Welcome to 21st century living.
Stay with me for a moment and let me know if some of these things happen to you at work:
You start a task (ie, you start working).
Ten minutes later, an e-mail notification pops up. You check and reply to this.
You shake off the distraction after about four or five minutes and start again.
Your phone rings. It’s your friend. When are you guys catching up this weekend?
Wow. That felt good. Let’s go back to work.
Ten minutes pass. A colleague walks by. How was the weekend? Great! We tried this new place…
Good chat. Now where were we? Oh yeah. Let’s continue…
Another e-mail pops up. No worries. You only need five minutes to answer it anyway.
Back to work…where was I? Here we go…
What? Lunch already? Cool. Let’s go!
…back from lunch and coffee. Wow. Where did the time go?
I hope this doesn’t happen to you on a daily basis. It does to me and frankly, it’s driving me crazy.
The way that all of these distractions have begun to mess up my thoughts has made me start to collectively call them mental noise.
I mean, take a look at those first 200 words. By the time I finished writing them I was already interrupted twice and what normally would take me ten minutes of focused writing to do has now taken half an hour.
Ouch. Three times slower to do one task. Imagine what happens if this happens all day (and it does). It will take me a full nine hours to complete a three hour task thanks to distractions. This is just a rough estimate. I don’t have the data to back this up yet (more on this later). But you can see how bad it’s going to be if you extend this inefficiency into days, weeks and months.
So starting today I’m going to try and develop a new routine which I hope can also help you.
It’s called the Pomodoro technique. You’ve probably read about this before. It’s all about setting aside 25 minutes of your time for hyper-focused work and letting your brain breathe for five minutes after. Ideally, cutting up your day into 25 minutes of focused work each time should boost productivity, help your brain concentrate and leave you with a lot of time left to enjoy life.
The original hardcore version calls for a kitchen timer (ideally tomato-shaped, ie Pomodoro). Set it to 25 minutes and kick off your work.
At the end of the 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break. Do this throughout the day. At the end of the day, review your notes (you should be noting down how many times you’re interrupted, for example), and see what can be improved and where you failed to focus.
If I combine this with the habit forming tips I’ve read earlier (more on that in a later post), I should be able to fixate on hyper productive eight hour workday with six solid hours of my best work done.
Since I don’t have a kitchen timer on hand and I don’t like to have a conversation piece on my table at work, I’ve decided to join the modern age and download an app. There are several Pomodoro apps available on the app store so you shouldn’t have any problem getting a timer (if you’re really lazy, you can just use the timer on your phone).
I want to remain an amateur Pomodori this week (because I have only three days of work right now) so I’ve decided to not take any notes on interruptions.
What I WILL do however (and what you should also do) is update my activity list and prioritize the order in which I want to do them. To kill the procrastination drug (yes it’s a drug, mental note added to discuss this in a later post), I’m going to attack the hardest tasks first.
At the end of the day I’m going to go over what I accomplished and where I failed. At the end of three days I am going to assess what can be improved for next week.
Next week, I’m going to go at this full speed. Oops. Timer dinged me! Alright time for my break.
I’ll write more about this Pomodoro technique later with an update on how I’m doing and the surrounding science around it.