Every now and again, my to-do list reaches a staggering height. My usual reaction? Staring in paralyzing horror. Oh, I may start one task only to come across an email or scribbled note that leads me to start another task (Look! Shiny.). I end up hop-scotching through everything I need to do, with the end result of not really making progress on any one task.*
I’m pretty good at prioritizing, but lately multiple tasks have demanded the number one spot. And some of the tasks just aren’t enjoyable so it’s easy to look at the fifth task on the list instead. Add in the complication of depending on other people to provide information/feedback/deliverables in order for me to complete the task and “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft agley.”
It’s all well and good to chant “focus” over and over and make mini to-do lists that list goals for the day, but sometimes I need something more to keep me on track. I may have found it.
Tomighty. I stumbled across it through a link from Lifehacker that said something about working for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break could keep your energy up and stimulate creativity and action and all that good stuff.
It works with on the Pomodoro Technique, which is way more involved of a system than I want or need. I’ve disregarded the tracking/recording/activity inventory part of the process (conveniently described for you in a free PDF at the website if you want to check it out). I think I internalize that part, and it seems like a waste of time, to be honest. I could be wrong: Maybe it works really well for other people and if I gave it a shot, my life would be all sunshine and unicorns.
I do like the timer idea. Tomighty gave me a free download of a java applet that can run on my desktop. Click it to start a Pomodoro, and the timer starts counting down 25 minutes. Only do one thing during that 25 minutes. Don’t answer the phone or an email. Don’t get up to get a cup of tea. You can get up to get something from the printer, but don’t stop to chat on your way back. If you are interrupted, tell the person you’ll get back to them in 25 minutes and then hang up. When the timer goes off, you get a 5-minute break – no cheating and using the break to deal with one of the interruptions or start planning the next task. And you take the break no matter where you are in the task. Okay, I cheat a little and finish typing a sentence if I’m in the middle of writing.
It’s not perfect by any means. And it doesn’t always work for me. On days when I’m not overwhelmed, Tomighty is pointless and I don’t touch it. But on days when I have 18 things to accomplish in one 8-hour chunk, it helps me get through five or six of them instead of none. I do enjoy the forced break. It’s something to look forward to when I’m in the middle of a difficult task. And it’s scheduled, so getting that cup of tea doesn’t depend on finishing every last bit of work. It depends on finishing 25 minutes worth of work.
In a way, I guess using the timer gives me permission to ignore other things. My mind tends to multitask or let pieces of work or whatever germinate in the background. Tomighty helps prevent that or at least keeps the task at hand in the forefront.
So, how do you increase productivity and manage time? What tricks and tips do you have for juggling massive to-do lists?
*true story – while writing this blog, I’ve interrupted myself doing 3 things for work (so much for enjoying a break), planning a Starbucks run, checking email and Facebook, executing the Starbucks run, checking out world news and setting up a meeting. Go back.