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Can Happiness Be Created with Proper Time Management?

Can Happiness Be Created with Proper Time Management?

If Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Matt Killingsworth  are right, we should be paying far more attention to how we spend our time than to the stuff we accumulate. They argue that it’s not the activity we choose to do that’s important to our happiness: that turns out to have little to no effect on our state of mind.

Instead, it has everything to do with the quality of our mental focus in the moment.

Both of these researchers are students of human happiness, and have come to similar conclusions from different directions: Killingsworth’s work has uncovered the fact that we are substantially less happy when we indulge in mind-wandering. The activity we are engaged in almost doesn’t matter. Being on vacation in Jamaica isn’t an opportunity to mind-wander—that only makes us unhappy. The same applies to a boring meeting that’s going nowhere.

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Csikszentmihalyi discovered a similar result: that we are happiest (and most productive) when we are able to enter the flow state—an ecstatic experience of total concentration that requires our complete attention due to its difficulty. He found that this is more likely to happen when we are at the office: we often derive more enjoyment from work than from time off, due to the fact that we feel “skillful, and challenged, and therefore feel more happy, strong, creative and satisfied.” It’s not because work is inherently better, but it is well-structured.

It appears that we are confused about what real happiness is and what it looks like from one moment to the next. We tell ourselves that we’ll be happy when we win the lottery, not understanding that after the money is in the bank, we’ll be just as unhappy as before if we allow our minds to wander.

Instead, we need to be careful about how we manage our time. It’s not a bad idea to set up our days, whether we are at work, holiday or vacation, to move from one flow opportunity to another. Or, in other words, we should use time management methods to limit the amount of time we spend mind-wandering.

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Unfortunately, there are many who act in the opposite fashion, and don’t plan their days at all. They suffer in situations like long commutes with the habit of allowing free, unhappy mind-wandering. Their days are sometimes spent bouncing from one interruption to another, fighting fires, and never able to enter the flow state. According to research conducted at King’s College in London
workers distracted by phone calls, emails and text messages suffer a greater loss of IQ than a person smoking marijuana.

Others make open-ended lists of items that can’t be accomplished within several days, and feel burdened whenever they have to confront these lists to find the next item to work on.

How To Enter the Flow State

The best approach seems to combine daily foresight, continuous improvement, and a high level of awareness.

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We aren’t born with a natural ability to achieve flow, and to avoid mind-wandering. Instead, productivity and happiness need to be fabricated each day, which means working with our calendar to carve out blocks of time in which we intend to enter the flow state.

These blocks of time won’t be created on their own on a regular basis, so we have to learn how to improve the habits, practices and rituals that make up our time management systems: this is the only way to produce these opportunities reliably, even as we overcome obstacles such as the noise and visual distractions that make rooms stuffed with cubicles such unproductive environments.

A high level of awareness is important so that when we are in the flow state, we know it. With self-awareness, we can interact with the world to sustain it, as we ignore the ringing of phones or the alerts from tablets because we are “Flowing.”

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These skills (daily foresight, continuous improvement and high awareness) aren’t only for the office. They also apply to leisure activities such as talking with your spouse, playing with your kids, engaging in a hobby or worshipping in church. Entering the flow state in these activities can be an intentional act that is planned beforehand, and perfected in the moment.

People with good time management skills can get into these states as often as they want. They aren’t distracted by all the other stuff they could be doing, as they know its all being properly managed. This takes practice if it’s to be implemented at work or at play, but in the end, it could give us exactly what Csikszentmihalyi and Killingsworth predicted in their research: more happiness.

Featured photo credit:  Vintage pocket watch and hour glass via Shutterstock

 

 

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Francis Wade

Author, Management Consultant

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Last Updated on May 22, 2019

The Pomodoro Technique: Is It Right for You to Boost Productivity?

The Pomodoro Technique: Is It Right for You to Boost Productivity?

If you spend any time at all researching life hacks, you’ve probably heard of the famous Pomodoro Technique.

Created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique is one of the more popular time management life hacks used today. But this method isn’t for everyone, and for every person who is a passionate adherent of the system, there is another person who is critical of the results.

