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How to Maximize Productivity For The Perpetually Distracted

How to Maximize Productivity For The Perpetually Distracted

Most people in 2013 have a nasty habit of placing too much on their to-do lists. Each day, the list grows longer and we struggle to get even half of it done. Day in and day out we disappoint ourselves, and those around us, with our persistent lack of productivity and and palpable absence of achieved goals.

However, there are things you can do to make that to-do list an “all-done” list.

Why Can’t I Get Anything Done?

If you’re visiting this web site, you’re looking for ideas and inspiration. If you’re like me, you’re looking at this site when you ought to be doing something “productive.” If you clicked this article, you’re really trying to avoid some work. Is that you? It’s okay. It’s me, too.

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How was your drive to work this morning? Did you get stuck in traffic (if you didn’t and for some miraculous reason have never experienced traffic, bear with me)? Did you know that your brain acts in a similar way? It’s true—if you have too many things to process, it will clog up faster than the freeway during rush hour. How many times have you caught yourself just staring at your monitor, doing nothing in particular? Plus, the guilty feeling that follows isn’t very helpful, is it?

Well, guess what? Let it go.

Let Your Mind Wander

It seems counterintuitive, but if you have a hard time focusing on one particular task at a time, this method could work for you.

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If you have 8 tasks that need accomplishment in a given day, what’s your plan of attack? Do you order them from easiest to hardest? Hardest to easiest? In either one of those scenarios, there’s a point where you’ll freeze. A task that should take an hour now takes three or four because it’s hard to maintain your focus for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Don’t Fight Your Own Brain

Rather than try, futilely, to muscle through task #1 before moving on to task #2, allow yourself to move on to another project whenever your attention wanes. You’ll maintain your interest throughout the day and minimize the time you spend staring at your monitor. 

By cutting the “down-time” out of your day, you’ll get that list checked off a lot quicker. You may not check anything off until the afternoon, but as you wrap up your day, all your projects get completed with no feelings of guilt or wasted time.

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The Shower Principle

So—how and why does this work? Well, your brain never really shuts off. Your subconscious can work wonders when it’s not jammed up with unnecessary worry.

When your mind is otherwise distracted, your subconscious is freed up to process obstacles you might be trying to overcome. This method is referred to as “The Shower Principle,” and oddly enough, is best explained by Jack Donaghy, Alec Baldwin’s character on 30 Rock:

The Shower Principle is a term scientists use to describe moments of inspiration that occur when the brain is distracted from the problem at hand. For example, when you’re showering, if the cerebral cortex is distracted by showering then another part of the brain—the anterior superior temporal gyrus—is activated. This is the site of sudden cognitive inspiration.”

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Okay, granted 30 Rock is a sitcom, and “Jack Donaghy” isn’t actually real, but The Shower Principle certainly is. In fact, it works for me so frequently that when I’m writing on a deadline, I’ve taken up to 5 showers in a day. Other popular distractions include taking a walk, a drive, and even a quick nap.

So if you’re the kind of person who is constantly looking for a distraction (ahem, I caught you reading this so you’re already busted), try this technique. If you work in an office you might not have the opportunity to take a shower in the middle of the day, or your bosses might not understand just why they caught you napping underneath your desk, but allow yourself to take breaks when your attention span requires them. Watch a YouTube video. Do some jumping jacks. Find out what sufficiently distracts you and do it for five minutes. It’s like a reset button.

And if you get in trouble for doing jumping jacks at work, show this article to your bosses. While they are reading it, take a little nap under your desk. You’ll feel better.

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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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