Blog 1: productivity - concentration and Pomodoro technique
It all starts with the concentration 🙇
The question we must resolve is: “How can we produce more in less time?”
The answer is simple: with concentration. Sounds pretty obvious, but let me explain why this is more complicated than we think.
Do you remember the last time you devoted all your attention to a single task, without letting a source of distraction disturb you?
By this I mean not answering messages, not looking at your mobile phone notifications, not checking your email, no listening to music that distracts you, etc.
Writing this blog or solving a complex programming problem can take me all day or two hours. It all depends on the degree of concentration with which I focus.
Do this experiment: try to block every possible source of distraction while solving a problem or reading a blog like this. Do you notice the difference? Did you solve it faster, did you manage to concentrate more …?
What is concentration? 📔
A simple way of saying it: concentration is the opposite of distraction. The problem is that we live in a world surrounded by distractions, and fewer and fewer people understand and practice concentration. This is because we work and study in an environment where we are bombarded with emails, text messages, questions from colleagues, phone calls, social networks, etc.
Do you remember the last time you concentrated for an indefinite period? Perhaps you had to solve a difficult problem and you were under pressure? Or you were creating your project?
When this happens time flies, and many times we even forget to eat or sleep. Anyone who dares to interrupt us will not be greeted in the kindest of ways.
This is concentration and is more difficult than we think. The key is to get into this state constantly. Concentration is a game of keeping track and using this momentum to create a habit.
When you lose your concentration - the tasks that you were supposed to do, end up extending for longer periods. Typically, it is distractions which prevent us from entering a state of concentration.
In principle, we want to avoid “multitasking” and context switching at all costs. When we change the context or from one task to another, we lose some ground that we had already gained. Therefore, being productive again will take extra time.
To give you an example: imagine a car that is on the highway, before you can reach an optimal speed, you must first go up to speeds 1 -> 2 -> 3 -> 4 -> 5. Once the ideal speed is reached, we could remain constantly there. But if you constantly have to start and stop, the route will take much longer as your average speed is much slower.
The Pomodoro technique to the rescue 🍅🍅🍅!
The story 🔍
The Pomodoro technique was created by the university student Francesco Cirillo in the 80s. He named it Pomodoro technique (tomato in Italian) because in Italy the timers (alarms) in the form of tomato are common. This is normally used by students, programmers, writers, etc. But in reality, anyone who requires to enter periods of concentration could try it.
The premise 🔋
Many times we procrastinate or don’t do the things we want because we believe that the task is too big to be done in a short period of time.
The Pomodoro technique seeks to solve this problem by having large tasks divided into many subtasks so that they are smaller and can be completed in short periods (1 to 4 Pomodoro’s ideally).
The method consists of making 25-minute Pomodoro’s, followed by 5-minute rest intervals. At the end of 4 Pomodoro’s a break of 20-30 minutes should be taken. The premise is that when we are in a Pomodoro, we commit ourselves to avoid all distractions and work focused and intensely until the alarm sounds. Once this alarm goes off we have completed a Pomodoro. The rest periods should be of around 5 minutes, you can use them to go to the bathroom, have a coffee, take a walk, anything other than work. This will help us to sharpen our mental agility when we are back to work.
It is important to notice, that for this technique to be effective, a planning stage should be done prior. Dividing the workload into smaller pieces is critical, as you would like to aim to complete a task in less than 4 Pomodoro, this should give you the perception of getting closer to your goal. Once you have picked a task, it is important to only work on that task, in the case of finishing it you can move on onto the next one until the Pomodoro ends. At the end of those 4 Pomodoro, a longer break should be taken of roughly 25 minutes.
You must keep in mind that like any technique, it must also be adapted to each person. It may be that 25 minutes do not work for you, so consider doing it in periods of 20 or 35 minutes, depending on what feels good for you. Bear in mind that the resting periods can also be adapted, so I suggest that you play with these as well.
Initially, when most people start doing Pomodoro’s they find it quite difficult to break their concentration patterns, mostly due to the lack of habit. The concept of this technique is rather quite simple, but it becomes hard when you have to mould your habits. I highly recommend you to try to remain consistent while you get used to it.
Once I got used to working with the Pomodoro technique, I noticed that one of the main benefits I got from it was the ability to quantify how much work I was doing every week. With this data I can estimate if I’m working the right amount every week, procrastinating too much or overworking. If I’m trying to work on a project that matters to me, the sensation of not doing enough work ends up in guilt, whilst overworking on a project leaves me burned out, and with no desire to keep working on it - as it feels like a chore. The Pomodoro technique has given me this ability to know how many Pomdoro’s I should be doing every week, in my case is around 40-45. It took me a few months to get to that number, initially, I was doing around 25-30 depending on the week.
I think is worth mentioning the downsides of overworking and how it can harm your productivity. Through some periods I’ve had to work 50-70 Pomodoro’s a week, which ends up in me needing several days to recover before I can feel like I can re-take work again. Normally this could be from 2-4 days up to a week. Which end up in becoming less productive overall. So I believe the key lies in just keeping consistency throughout your weeks and remembering to take a few days or a weekly break every few weeks, as we all need it to work more efficiently.
So this is the Pomodoro technique for me, I hope it can serve you in the future. If you are planning on trying it, remember to commit to giving it at least a few days before you can see results, and to concentrate without distractions when you are doing those Pomodoro’s.