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Use This One Simple Trick to Conquer Any Bad Habit

Use This One Simple Trick to Conquer Any Bad Habit

Lots of people misunderstand what exactly goal setting can do for them. I think Seth Godin sums it up perfectly here:

Your audacious life goals are fabulous. We’re proud of you for having them. But it’s possible that those goals are designed to distract you from the thing that’s really frightening you – the shift in daily habits that would mean a re-invention of how you see yourself.

– Seth Godin

We all have our big, fat audacious goals. Me? I’d like to be the next Hugh Howey. I want loads of readers hungry for the next part of my story. And the royalties that would come with a best seller wouldn’t hurt either. And when do I want it? Now! But the sad truth is I’m not going to get it unless I do the small daily steps that lead to that big, audacious success.

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If Not Goals, Then What?

Habits, not goals, are the more direct route to productivity and success. What exactly are habits? Habits are something that you don’t have to think about. You just do them. Taking your conscious mind out of the equation makes bad habits very hard to change and good habits very hard to develop. So, why bother with habits? Simple, once you make a good habit yours, it’s no longer a chore that your subconscious mind targets for procrastination. In Charles Duhigg’s book, “The Power of Habit” he talks about what he calls the Habit Loop:

  • Cue: the trigger, what causes you to do the behavior
  • Routine: the behavior itself
  • Reward: then benefit you get from the behavior

The Golden Rule: Do This to Change Bad Habits

The most important concept from Duhigg’s book is his Golden Rule of Habit Change. The Golden Rule says the most effective way to change a habit is to keep the Cue and the Reward the same. Only change the Routine.

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I wanted to apply this to developing the habit of writing every morning. How does that happen? First, I had to make space in my life for some extra writing. I wanted to write every morning when I get out of bed (before my daughter gets up). The old morning habit:

  • Cue: 6:30 am, time to get up
  • Routine: drink coffee and stare out the window, 45 minutes
  • Reward: caffeine and relaxation

That’s a pretty comfortable habit. I decided to start small to maximize my chance for success. Here’s the first change:

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  • Cue: 6:30am, time to get up
  • Routine: write for 15 minutes on previously outline material
  • Reward: caffeine and relaxation

I was skeptical that I would be able to carry this out. I like my coffee. Coffee in the morning is not optional. But, following the Duhigg’s Golden Rule, I didn’t do something crazy like try and wake up 30 minutes earlier to get my extra writing time. Let’s face it, 6:30 is early enough, don’t you think?

It Turns Out I Can Write the Words AND Drink the Coffee

Making sure that I had something outlined made writing for 15 minutes pretty easy. There were no plots to ponder, no places to research, just words to write. I could do that! Then I kept my reward the same, my beloved coffee in my favorite chair. But a funny thing happened on the way to the comfy chair. My “required” 45 minutes of coffee time in the morning was reduced. I found myself ready to start the next part of my day in more like 15 minutes. Eventually, I painlessly transitioned this time to writing. So, I harvested 30 minutes of “free” writing time from my day!

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It turns out that morning is a peak brain power time for me and for most other people. That 30 minutes of writing is usually my best of the day. That time writing with no external influence has become crucial to my work. Actually, any period right after a recharge/rest period is good time to do your more challenging work for the day. If you are considering transitioning a less desirable habit into something more productive, I encourage you to look at your morning. You may be surprised, like I was, to find you already have the time you need for your new endeavor.

Featured photo credit: Coffee/David Leggett via flickr.com

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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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