I recall a time when, as a student, I was “studying” in the university library. I had a thumb under each nostril measuring if the air pressure was equal, or if one nostril was dominant. I have this memory because upon the repeat test some 30 minutes later, a friend popped their head over the desk divider to ask a question and looked quizzically at me. I felt compelled to explain my pseudo-scientific endeavours. In light of what I SHOULD have been doing, my mini-experiment no longer seemed like the best use of my time. It’s safe to say I was in a productivity slump. Thankfully, since my university days, I have developed skills to force myself into the productivity zone and make better choices around how I use my time, enabling me to get the important stuff done.
This blog post assumes you have already decided on the most important thing you should be doing. It focusses on techniques to help you start important tasks and keep yourself working on them. If you’re lucky, the sustained attention to a task will lead you to the nirvana I call productivity flow (insert angelic cherubs singing and playing harps here). If, however, it still feels like a slog the whole time you are working, at the very least you should have worked consistently at the task for long enough to be proud of your efforts. Maybe you even finished. And to me, that sounds like a win-win!
If you want to read more about prioritising tasks before tackling the techniques below, take a look at our blog post on the Eisenhower Matrix here.
The basic premise of the Pomodoro Technique is to use a kitchen timer and set it for 25 minutes. Work on your task uninterrupted until the timer goes off. Then take a 5-minute break to make a cuppa, have a stretch or take a quick stroll. Repeat the process. After you’ve completed four pomodoros, have a 15-30 minute break.
This is a very well-known productivity technique which has been around for decades. The fundamentals of this technique are:
- to focus on one task;
- limit the time you spend in deep focus; and
- to take restorative short breaks from deep thinking.
Many people find this a brilliant technique. I am not one of them. The fundamentals of focussed attention and taking breaks work for me, but the 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off doesn’t. My specific issue with hitting a productivity zone is getting IN to the zone. Once I am in the zone, a timer going off in 25 minutes is a distraction. I don’t want to stop them. Although I don’t like to use the Pomodoro Technique, trialling it highlighted my specific issue with productivity and helped me to find more effective techniques for my particular procrastination habits.
The concept of a “sprint” is the same as the Pomodoro Technique. The difference is the timeframes. A sprint is a sustained timeframe of focus on a task. You set the length of time for your sprints and for your breaks. The important thing is for the sprint time to be significantly longer than your break time, not the other way around. For example, 90 minutes on, 20 minutes off. This technique works for me, as my natural rhythm for sustained focus is between 90 – 120 minutes, once I am genuinely focussed.
A token for your time
The idea of this technique is to have two containers next to you when you begin an important task. One with tokens in it, and one empty. Each time you do anything other than your target task, you take a token out of the full container and put it into the empty container. Every single thing that takes your focus away from your task, costs you a token. This includes looking at your phone, getting up from the desk, looking at an email pop-up. The tokens can be anything, such as paperclips, beads, pebbles, coins. That said, I don’t recommend using something edible. You may find yourself snacking on your nuts or chocolates and completely losing track of how many tokens you’ve used.
You can use this technique to track how you improve your focus over time. With consistent use, you may find yourself using fewer tokens to get a job done – which can feel pretty satisfying at times.
This token technique is my favourite. For some reason, I feel very accountable to those tokens. My tools of choice are ramekins with colourful beads. I don’t like facing a bowl full of my own procrastination. The thought of the clink of a bead in a bowl helps to stop me procrastinating.
These are the productivity techniques I have found to focus on getting a specific task done. I suspect there are more out there in the big wide world of the internet. If the strategies above don’t sound suitable for your way of working, and (now here’s the important part) you can trust yourself not to spend hours digging through Google, try a search to find the best method for you. However, I would encourage you to try out methods which on first glance, don’t seem like they would work for you. This might sound counter-intuitive, but breakthroughs rarely come from a methodology already in your comfort zone. If they did, you would have done it already. So, try it for a while, get uncomfortable and see if you can really change your habits. If it doesn’t work, THEN move on to a new strategy. There are more productivity tips to come from our Rehab Connection blog series in future.
P.S Wondering how many tokens I used when writing this blog? That is something for me to know and you to never find out!
P.P.S My right nostril is generally dominant, just in case you were wondering 🙂