25 minutes to blow up your efficiency

Be honest, how many chat messages, URGENT emails and text messages have you got from project B while you were leading a meeting for project A? The chances are there might be a quite a few.

How will this impact your leadership during that meeting?

Most likely the meeting outcomes were very disappointing, you’ve lost a lot of the details mentioned by your team and you gave an impression of an unfocused leader…

How to deal with these interruptions to focus on one task at a time?

How can you keep in mind the ongoing tasks and instant requests on a number of projects simultaneously?

According to Cal Newport (1) there are several options to doing “Deep Work”. It is not one size fits all. It depends on how you like working and living and also depends on your particular life circumstance.

Monastic Approach: Cutting yourself off from the world to focus and remove distraction

Bi-Modal Approach: This is where you may work and perform the day-to-day work in one location and do your deep work at another. You then dive in and out of each space.

Journalist Approach: This is an approach that you seize the opportunity at random as time and your schedule allows.

Rhythmic Approach: This where you set apart a certain time of day to do your deep work and block it out every day and commit to that ritual.

These are not the only approaches but they provide some ideas for a habit that could change your life.

1. Try the Pomodoro Technique today

A Rhythmic Approach

A lot of people think that doing multiple tasks in the same time is the most productive use of their time, but this logic is DEAD WRONG. Sophie Leroy, a business professor at the University of Minnesota, after a number of practical observations has come to a conclusion, that when switching for task A to task B, our attention stays attached to Task A, which means we can only half-focus on Task B, which hurts our performance.

I decided to test this opinion, and found out that while trying to dedicate yourself to a few tasks simultaneously, I risked having a blurred thinking air in my head. Such conditions are not often noticeable, however, may at some moment play a nasty trick on you.

As a project manager and entrepreneur I caught myself several time switching from task to task responding to solliciations from Project A while I was working on Project C. While I think there is no universal approach working equally well for everyone, trying the Pomodoro Technique helped me to get more things done.

The idea here is to form a habit of doing Deep Work for blocks of 25 minutes, without answering to any interruption and using a timer to track your progress. Every Pomodoro (block of 25 minutes) is followed by a 5 minutes break.

Let’s say that I’ve decided to start working on Project Kickoff presentation that should be around 22 Power Points slides. I’ll start today by doing a small step of 25 min. I set my timer and commit to work on this presentation for 25 minutes, I DO NOT STOP working on this under any circumstances.

During the Pomodoro just take note aside of every interruption, any task that popped in your mind without investing any minute on it.

2. The Pomodoro Cycle

  1. Decide on the task to be done
  2. Set the Pomodoro timer for 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings; record with an x
  4. Take a short break (3–5 minutes)
  5. After four Pomodori, take a longer break (15–30 minutes)

Pomodoro technique helps you keeping your achievement mindset, since each Pomodoro is manageable by itself, which lead to the achievement of a small step a time and you don’t have to think about the entire project that you need to finish.

Research shows that we are designed to work for completion. In other words, we like to cross things off, or mark them as DONE. Each time we achieve a small step our brain releases dopamine, this is the neurotransmitter responsible for making us feel energized and motivated. Consequentially achieving small goal can result in a positive feedback loop that makes you more motivated, makes want to seek to a similar experience and working harder going forward.

3. Pomodoro Rules

  • There is no such a thing as half a Pomodoro or 80% complete, once you’ve started your timer, you’re committed to 25 minutes of focus. The only excuse might only be your house on fire.
  • For any moment of weakness, as opening your Facebook or emails you’ve to restart your Pomodoro and put your timer at zero
  • Breaks are not optional. To keep the same efficiency you shouldn’t waste your 5 minutes checking your emails and enjoy the pleasant accomplishment feeling.
  • Just take note of every interruption whether it’s an internal (a sudden idea, a forgotten task that just popped in your mind) or external interruption (phone call, sms). Once you have finished your current pomodoro, take a time before your break to take a quick action on this item or to add it on your to do list. Often what seemed urgent while you were focused on your Pomodoro ends up in the trash afterwards. If a colleague comes to your office, you can have a response like ‘’ I’m in the middle of something, 10 minutes then I can help you’’

4. How to get started

Simple tools are often the best, start very simple and keep the focus on the execution and discipline.

First, you need a timer, an impartial controller of yours, which knows no mercy for your weaknesses.

You can use this software to implement the Pomodoro technique in your working environment: Mac, PC, Chrome plugin, iPhone and Android. Otherwise anything from stopwatch to your smartphone will do just fine.

Second, you need a TO DO list where you log all your tasks including the time estimates that you intend to invest in each task. In the agile world we call it a backlog. You can use Todoist, a free tool that synchronizes extremely well between your computer and your phone.

It can look like this :

Finally, use your calendar to insert today’s task into your calendar. It can look like this:

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