My life is in a very different place now than at the start of the year. One of the bigger changes is working at Writers’ Centre Norwich, a hugely ambitious and progressive organisation which always has a dizzying array of active projects, where I’m tasked with using skills both familiar and unfamiliar to navigate a complex political and cultural landscape involving all kinds of external partners and stakeholders.
I’ve had to completely redefine my understanding of words like ‘challenging’ and ‘busy’. I wasn’t using them correctly before, it turns out.
Three very specific things have enabled me to keep on top of everything, both conceptually and in terms of productivity: Trello, Slack and Pomodoro. Right now I’m just focusing on that last one.
Back in February I first wrote about the Pomodoro Technique, a system for breaking down your day into bite-sized, super-focused tasks. Having only dabbled with it previously, since starting at WCN in June I’ve been using it as often as possible.
Customising the technique to suit your specific situation is precisely what Buffer recommends. My main customisation is to not feel forced into using it every day, instead employing it only when the job threatens to become unwieldy in its complexity.
Everything is important
The Pomodoro Technique really excels when multiple projects with complex sequences of tasks are all happening simultaneously. That’s when it’s difficult to prioritise – if everything is important and all deadlines are looming, how do you plan out your day?
Maybe you do the biggest job first, because it needs the most time – but then you feel increasingly panicky about all those slightly smaller jobs being ignored. It’s also easy to focus on the fun jobs up front, putting off the crappy ones until the last minute – but that’s going to give you one hell of a crunchy slog at the end. Or you can end up flitting between projects with no particular strategy, losing focus and resulting in everything taking longer.
This is where Pomodoro is ideal. By embracing 25 minute chunks of intensive working, you never spend too much time on any single task. The specific priority of tasks matters less when you’re switching them out every 25 minutes, as you know that every project will get its moment in the sun. Even the less interesting tasks become eminently more doable when you know you only have to grind through the next 25 minutes.
The result is that everything gets worked on and nothing gets ignored. The manageable 25-minute Pomodoro sessions even make it easier to get in the zone and eliminate distractions, so your gets work done faster and often to a higher, or deeper quality.
At the same time, your stress levels drastically reduce because you can have confidence that you’ve got it all handled. Nothing is going to get forgotten.
So at the start of the week I draw up a shortlist of essential tasks. These form my Pomodoros, and I then work through them according to the technique. Sometimes I’ll do this on a daily basis, if it makes more sense.
We do quick 10-minute team huddles at the start of each day (well, at 10am – once everyone has checked emails and had a coffee), so my Pomodoros form the basis of what I tell my colleagues about my workload. Having the Pomodoro list not only helps me work, it helps other people understand what I’m doing.
If you find yourself constantly complaining about not having any time, it could well be that you’re simply not working in the best way. Give the Pomodoro Technique a try – it’s easy to pick up, it improves efficiency, increases your productivity and, most importantly, reduces your stress level.