Category Archives: Work

How to be more productive with the pomodoro technique

I’ve been testing the pomodoro technique for the last 24 hours. I’m using it right now while writing this blog post. It’s already made me more productive and efficient – I think.

I first read about the technique last year sometime over on the Buffer blog. It sounded intriguing but I wasn’t really in a position to actually try it out – at work in particular I was in the middle of several intense projects and it really wasn’t the time to start experimenting with alternative productivity approaches.

So here’s how it works:

  1. Decide on the task to be done
  2. Set the pomodoro timer to n minutes (traditionally n = 25)
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down, but immediately get back on task.
  4. After the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper
  5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 1
  6. Else (i.e. after four pomodoros) take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1

And yes, I did just copy and paste that from the pomodoro Wikipedia page.

As you can see, it’s really very simple, which is part of why I didn’t give it a go back in 2015 – I was sceptical of it’s potential to genuinely help, and dismissed it as something of a wishy-washy technique that couldn’t possibly apply to my life.

Then, last night, I gave it a quick whirl. And it was effective. By splitting tasks into 25 minute bursts, it becomes very easy to remain focused. When you have a 2 hour slog ahead of you, the tendency is to hunt around for any kind of distraction – whether it’s a different, more fun piece of work, or a cup of tea, or a biscuit, or a chat with your spouse/colleague etc etc – but a 25 minute task is far more approachable.

25 minutes is nothing, my brain subconsciously thinks. Which means I don’t check Twitter, or my phone’s notifications, or my email, or find myself reading the Guardian or Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

That’s all very well for what I was writing at home. But surely it couldn’t possibly work in my super-busy and complex work environment, where there’s always multiple on-going projects and priority tasks with important dependencies and colleagues relying on my to Do Stuff?

Primarily, I’d assumed that 25 minutes wouldn’t be enough to be truly productive but it turns out that a remarkable amount can be accomplished in under half an hour, as long as you’re 100% in the zone. In a work context, that means remaining totally focused on that specific task, rather than being distracted by other tasks (which are probably also important, but can wait).

Then comes that all-important ‘short break’. Which can mean anything you want, I think – at work, for instance, that doesn’t mean I put YouTube on and watch cat videos for five minutes. Instead, I use that opportunity to go get a drink, or converse with colleagues on some other work matter, or check emails. Or even to just stretch my legs and give my screen-eyes a rest by looking out the window.

And then you’re back in the zone, on the next task. Which might simply be a continuation of the previous task – some things obviously do take longer than 25 minutes – but you’re now refreshed and ready to dive back in and, again: properly focused.

Both at work and at home it’s not possible to follow the technique to the letter. If somebody comes up and asks me something, I’m not going to tell them to go away until I finish my pomodoro. If my boss asks me to do something urgent which won’t take long, I’ll do it. That’s fine. But in those cases I’ll stop the pomodoro and then restart it from the beginning.

I’m using an app called My Effectiveness on Android to do the actual timings. I’m sure there are probably a million other timers you can find with pomodoro built-in– OH LOOK HERE’S ONE.

None of this would matter if I got to the end of the day having been less productive. But the exact opposite happened – I accomplished more tasks and a wider range of tasks today than normal. I completed tasks faster and more efficiently than normal – tasks which might otherwise have been spread over several days, or been delayed for a week before I got to them, are now already finished.

It’s early days, of course. Comparing a single day of pomodoro technique to many years of working without it doesn’t prove anything. But it was certainly an interesting experiment which appears to have had a positive impact on my work efficiency and quality. On top of that, challenging myself to adhere to pomodoro timings was actually quite fun in itself.

And here’s the final thing – I’ve now managed to write out this 800+ blog post inside of a single 25 minute pomodoro. I’ll now publish this, take a 5 minute break and then begin my next task.

I sense this is going to be a highly productive evening.

I’m teaching VFX on FutureLearn!

Two exciting things are happening in February, the first of which is a free, four week course called Visual Effects for Guerrilla Filmmakers. I’ve written about FutureLearn in the past and have done a handful of their courses, so a VFX course is of course great news.

What’s even more thrilling, for me at least, is that I’m one of the educators on the course. To go from an eager FutureLearn student to co-designing a course has been a real privilege. The course goes live on February 8th and runs for four weeks. You can sign up any time between now and the end of the final week.

