that matters.  

Note down the total amount of Pomodoros for the day to later compare with the actual number. 

 

KEEP TRACK, FEEDBACK, AND LEARN

It is very important to keep track of your Pomodoros for each day and each task. You might want to keep a record of the times you are interrupted by others as well, and see how it affects your pace (i.e. the difference between planned Pomodoros and actual Pomodoros). 

Take being productive as a habit that you need to forge. Keep planning, tracking and learning what works for you. One objective is to find your balance for a work day: the total amount of Pomodoros that you can do without exhausting your mind. Another is to work out your pace: the amount of Pomodoros you need for a typical task, so you can plan better. 

I got to know about Pomodoro Technique for the first time in Chris Winfield’s article in Fast Company. He said that his balance lay at eight Pomorodos of 25 minutes. I prefer to do 33 minutes for one Pomodoro and my balance varies between seven to nine. 

The point is that everyone is different. You need to factor in your general level of focus, your working environment, the nature of your job and your personal life. If you have a young kid or elderly parents, you just can’t afford to turn off your phone to completely avoid distraction. If you lead a team, you might need to spare more Pomodoros for urgent and unexpected stuff. Demanding clients? Well, it could take all day. 

Basically, stay flexible and never stop learning from the data. 

 

GETTING STARTED: THE TOOLS

The beauty of this method is its simplicity. To start, you only need two things

1. A timer
A kitchen timer is traditionally suggested. The ticking noise has a calming effect because it tells you that you are working and everything is fine. The ring after each Pomodoro signals your accomplishment, boost your motivation and also tells you to take a break. 

However, the ticks and rings might be of annoyance for anyone who shares an office with you. An app and a pair of headphones are more practical in this case. There are many Pomodoro apps, both paid and free, but make sure you get one with options for the sound. This is the one I use. 

2. A pen and paper
To plan our your day and keep track of your activities. You can also use this To Do Today sheet that I’ve prepared to start straight away. 

 

So that is that. Happy working everyone!

Let me know if you decide to try Pomodoro, and do share your productive stories.