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:
- Plan your day’s tasks. Not a full week’s worth of stuff, but just for today.
- Choose one task.
- Give yourself a hard 25 minutes to work on it. Set a timer.
- Work on the task. When time’s up, put a check mark next to the task.
- Take a 5-minute break. Stretch, check email, send a tweet, etc.
- Repeat steps 3-5. When complete, start back on step 2 and repeat.
- 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.
- 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