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I have a sometimes problem. It has to do with “soft” deadlines and medium-level priorities.

Now I never miss a milestone or a “hard” due date for a project that actually matters to someone other than myself. Interviews? Check. Drafts and finals? Check. Launch dates? Check. After practice pick-up? Check. My problem, it seems, is my inability to consistently keep a commitment to myself. I do just fine with other people. What’s up with that?

Take my business blog, for example. I’m good about keeping a list of possible titles and links to resources I might want to reference. I even accepted that a twice weekly posting schedule is the frequency I can reasonably commit to. I also know that time is money, and striking a balance between keeping my blog fresh (which is undoubtedly good for business development) and doing hands-on work for clients (the ones paying me now) is imperative.
And yet I think I spent about 4 hours on a single post yesterday. Sigh.

It wasn’t 4 straight, uninterrupted hours. “Uninterrupted” went out of my vocabulary 14 years ago with the arrival of my first child; by my estimation I have another 13 years before the word gets reintroduced. That is, assuming my youngest takes flight at age 18.

So I had better get this “soft deadline” thing worked out, eh?

Recently I stumbled across something called the Pomodoro Technique. Heard of it? It’s supposed to be a life-altering approach to time management that “eliminates the anxiety of time” and “enhances focus and concentration.” Raise your hands, folks. I *know* I’m not the only one who gets anxious over time. Where it goes, how much I have left, whether it was billable, what I missed when I used it for X instead of for Y, how much of it the other things on my list will take, ad nauseum. My color-coded task list doesn’t actually get the work done; it just helps me feel better about being organized. But I’ve found, after 18 years in the work force, that being organized just isn’t enough to get me to buckle down and muster through my own personal, heaping task list. It just sits at the corner of my desk and mocks me.

Pomodoro is based on the theory of time-boxing. Time-boxing is a fixed time constraint. The goal is to steadily increase efficiencies by decreasing the units of time needed to complete a task.

The general idea:

  1. Plan your day’s tasks. Not a full week’s worth of stuff, but just for today.
  2. Choose one task.
  3. Give yourself a hard 25 minutes to work on it. Set a timer.
  4. Work on the task. When time’s up, put a check mark next to the task.
  5. Take a 5-minute break. Stretch, check email, send a tweet, etc.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5. When complete, start back on step 2 and repeat.
  7. Every four pomodoros (increments of 25-min work), take a longer break. Assess your progress. Assemble your thoughts on what’s needed to complete the open tasks.
  8. At the end of the day, add up your pomodoros. With a few days under your belt, you should start to see some patterns emerge.

I think this approach could be a little tough to manage at first. Reading through the guide, it discusses those pesky little “internal interruptions” we all have – a quick call, a short email, a fly-by to see what’s up on Twitter. We allow ourselves these little excuses and distractions because they don’t seem to amount to much. But the reality is, when you add them all up, several hours of each day just evaporate because one interruption or distraction leads to two… and by then, it’s almost time for lunch so maybe you should just go early.

Anyone up for giving Pomodoro a try? I’d be willing to try it if I had a partner, someone to bounce the experience off of. Let me know by pinging me on Twitter, @heatherrast.

Photo Credit: RLHyde

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As Principal of Insights & Ingenuity, Heather helps brands earn customer preference. Specializing in digital channels, Heather’s firm provides brand-building positioning and content strategies to B2C and B2B companies. She’s a contributing author to Social Media Explorer, Content Marketing Institute, Shareaholic, MarketingProfs, and other media outlets. Find Heather on Twitter as @heatherrast or circle her up on G+ at gplus.to/heatherrast.
  • http://twitter.com/FrankCJones FrankCJones

    Looks like an interesting idea to me. I’ve got some articles that I’m behind on and school papers that are due in a couple weeks. I’ll ping you on twitter and see if you’re still looking for a Pomodoro partner. I’m game for a one week trial and report about this world renowned time management tool! FYI, I’m using the Pomodario app (http://code.google.com/p/pomodairo/).

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com/ heatherrast

      Hey, Frank! Sorry I’m late to comment. Got your @ reply on Twitter, and in the process now of setting up a group on Facebook (several people reached out to me). Maybe we can start a support group!

  • http://www.inspiredgiftgiving.com Marquita.Herald

    I haven’t heard of that technique, but I don’t think it would work for me. I’m a “big picture” person so I need to feel how I’m spending my time is getting me closer to either a goal or a better life. Can’t really do that one day at a time. What I try to do is accomplish 3 things each day to get me to where I want to be – then the rest of the time is allocated to “life.” Somedays I do more, but I always manage to do accomplish those three action steps.

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com/ heatherrast

      As I understand it, Pomodoro isn’t really a micro-level view. A user needs to select the important and necessary items from their task list and start their first. It requires knowing all of your action items, then culling the right ones off first. The list will be just as fluid as wtihout Pomodoro – meaning from Mon to Wed, what’s important and necessary may change. This process is really more of a way to ensure we don’t get bogged down in a time suck with any one item we’re working on.

  • http://www.katmarsoftware.com/personal-productivity-timer.htm Harvey

    We found this technique so useful that we wrote our own Windows application for it.
    http://www.katmarsoftware.com/personal-productivity-timer.htm

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alex-Furmant/100002713613552 Alex Furmant

    There is Pomodorium game based on pomodoro technique and  
    it turns into a literal game ^_^

  • Leslie Scott

    Techniques are many where as the basic need for the better time management is some what that carries importance with the level of productivity that has to come across in all possible sense. pomodaro technique looks to be robust one to have a better management of time. Where in I was in thought of having a time management software or tool that can be help me get better with time and for that same reason I tend to go with the advanced updated cloud based time tracking software from Replicon – http://www.replicon.com/time-tracking-softwares.aspx which makes the work productivity goes up in a steady pace to sort out with.

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