It has been a good week, lots of miles running around Seattle on sore legs and I also went to a really interesting presentation by local climber Chad Kellog (check out this NYT article and crazy video on speed climbing).  I really like what he said in this interview with Outside Online

There’s no sprinting here…This is metered output over a 30-hour push.”

This post is not so much about running, hiking, or climbing. It is about how to be more efficient at work, so that I have more time to do the things I love. Along the lines of Chad’s quote, it is about accomplishing metered output, albeit sitting at a desk. 

One of my problems has been difficulty focusing on one task while I am on the computer. Miles of running usually leaves my head filled with a million ‘to-do’ lists for both personal and professional projects. Last week I stumbled across a reference to the ‘Pomodoro Technique’ [wikipedia]. The basic premise is you should make a list of tasks you want to accomplish each day. Then work at these for 25 minutes at a time. After this stretch of focused work is done, rest for 5 minutes doing whatever you want and then have another go. After four of these sessions, take a longer break. 

Anyway, I liked the idea of segmenting my time with focused work and then a guilt free break.  It’s kind of like breaking a long run into shorter distances with incremental goals (~aid stations). Sometimes the finish line can seem pretty far away!  I’m still getting the swing at this approach but I started making a to-do list every morning and assigned different numbers of pomodoros to certain things depending on how many 30 minute chunks I thought it would take to accomplish the task. This gave me a logical order to move through and a rough time frame for the day:

  • Clean Inbox and Desktop = 1 pomodoro
  • Scan receipts, submit expense report = 1 pomodoro
  • Rebudgeting Year I on MMS Grant  = 3 pomodoros
  • ESRAC Manuscript Figure = 2 pomodoros
    …and onwards…until I have around ~16 pomodoros (~8 hours) for the day.
24 minutes to go!

One of the few browser extensions I have installed (something I am ordinarily loathe to do) is a small timer on my toolbar. While I am in the 25 minute ‘work mode’ a number of social media websites are also blocked to keep me from getting distracted. You can edit this list, but only when you are in one of the 5 minute break modes.  And yes, the timer is a cute little pomodoro tomato. 

It isn’t a cure all. With the browser extension I use, you actually choose when to initiate each mode – so you can stretch out each one as long as you want, and that is pretty nice in terms of flexibility but it also defeats the purpose a little. 

Overall, a very simple approach toward being more productive. On some days,  I use it pretty consistently throughout the day. Other days, not so much. I’m trying to make it more my habit to make a list first thing in the morning on paper. I carry that paper home and leave it out on the kitchen counter. I take satisfaction in crossing out things. My list the next day is crafted from the previous list. 
I just thought it was a neat, simple, slightly silly, approach that can help bring focus on getting things done one step at a time. Or maybe that is one pomodoro at a time…



P.S. Incidentally, I have nothing to do with any company promoting this time management technique, the browser extension, google, or overpriced workshops on this issue. It it simply a common sense technique , but sometimes these things can be useful if we think to apply them. Please never pay for anything like this. You can find your own free pomodoro timer quite easily with a quick search on the web.  

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