RSS

Tag Archives: self-improvement

(Organization) The Pomodoro Technique

Self Improvement 150One of the ‘features’ of ADHD is an impaired executive function, which is all kind of fun. Those of us who have a difficult time with our executive functions might have problems with self-motivation, self-awareness, self-restraint, working memory (our inner monologue and imagination), planning and problem solving. In other words, those of us with ADHD might have a devil of a time controlling our behavior — or even realizing it needs to be controlled — or developing the tools that would let us be better at it. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, mind you! It just means that we have to put in a lot more effort to be organized than someone else who might be able to take things for granted.

Learning more about executive function was a particular revelation for me. Knowing that, for whatever reason, my brain simply wasn’t good at keeping itself organized allowed me to come up with ways to off-load that function elsewhere. Mondays this month, I’d like to talk about the various tools in my toolbox that have been helping me get more shit done. We’ll start with a relatively basic one that has turned out to be extraordinarily powerful for me, the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique is a basic framework for managing time. The “pomodoro” (named for the once-ubiquitous kitchen timers shaped like a tomato) is an indivisible unit of time consisting of one 25-minute work or focus period and one 5-minute rest period. Each 30-minute pomodoro is generally tracked for review sometime later, so you can see how much work you actually got done during each pomodoro and adjust your expectations accordingly. Using this framework has helped me immensely with keeping focused, gaining a better sense of productive time, and ultimately learning how to properly plan my projects.

Most folks know that ADHD messes with your focus hard-core. Most people can drill down into the work they’re doing without too much trouble, but we have a tendency to get distracted very easily while also taking longer to refocus away from those distractions. The Pomodoro Technique offers a great way to push yourself towards focusing for longer periods of time; one of the major rules is that the 25-minute focus period is sacred. If something takes your attention away from your designated task for too long, you have to scrap the Pomodoro and start over again. This might not work too well for everyone, but I’ve found that holding myself accountable for 25 minutes of focus isn’t too hard. Sometimes, I have to fight to focus, but the period is just short enough that I find it relatively easy to commit to.

If you find you’re unable to focus for 25 minutes on a consistent basis, no worries! The pomodoro is an abstract concept, so we can bend it to our will on a temporary basis while we’re building our focus muscle. You could ‘shrink’ the pomodoro to a 15-minute focus/5-minute rest unit of time, giving yourself 3 pomodoros an hour instead of two, with an extra five minutes of downtime. You could even modify further if you’d like, to 7 min. on and 3 min. off. Find out what allows you to commit to focus consistently, and then work your way up to 25/5 as you’re ready.

Like everything, the Pomodoro Technique is a process that will require commitment, feedback and refining. But right up front it’s a great way to organize your to-do list! If you have 5 Pomodoros of ‘free time’ for a day, you could devote one of them to writing, one to reading, one to studying, and two to whatever you’d like. As you mark more time using the framework, you’ll begin to get a fairly solid idea of how much work you can do in 25 minutes of total focus — that’s where the fun starts.

I’ve been working with the Pomodoro Technique for a few years now, and I have a fairly solid idea of how much work I can do within each pomodoro. Generally speaking I can write around 600 words per pomodoro; I can read about 20 pages of text (I’m a slow reader); I can wash a sink full of dishes. Your mileage, of course, may vary, but the more you organize your projects through pomodoros the better you’ll be able to gauge how long something should take. For folks like me with a bad scale of time, that’s a minor miracle.

I’m so terrible at figuring out how long something should take, especially if it’s a more complex project or something I’ve never done before. This has gotten me into so much trouble trying to plan out my day; something I thought would take me only an hour or two ends up being the only thing I do that day, or I’ll grossly underestimate how much mental energy it’ll take to get something done, or almost every project with a deadline gets tremendously backloaded because I don’t have a good handle on how much I can do in the allotted time. It’s one thing to know that you have a 20-page term paper due in one month; it’s quite another to be able to look at your calendar and have a somewhat accurate gauge of how long it’ll take to write a good one.

So, now that I have a good idea of how much work I can do within a single pomodoro, it’s a bit easier for me to know how much time it will take to get something done. Take the Writing Desk for instance — I know that I can write around 600 words per Pomodoro, and entries here are anywhere from 1000 – 1500 words. That means, with an editing pass, it’ll generally take me 4 pomodoros to write an entry — or two hours of work. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, but that’s my basic expectation. Three entries will take me six hours of work; a 5000-word first draft will take me around 10 pomodoros, or five hours; a 600-page novel will take me around 30 pomodoros to read.

With that foreknowledge, I can take a look at my free time in any given week to determine how much progress I can expect to make on any number of projects. If I want to keep The Writing Desk current, I need to devote at least 12 pomodoros to it every week. If I want to make sure that I have an entry prepared for the Jackalope Serial Company (which I try to keep under 2500 words), that’s another 6 pomodoros. If I take a look at my calendar and find out that I have less than 18 pomodoros available, then I’ll know ahead of time that something will have to give. Generally, though, I can bank on about 20 – 30 pomodoros per week for projects when I’m really dedicated.

This means that I can plan when and where I’ll have each Writing Desk entry done and posted, or just how much time I’ll need to spend on the next part of my Patreon serial. I can estimate how much time it will take to read someone’s novel or story. I can figure out how to divide an Udemy course or Rosetta Stone activity appropriately so it’ll fit within a single pomodoro, then use that to gauge how much time it will take to go through a course or chapter.