Is the Pomodoro Technique right for you? It’s a matter of personal preference. But if you are curious about the benefits of using the technique, this article will break down the basic information you will need to decide if this technique is worth trying out.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management philosophy that aims to provide the user with maximum focus and creative freshness, thereby allowing them to complete projects faster with less mental fatigue.

The process is simple:

For every project throughout the day, you budget your time into short increments and take breaks periodically.

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You work for 25 minutes, then take break for five minutes.

Each 25-minute work period is called a “pomodoro”, named after the Italian word for tomato. Francesco Cirillo used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato as his personal timer, and thus the method’s name.

After four “pomodoros” have passed, (100 minutes of work time with 15 minutes of break time) you then take a 15-20 minute break.

Every time you finish a pomodoro, you mark your progress with an “X”, and note the number of times you had the impulse to procrastinate or switch gears to work on another task for each 25-minute chunk of time.

How the Pomodoro Technique boosts your productivity

Frequent breaks keep your mind fresh and focused. According to the official Pomodoro website, the system is easy to use and you will see results very quickly:

“You will probably begin to notice a difference in your work or study process within a day or two. True mastery of the technique takes from seven to twenty days of constant use.”

If you have a large and varied to-do list, using the Pomodoro Technique can help you crank through projects faster by forcing you to adhere to strict timing.

Watching the timer wind down can spur you to wrap up your current task more quickly, and spreading a task over two or three pomodoros can keep you from getting frustrated.

The constant timing of your activities makes you more accountable for your tasks and minimizes the time you spend procrastinating.

You’ll grow to “respect the tomato”, and that can help you to better handle your workload.

Successful people who love it

Steven Sande of The Unofficial Apple Weblog is a fan of the system, and has compiled a great list of Apple-compatible Pomodoro tools.

Before he started using the technique, he said,

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“Sometimes I couldn’t figure out how to organize a single day in my calendar, simply because I would jump around to all sorts of projects and never get even one of them accomplished.”

Another proponent of the Pomodoro Technique is Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal. Shellenbarger tried out this system along with several other similar methods for time management, and said,

“It eased my anxiety over the passing of time and also made me more efficient; refreshed by breaks, for example, I halved the total time required to fact-check a column.”

Any cons for the Pomodoro Technique?

Despite the number of Pomodoro-heads out there, the system isn’t without its critics. Colin T. Miller, a Yahoo! employee and blogger, tried using the Pomodoro Technique and had some issues:[1]

“Pomodoros are an all or nothing affair. Either you work for 25 minutes straight to mark your X or you don’t complete a pomodoro. Since marking that X is the measurable sign of progress, you start to shy away from engaging in an activity if it won’t result in an X. For instance…meetings get in the way of pomodoros. Say I have a meeting set for 4:30pm. It is currently 4:10pm, meaning I only have 20 minutes between now and the meeting…In these instances I tend to not start a pomodoro because I won’t have enough time to complete it anyway.”

Another critic is Mario Fusco, who argues that the Pomodoro Technique is…well…sort of ridiculous:[2]

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“Aren’t we really able to keep ourselves concentrated without a timer ticketing on our desk?… Have you ever seen a civil engineer using a timer to keep his concentration while working on his projects?… I think that, like any other serious professional, I can stay concentrated on what I am doing for hours… Bring back your timer to your kitchen and start working in a more professional and effective way.”

Conclusion

One of the best things about the Pomodoro Technique is that it’s free. Yeah, you can fork over some bills to get a tomato-shaped timer if you want… or you can use any timer program on your computer or phone. So even if you try it and hate it, you haven’t lost any cash.

The process isn’t ideal for every person, or in any line of work. But if you need a systematic way to tackle your daily to-do list, the Pomodoro Technique may fit your needs.

If you want to learn more about the Pomodoro Technique, check out this article: How to Make the Pomodoro Technique More Productive

Reference

[1] Aspirations of a Software Developer: A Month of the Pomodoro Technique
[2] InfoQ: A Critique of the Pomodoro Technique

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