Once again everybody, it’s Friday, and my sister Jenny has made some great art for another post!
The spring semester is coming to a close, and I’ve been working on finishing several big projects. In order to get these projects done, I’ve needed to carve out blocks of time where 1) I was not distracted, and 2) I remained focused. Doing this is not always easy to do, but after a bit of trial and error, I think I’ve found a method that works well for me, and I hope for you as well.
The method that I use combines the Pomodoro Technique and listening to Spotify. Just a quick review on how these two things work:
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is method Francesco Cirillo developed in the 1980’s to break massive tasks down into digestible segments. Just for context, pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato, named after the tomato kitchen timer traditionally used for the technique. This methodology helps one to remain focused, and makes daunting projects look more manageable. For example, one 4 hour project could be divided into 8 half-hour projects. There are five easy steps to implement the technique:
- Select a task that you want to make progress on
- Set a timer to 25 minutes. This time can be different depending on your needs or preferences, but 25 is the traditional amount of time.
- Work on the task until the timer goes off.
- Take a 5 minute break
- After doing steps 1-4 four times, take a longer break.
Here’s what it might look like if you started at 1:00 after a lunch break, and wanted to work up until supper at 5:30, you could break it into 8 pomodori and have the time look like this:
- 1:00 – 1:25 Pomodoro #1
- 1:25 – 1:30 Five minute break
- 1:30 – 1:55 Pomodoro #2
- 1:55 – 2:00 Five minute break
- 2:00 – 2:25 Pomodoro #3
- 2:25 – 2:30 Five minute break
- 2:30 – 2:55 Pomodoro #4
- 2:55 – 3:10 Fifteen minute long break (handle any major interruptions that may have occurred in the last two hours)
- 3:10 – 3:35 Pomodoro #5
- 3:35 – 3:40 Five minute break
- 3:40 – 4:05 Pomodoro #6
- 4:05 – 4:10 Five minute break
- 4:10 – 4:35 Pomodoro #7
- 4:35 – 4:40 Five minute break
- 4:40 – 5:05 Pomodoro #8
- 5:05 – 5:30 Handle any major interruptions that may have occurred in the last two hours. Write notes in Evernote or Omnifocus about what was finished and what still needs doing if project is still not complete.
When I first adopted this system, it seemed counter intuitive to take so many breaks. Over a 130-minute period for four pomodori, only 100 minutes, or 75% of the time is actually spent getting work done. But this actually allows you to get more work done. Here’s why.
First, sitting for long periods of time is unhealthy. Sitting for hours at a time can cause cardio-vascular problems, increased risk of depression, decreased metabolism, loss of focus and motivation, poor posture, the list goes on, and exactly zero things on the list help you get your goals done. By getting up between pomodori, you can avoid all of these effects by standing up, stretching, and even going on a short walk near your workspace, and if you can, in the fresh air.
Second, life is full of distractions. If you have ever decided to spend a block of time working on one task, only to be interrupted by a more urgent task and then not getting the first task done, you know what I mean. In a pomodoro, you do not allow yourself to stop what you’re working on until the timer rings. If you do get up and do something else, you decide to void your pomodoro and it doesn’t count. Instead, you should write down any interruptions that come up and take care of those during your 5 minute or 15 minute breaks. I will frequently send text messages, short emails, and phone calls during my breaks. These distractions are going to happen whether you are pomodoroing or not, and if you’re dedicating 75% of your time to focusing on an important task, the other 25% is there to help you manage everything that would happen otherwise, so the 25% is not actually time wasted.
Third, stopping periodically forces you to check-in on how you’re doing. If you get bogged down in one part of the project and start spending way to much time doing something that isn’t an important part, after spending one or two pomodori on that part, you have a natural opportunity to stop and reassess to see if what you’re doing is effective or whether you should change your strategy.
So that’s a quick explanation of the Pomodoro Techqniue which is only half of the equation.
Spotify is a commercial music streaming service that I have come to prefer over the last four months. You can select pre-made playlists, which has an advantage over Pandora and other commercial music streaming services that give you songs that a computer algorithm believes to be related, but aren’t always as related as one would like. You can listen to songs in shuffle-mode all by the same artist, all on the same album, or all in the same genre. You choose, and have a lot more control over what comes in your ear buds than many other services.
Up until March 31st, I was enjoying 3-month premium of Spotify with no ads for $.99, or about 1 cent per day. But after this was over, it would cost $5/month for a student license, and I decided to decline continuing premium for now. Now I was faced with jarring ads that might break my concentration and break my workflow. So rather than cave and give back in to the no ad service, I found a way to resolve the problem using the Pomodoro Technique.
Pomodoro + Spotify
Like I said in the beginning, the last two weeks have given me more projects that I usually have, that need me to be focused for hours at a time. I found that fewer people try to get my attention when I have huge headphones over my ears. While the music might not help me focus as much, it is great for drowning out distractions (especially if you have noise-cancelling headphones) as well as having fewer people try to get your attention. Don’t worry, if you’re using the Pomodoro Technique, you can still take the headphones off during pomodori and talk with folks.
So I’ve been listening to Spotify a lot, and I took time one evening to record the frequency of advertisements. I found out that the time between ads is either approximately 15 minutes or 30 minutes, and I say approximately because it rounds off to the nearest song.
This means that Spotify itself can act as a no-hassle pomodoro timer for you. For the every-30-minute advertisement, this signals that you are done with this pomodoro, and should get up and stretch or walk. In the case where you get 2 every-15-minute advertisements, I just remove my headset when I hear the first ad start, and keep working for 30 seconds before putting it back on, so I don’t get distracted. When the second ad starts, I know that I’m finished with that pomodoro again.
When I was using the Pomodoro Technique with Spotify Premium, I would have another timer running, often on my phone. But this was another app that I had to manage, and sometimes I wouldn’t hear the notification sounds over the music I was listening to. And sometimes I would forget to stop the timer from continuing onto successive pomodori, or I would believe that I started the timer when really I didn’t. Spotify does its best to make sure that you hear the ads, and it doesn’t forget to start or stop ads.
This system is great because I get the productivity of the Pomodoro Technique with essentially all the benefits of premium Spotify. I am pretty happy with it, and I am sure it will be a staple in my project-finishing techniques for a long time, or until I get enough income to justify Spotify premium again, in which case I will need another timer to notify me when I am done with a project.