I used to be one of those people who loved to brag about how busy he was. You know the type. Heck, you might even be one of "those" people...
I would work 60, 70, sometimes 80 hours a week--it was never enough. I wore my 'busy-ness' like a badge of honor... I loved telling you how unbelievably hectic my life was at any given moment.
Until I completely burned out.
After years of grinding away, I realized one day that I needed to completely reevaluate what I was doing with my life, what my priorities were.
Was working 80+ hours a week really making me happy?!
It was during this period of reflection that I realized simply working longer hours wasn't going to fill the void inside me.
I love working, don't get me wrong. Helping people is what gets me up in the morning. But what if I could learn to work smarter, not longer? What if instead of slogging through 100 hours of work for work's sake, I could consolidate that into as little as possible. Say, 16.7 hours per week?
It might sound crazy, but with a little trial and error, I learned to do just that. It didn't happen overnight--we have a lot to unlearn about our habits and expectations. But here's how I did it.
How to Manage Your Time Effectively
My life changed when I stumbled upon the Pomodoro Technique. Basically, it's a deceptively simple time management system designed by Francesco Cirilio that helps you work with time, rather than against it.
Here are the five simple steps that make up the technique:
- Choose a single task;
- Set a timer for 25 minutes (preferably not the timer on your phone);
- Work on your task until the timer rings, then put a checkmark on a tracker;
- Take a five minute break;
- Repeat steps 1-4 three more times, followed by a 15 minute break.
You may think that doesn't sound like much, but don't be fooled: The Pomodoro Technique calls for 25 minutes of steady, focused work on a single task. No emails. No phone calls. No checking Facebook. No getting up for a snack. No distractions!
This takes some getting used to. I had to learn ignore all of the digital age distractions that so often occupy our time.
I found that a using a kitchen timer, setting my phone on airplane mode, and secluding myself in a quiet place produced the best results. I spent five minutes each morning planning out what I wanted to accomplish that day, and each Friday I spent 30 minutes reviewing the week and planning for the week ahead.
These tips and tricks helped me hunker down and get to work. After a while, 25 minutes of uninterrupted work came easily, and I was accomplishing what I set out to do. It was a great feeling.
Personalizing the "Pomodoro"
Well, it was a great feeling...until it wasn't. Soon I found myself cramming as many Pomodoros into a single business day as I could, and it started having negative effects on my work and my mood. I was still working too hard.
It turns out that laser focus for 25 minutes, repeated over and over again, just doesn't work effectively every day. Life gets in the way. It's unpredictable, and doesn't really care how many tasks you have on your to-do list.
So I decided to personalize the method, to give it more flexibility. I asked myself: What *actually* works best for me?
In a perfect world, I'd have eight tasks identified at the beginning of each workday, prioritized from most to least important. I would be equally motivated to work on each one, and I'd finish all of them within three hours, without interruption.
But I'm not perfect--no one is. I get tired, occasionally I get lazy, things happen that are outside of my control. No amount of focus is going to help me with that, and these are realities for everyone.
So I eased up on my expectations for myself. I focused on accomplishing 8 Pomodoros a day, five days per week. Total, that's 125 minutes of work per day, 1,000 minutes per week or around 16.7 hours, not including breaks. It was getting better.
But something was still off. After working on my method for a while, I came to the realization that I was still too constricted. I had promised myself I would only work during normal hours--9 to 5, Monday through Friday--and spend the rest of my time enjoying my life.
But that didn't always happen. And when I didn't finish a set amount of Pomodoros before 5 p.m., I found myself thinking about my work and the tasks I didn't accomplish in my "off" time, which was exactly the opposite of what the Pomodoro Technique is supposed to do.
Rather than restricting my work hours, I actually needed to expand them. So weeknights, weekends, vacations, holidays--all of those times came into play for me. I shifted to a seven-day work week, and began working when it suited me, rather than forcing my time to suit my work.
More importantly, opening my working time allowed me to do non-work stuff during normal "work" hours, like attend my daughter's recital. It actually gave me more freedom, not less.
And that's how I went from spending 40 to 45 hours a week fitting in my 40 Pomodoros, to having 168 hours each week. Since I only need 16.7 hours net, that means I only work 10% of my time. And it's made all the difference.
How to Get Started
You're probably thinking, "I work more than that in two days and you're trying to tell me that's all I need to work in an entire week?"
And the answer is...yes. That's exactly what I'm telling you.
Are you up for it? Here's how to get started. Try accomplishing one Pomodoro today.
Twenty-five minutes of concentrated work on one task. Add on more in the days to come, if it helps you.
The fact of the matter is, you don't need to work longer to get ahead. You just need to work smarter. Hopefully this will help you get there.