Have you felt like you don’t get something done (email, writing, chore, or reading) in its allocated time? Get distracted before you have finished it? Or find yourself multi-tasking and not completing either of the tasks?
I have experienced those problems in getting work done. Thus, for the month of January & Februray 2019, I wanted to conduct an experiment to improve focus by using constraint of timers (aka pomodoro technique).
As part of this experiment, I also read a book on Pomodoro and summarized that here – Book Summary of Pomodoro Technique Illustrated by Staffan Nöteberg.
The Problem of Focus without a Constraint
Through self-reflection and weekly review (via journaling), I consistently found that often times I was not able to accomplish a simple task (such as writing this article) despite having the time for it. Thus, I began the analysis of understanding the problem of what was going on.
What I found is that just setting the goal or making the time for it in my calendar was sometimes not enough to ensure that the work was completed. What I found with the work that was successfully completed is that it had a constraint (aka deadline) attached to it). For example, an external deadline from a customer or a non-negotiable deadline that I shared with my readers.
The Solution of Timers for Focus and Constraint
Thus, to solve the problem of not having healthy constraints, I began experimenting with a timer which will serve as a deadline by which I have to get the current work done.
For example, as I write writing this article, I have a pomodoro-timer running that gets my brain to focus on doing the work:
Overall, here is how the start-to-finish of writing this article looked like;
1. Have a defined Outcome (or Goal) – In this case, “Publish the Monthly Experiment for Jan 2019” was the goal that was prepared before timers could be started.
2. Break the Goal Down into bursts of Focus (i-e Pomodoro or Timers) – In this step, I broke down the goal (Step 1 above) into bursts of focus (smaller goals) as follows;
- First Timer (25-min) – Write the Outline of the Experiment
- Break Time – 5 Min – Walk Around
- Second Timer (25-min) – Write the Draft of the Experiment
- Break TIme – 5 Min – Look out the Window
- Third Timer (25-min) – Publish and Share the Experiment
The Setup: Use the pomodoro technique (25-min timers) with breaks in-between to get the work done.
Measurable Results of Using Timers – Pomodoro Technique
To date, I have been practicing the use of timers (pomodoro technique) for about 4 months. My results are as follows:
- Improved completion of tasks – Such as the completion and publishing of this article
- Natural feedback cycles for getting things done – The timer serves as an accountability coach to get the mind to focus on getting the work done.
- Less Mental Fatigue or Burnout – Given the defined break periods (after every 25 minutes), I am giving my brain time to recover before going back to focused-state.
Areas of Improvement in using Timers or Pomodoro Technique
As I develop the skill of focus with timers (pomodoro), following are areas of improvements that I hope to improve in the short-term:
- Ability to stay focused on completion of the task once the timer has started – This discipline requires multiple variables to be taken care of – surrounding should be clear, no external distractions, no hungry or thirst to distract your mind etc.
- Having clearly defined tasks with outcomes – For pomodoro to succeed one must have clearly defined task that needs to be accomplished.
- Do not skip the pomodoro timer once it has been started – (See “Skipped Work Intervals” in the image above).
I hope to update this experiment or post a separate update once significant improvement has been made in the above.
Resources to further develop focus
Here are the resources I referred to during this experiment and hope re-visit as I continue to better develop the focus to getting the work done.
- (Book) Pomodoro Technique Illustrated by Staffan Nöteberg – I hope to post a summary of this book soon.
- (Course) Learning how to Learn – Goes into more detail of “focused” (during the timer) state and “diffused” (taking a break) state.
- (Book) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Explains and breaks down how to experience engaging and “flow state” work. Hoping to post a book summary soon.
How has been your experience with improving focus to get work done? I welcome comments and chance to learn from your experiments.