As is the way with FutureLearn courses, you can study it at your own pace which makes it easy to fit in and around whatever time your life affords.

It’s the brainchild of Saint Walker, lecturer and head of the VFX course at NUA, and it’s been put together as a collaboration between NUA, FXHOME and MPC. That’s pretty nice company. Each week introduces an aspect of visual effects, examining it from historical, industry and home-grown perspectives.

That means you’ll get the theory, backed up with high end examples from MPC, followed by practical, introductory lessons that you can do yourself in the free version of HitFilm 3 Express (a unique and excellent editor-compositor hybrid). The course is very much aimed at complete beginners – if you have an understanding and passion for filmmaking but haven’t yet ventured into visual effects, it’s perfect.

There’ll be lots more information over on the blog soon and in the meantime you can sign up and get ready by heading here:

Copy thoughts: Keeping it fresh

I’m hoping to do occasional articles like this, looking analytically at both my own work and that of others.

Software dev FXHOME just released PhotoKey 7 Pro, the latest version in a long-running series of image editing products. I’m the lead copywriter at FXHOME and was responsible for writing the copy for the new website. It turned out to be a lot of fun. You can check out the results here. Continue reading

Experiences of SXSW

I went to SXSW! This is exciting because it’s an event which has grown increasingly relevant and influential over the last decade, has spread into every corner of every news website I read, and this year…I was there.

FXHOME kindly flew me there and back, accompanied by my colleagues Kirstie, Josh and Andrea. In summary: Austin is wonderful. SXSW is weird and confused but mostly good. Continue reading

Lots of new words: HitFilm 3 Pro announcement blog

A couple of weeks back I attended a communications workshop run by John Bates. He’s very American. It was probably the best 5 hours I’ve spent in my entire professional career as a writer. I really wasn’t expecting it to be quite so revelatory, packed full of valid advice for both work and home life.

The downside is that I had to then rewrite everything I’d been working on, as it became apparent that it simply wasn’t good enough. The first fruits of that training can be seen in today’s HitFilm 3 Pro announcement, which I wrote over on the blog.

In its published state the article does a far better job of explaining and selling the product than the pre-Bates draft. All the same information was there in that earlier version but the copy didn’t bring it to life in the way I wanted.

The blog post itself is just a taster of what’s to come. Once the new HitFilm 3 Pro website hits at the end of November I’ll be particularly excited as it contains copy of which I’m really, genuinely quite proud. I’ve been writing this stuff for many years and I feel like I’ve injected some real freshness into it this time around.

The real test will be in how the readers and customers respond, of course – and there’s always improvements to be made. But I now have much more strategy and purpose in my communications and copywriting. If you get a chance to attend a John Bates training session, don’t hesitate. It’s time and money very, very well spent.

Spaceship time

My 21-month old son appears to be taking after me, as he’s entirely obsessed with ‘rockets’. I heartily approve.

I’m currently playing with three rocket-related projects.

First up, there’s Millennium Surfing, my first novelette (too big for a short story, too short for a novella). It’s about lots of things but mostly focuses on legacy (you know, because I’m a man in his mid-thirties who has just had a child). Currently halfway through editing the mofo, after which I’m going to attempt to actually sell it, on the advice of Kirstie. So I’ll blame her if nobody goes for it.

Then there’s a professional VFX project I’m working on which is currently under wraps but which I’m happy to say does include a spaceship. Not only that, but it’s a lovely custom spaceship built for the project and it’s looking spectacular. Hopefully I’ll be able to talk more about this around the new year. It’s pretty cool.

Lastly, following a pub chat with It’s A Trap’s Chris Burdett, I’m going to embark on a prototype/proof-of-concept sequence depicting some outer space shenanigans. Aside from anything else it’s to see just how far I can push the rendering quality in HitFilm 2, so it’ll likely also feed back into a tutorial over at FXHOME at some point.


Kramer-style star

An occasional hobby is taking Andrew Kramer’s fantastic tutorials for After Effects and transposing them into HitFilm, to see how close I can get ’em. Most of the time it works out pretty damn well.

So, his latest tutorial is a beautiful star close-up, and this is my own version, with texture contributions from the inimitable Axel Wilkinson.

I met Andrew at NAB a couple of years back and he was a thoroughly pleasant chap. I believe his words were “you’re the guys that make HitFilm! That’s pretty epic.”