While I’ve never been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, after years of weird sleep patterns, weird work life, and just weirdness in general have definitely made it hard for me to concentrate for an extended period of time. Studying was always a struggle in school. In a previous job I had to meticulously enter data into a spreadsheet to make sure my contractors got paid, and it was an almost impossible task! And then there’s coding, which is laborious and slow and makes me want to chase squirrels for a living.
Enter: The Pomodoro Technique. I probably learned about this from the venerable Lifehacker, which launched around the time of my blogging career (mid-2000’s), and was a frequent source of content for DownloadSquad (where I cut my teeth as a professional blogger). So, what is it and how can it help you? Also, how did we use this technique in Kitten Stuff Done? Skip to the bottom of this article if you’re already familiar with Pomodoro.
The Pomodoro Technique is blissfully simple in practice. Set a 25-minute timer, and focus on ONE THING for that duration. Then, take a 5-minute break — like a walk, a stretch, grab some coffee, whatever. If you have an Apple Watch like I do, it’s a good time to use the Breathe app for a quick meditation break. Or, subscribe to Headspace (also something I use), and try one of the minis.
That’s it! Just repeat this, and every 4 “pomodoros” take a longer break. Before you know it, you’ll have knocked out a lot of your to do list. There are lots of ways to add to the technique, as the official site mentions, like checking off list items (actually very psychologically important), list any interruptions (did you check twitter?), and so on. There’s a wonderful book available, too.
In a world of overly complicated solutions and get-productive-quick schemes, this technique is a wonderful answer to the question, “how do I work through this crushing load of tasks?” Plus, there’s actual science behind the Pomodoro Technique! I’m a big believer in verifiable results, so I was pleased to find people with issues of urgency also found the technique useful.
But perhaps the thing that hit home most recently was my experiment with “extreme scheduling” (I’ll have a blog post on this later). Since I have to be at work by 4AM (yep!) and I’m done by noon, I had to make very careful use of my time. I tried scheduling everything! From when I woke, showered, ate, drove, worked, played, etc. My calendar looked like a nightmare. Turns out, for some of us, our brains will simply adapt to this and fail miserably at keeping up with the aggressive planning. That was me! This article on the psychology of the Pomodoro Technique really hit home after I tried this scheduling stuff. Still don’t believe me? OK, here’s an actual scientist writing in Psychology Today about Pomodoro — and he’s right. It forces our brain to focus for just a short time on one thing, and that’s something that we are increasingly incapable of doing. I mean, how many notifications have you received on your phone or computer since you started reading this post? What a world!
Kitten Stuff Done Uses Pomodoro Principles
It’s pretty easy to set a timer for 25 minutes, focus, then take a 5 minute break, right? The next problem is choosing something to focus on! We all have a crushing number of “things” to get done in a day. A day that is 24 hours long for everyone! When I started developing KSD, I realized that just saying “Do stuff” wasn’t going to cut it. There had to be some way of accounting for our limited time, and making the most of that time. So each card in the deck is 30 minutes. We’ve included a 30 minute “flex time” card to account for all those breaks you can take, too! So when you’re wondering why in the world we’d have multiple cards for stuff like meetings (which never seem to just take 30 minutes), it’s because we wanted a simple, standard block of time to make it easy to count up all the hours in the day you’re going to be doing stuff.
Think of it this way. If you block out 8 hours for sleep, you’ve got 16 hours left for everything else. Hopefully a healthy mix of work and play would mean an 8/8 split. For work, you should be able to count out 16 cards for your day. For play, another 16. That’s 32 cards to help you plan your entire day! So now you understand why we have cards that are 30 minutes for various tasks. Not everything will take that long, and some things might take a little longer. But we’re hopeful this will provide enough of a guide so you can feel really accomplished every day when you see just how many cards you managed to get through!
In a future blog post we’ll talk about managing that flex time, your breaks, and even accounting for sleep time. Now go tackle your day like a kitten with a new ball of yarn!