The best thing about the Pomodoro Technique, to me, is reshaping the way I look at my free time. If I have 30 minutes where I’m not doing anything, there are any number of things that I could slot into that space; I could write 600 words, or read 20 pages, or make a significant dent in some other project I had going. Of course I take some time (maybe too much!) goofing off, but I rarely say that I “don’t have enough time” to make progress on something I want to do. I know better, because I’ve done better.

If you’re interested in adopting the Pomodoro Technique, feel free to go to the official website for more information! If the whole “take a course” thing turns you off, Lifehacker has an excellent 101 for you complete with a small list of the best Pomodoro apps for download. If you’re a Windows user like me, I’d also like to recommend Pomodone — it’s a wonderful desktop app with integration for a number of different to-do apps (like Trello and Todoist).

Let me know if you try the Pomodoro Technique in the comments, or if you have any questions about it. If you’d like to drop a few tips or pointers, that would be lovely too!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 6, 2017 in mental-health, Self-Reflection

 

Tags: , ,

(#Infomagical) Day 5: One Priority

Self Improvement 150Yesterday’s Infomagical challenge was to have a conversation at least seven minutes long with someone about a topic important to you, either over the phone or in person. So…how was it? Was it harder than you thought it would be? Easier? What did you talk about? And did you learn anything from the conversation?

I had planned to chat with my husband about his Dresden Files tabletop role-playing game yesterday, but we ended up talking about Warcraft with my husband and my best friend after seeing the movie. They were both not fans, to put it mildly. Which put me in the position of being the film’s sole defender — and even on a good night’s sleep with a bit of hindsight I have to say that it’s not as bad as everyone has been saying. I think Duncan Jones worked hard to ground an inherently cartoonish world and mostly succeeded; it wasn’t perfect, it might not even be good, but I liked it anyway. If you’ve ever had a long period where you were a die-hard Warcraft fan, you should see this movie on the big screen. It is made for you, to put yourself as immersively as possible in the world of Azeroth.

One of the things I came away from the conversation with is the idea that disagreement doesn’t have to be a personal attack. Even though I think a lot of the criticisms that have been lobbed at the movie (yes, even from my husband and best friend) are a bit unfair, I see where they’re coming from. And hey, just because I like — or even love — something doesn’t mean I can’t at least recognize its flaws, or the points where it leaves people cold, right? So yeah, good talk guys. I can’t wait to talk movies with you again sometime.

Today is the last day of our Infomagical week. If you joined me for these last five days of challenges, thanks! I hope that you’ve learned a bit more about how you interact with technology and where your relationship with it can improve. If you’ve just been reading these posts, thanks to you too! I hope you’ve gained something from reading about my experience. Or at least found it interesting.

The challenge for today is to take what we’ve learned about ourselves, how we consume information and that feeling we get when we’re chasing our goal and wrap it all up in one wonderful burrito of purpose. (I really want a burrito for lunch, you guys.) Today, we think about the lessons we’ve learned this past week and figure out how to apply it to the rest of our lives moving forward. What is the one big thing that we want to change in our lives as the result of this experience?

For me, the big lesson is the value of focus and prioritization. I have this tendency to say “yes” to way too much stuff, and even discounting the chronic depression, ADHD and poor time management skills there’s simply no way I’ll be able to get to everything in a timely fashion. Focusing squarely on single-tasking Monday gave me a window into a world in which I sit down with one project until it is finished, working hard on a single thing to make it the best thing it can be. That felt good! I want more of that in my life.

So, from now on, I’m going to shrink my focus down to the most important things to me. If there isn’t time for other things that are distractions anyway, so be it. I’ll read less Cracked articles, or spend less time on Facebook. I’ll stop reading articles on professional wrestling. (Well, maybe not, but I’ll read fewer of them.) What I do with my time and my technology will hopefully push me towards becoming a better and more complete storyteller, someone who knows the value and transformative potential of stories, someone who uses them for a very real and tangible benefit.

The Infomagical podcast for today is definitely worth a listen if you have about 15 minutes; it talks about the value of priority in your life and the cold reality that you must make conscious, difficult choices about where you choose to spend your time and energy. Tech, it’s mentioned at one point, makes a wonderful servant but a poor master.

So if you’re bouncing from Facebook to Twitter to blog to blog to blog — stop. That’s allowing yourself to be mastered by technology. Instead, make a conscious choice when you sit down at the computer, or take out your phone. Every moment brings a new choice; what is the best one to make? That’s something only you can decide, and if you want your tech to be a tool instead of a tyrant, it’s worth it to spend some time thinking about your decision.

Here’s the full list of blog posts and Infomagical challenges this week. I’m not sure if the page will be up next Monday, but if it is you can sign up to take the challenge here. Thanks so much for following me on this experience.

Day 1: A Magical Day / Zen and the Art of Single-Tasking
Day 2: A Magical Phone / The Minimalist Phone
Day 3: A Magical Brain / You Shall Not Pass, Meme!
Day 4: A Magical Connection / The Art of Conversation
Day 5: A Magical Life / One Priority

 

Tags: , , ,