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How to power your productivity

2nd April 2018 | Beverly Landais

We all go through phases of not feeling on top of things and wanting to do something about it. Part of the problem is the blurring between our private and professional time that has become commonplace. There is the sense that we must always be ‘on’ because technology enables us to achieve this. We end up pecking at email throughout the day and into the evening. Then we wonder why we didn’t get around to the essential tasks which are becoming increasingly urgent. 

Our anxiety grows, and this fosters an unhealthy sense of being overwhelmed and even out of control. As we can’t create more time, we try to compensate by stealing it from our personal lives. Often this means giving up the pursuits that nourish us such as exercise, cooking a delicious meal from scratch, having some playtime with family or the enjoying the company of friends without talking, or feeling guilty, about work.

This blog explores how using a technique that works with time can help with your focus and power your productivity. Time chunking is a remarkably simple yet efficient way of banishing procrastination. Once mastered it can help you get more of the right things done in a short space of time. Key to the success of the method is adopting a mindset which means you purposefully work with the time you have available rather than fight the lack of it.

Practising time chunking allows you to become more efficient at setting deadlines and delivering quality work by managing expectations. The act of dividing time into bite-sized chunks of planned work will improve your ability to concentrate and work with precision. Having a single focus is a relief for your mind as it doesn’t need to dart about planning this and ruminating over that.

Remember that your rational brain relies on working memory which is the information that you hold in your minds while deciding what to do. What you think of as multi-tasking is just switching focus in your working memory from one thing to another. Left unchecked, you can quickly become exhausted. Without regular rest and recuperation, your reasoning, self-awareness and ability to plan decline sharply.

Using time chunking methods reduces the temptation to multi-task and encourages a razor-sharp focus on one task at a time. You will feel more relaxed and less stressed because your mind knows what it needs to do, and you have enabled this through conscious choice. As a result, you will deal with your professional responsibilities more successfully and free up time for reflective thinking, creative pursuits and personal interests.

There are many time chunking methods, so it is best to experiment with what works for you. Here I am focusing on the Pomodoro Technique which was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. His best-selling book of the same name is being revised and will be available for purchase later in 2018. It is also a method that I use to crack on with what I need to get done.

The technique works by getting you to structure your work in 25-minute sessions, each separated by a short break. Mr Cirillo named each session a "Pomodoro" which is Italian for tomato. He took the name from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that he used to manage his time as a university student. The method is easy to learn and implement. Each 25-minute session is one "Pomodoro." When you complete one, take a five-minute break have before embarking on the next.

After you completed four "Pomodori," take a more extended break to rest and recharge. It might seem strange and even wasteful to take so many breaks throughout the day. It is tempting to skip a break – but don’t! You will be surprised at how much a short break can refresh and revitalise you, and you will return to the task ready to push on.

Here are the basics of the technique:

1. Take ten minutes to plan out your day. What tasks will you work on and how many sessions do they require?

2. Maximise your productivity by managing distractions. Shut down your email, avoid social media, put your phone on do not disturb, ask colleagues to come back later.

3. Pick your first task, set your timer and begin your first 25-minute session. There are many apps you can download to help you with this.

4. Once the first session is up, step away from your workstation. Five minutes is the recommended break length. Clear your mind of the task you have just been working on, stretch your legs or make yourself a drink. Avoid looking at anything digital during your five-minute break as this defeats the point of letting your mind rest.

5. A round of Pomodori is usually four sessions. By following these patterns, you will build good habits. Select a task to work on then focus on it. Be sure to stop for the five-minute breaks. When finished, take an extended break of up to twenty minutes.

6. Make sure you step away from your desk, get some food or a drink and clear your mind. If possible, step outside and get some air. You can use longer breaks more frequently when working on more complex tasks or if you are feeling tired.

As you get used to the technique, you can experiment with increasing the length of the Pomodoro sessions and adjusting your breaks accordingly. Once you have found your ideal pattern, you'll be amazed at what you can achieve in a working day.

2nd April 2018 | Beverly Landais

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