Welcome to the third installment of the productivity hacks series. Last time, I tackled the subject of the Ivy Lee Method for prioritizing your tasks. Now that we’re on board with what tasks are on the docket, I’ll dive into how to manage your time effectively in order to start putting some checkmarks next to those to-dos.
How Much Time Do You Have for Attentive Work?
Research has suggested that the absolute maximum amount of “time-on-task” attention a person can have on any given day is only about 3–4 hours. And that’s on the high end of the spectrum. Now, this “time-on-task” notion is specifically applied to attentive work. This does not include emails we’ve sent, meetings we sit in on, or reports that we read. It refers to the bandwidth or mental attention directed toward novel or creative tasks (think of things like writing an article, working on a presentation, etc.). What this implies, though, is that you need to be smart about how we divvy up those 3–4 hours of productivity to get the most out of them.
Divide Up Your Time and Create a Sense of Urgency
Introducing the Pomodoro Technique to do just that: break up your time into manageable chunks to maximize attention and focus.
I think we’ve all been here, right? You block off an hour or two to get a project done, but before you know it, you’re checking your email, or falling prey to the endless scroll of Twitter because there’s this illusion that you still have so much time to get the assignment done. Before you know it, that hour has flown by, and all you have to show is a sentence or two on the page. This is exactly where the Pomodoro Technique can help. It instills a sense of urgency that ordinarily doesn’t kick in until much later. You work with the time you have, not against it. So, what are the specifics?
Typically, the Pomodoro Technique divides your time into 25-minute work periods followed by a 5-minute break. You then string together these intervals, usually three or four in a row, before taking a slightly longer break of 15 to 20 minutes. If you have an hour-long office period, you can easily rock out two rounds of pomodoros before having to change gears.
Personal Experience: Put Away Your Phone
Here’s a little extra anecdotal evidence from my own trial and error. I recommend physically putting your phone either completely packed away or on the other side of the room on silent. The temptation to answer that notification or “just take a peek” at Instagram is enough to completely derail any momentum that you have established. So how do you keep track of those 25-minute blocks if you’re not using the timer on your phone? I recommend either an old-school digital alarm, or a repeat timer such as this. Set it, leave it, and get down to business.
Adapt the Method to a Way That Works Best for You
If you find yourself in a groove when the timer goes off, have no fear. I’ve had success extending that pomodoro to 30 or 35 minutes before taking a slightly longer 7- or 8-minute break. At the end of the day, use the method to your advantage. Some people have more success with the 25/5-minute setup, while others thrive with something closer to a 45/15 split. Either way, you’re using the concept of purposeful breaks to ensure that your attention stays high.
For the fourth and final part of this series, I’ll explore the dark side of desperately wanting to be productive: productivity shaming. It’s a not-so-talked-about concept that a few of you high achievers may experience. We’ll talk about how to combat it going forward. Until then!
This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.