The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. It features the "pomodor' kitchen timer, which is in the form of a pomodoro - Italian for tomato. The technique involves managing your time in intervals, called pomodori. These are preset and allow for planned breaks.
Here's my summary of the method:
For a given task, set a timer for 15-25 minutes. During this time, you will work uninterrupted. After the timer goes off, record your interval with an X and take a 3-5 minute break. After four X's, take a longer 15 minute break. Repeat as necessary.
This is very simple and intuitive and so basic that we don't do it. 25 minutes of highly concentrated effort will beat 2 hours of distracted work. Think of the hours you've spent mindlessly working on tasks while eavesdropping on other conversations at the coffee shop, stopping to say hi to you coworkers, checking your texts, cleaning your work area, and answering your email.
The Pomodoro Technique seems childish and silly, as it requires that you have a tomato timer to do your work. Let's forget about the timer and break down the principles behind Cirillo's life work. You don't need to be a slave to a timer to be effective, however egg timers are pretty cool.
Reasons why the Pomodoro Technique works for life:
1. The cyclical nature of contraction and expansion is how our world functions. The tides ebb and flow, our circadian rhythms dictate the pulses of rest and activity, the seasons call for rapid growth in the spring and a natural torpor in the winter. Fitness is the interplay of exertion and recovery. A series of pomodori involve small rests and a longer rest after a set of intervals. Slow and steady should really be surge and retreat.
2. Everything is sets and reps. Because Arnold said so. Phasic strategies, batch work, waterfall models, iterative development - it's all a strategy for breaking work into tasks. In endurance training, long, grinding training sessions were replaced with chunks of intervals. Although this didn't shorten training sessions by much, it made them more bearable and allowed for higher intensities to be maintained.
3. We all have ADHD. I don't want to get into a debate about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and how so many are afflicted with this "disorder" and require amphetamines to read their textbooks. Instead, we will assume that we all can't pay attention for more than 25 minutes, but if we only have to pay attention for 25 minutes, we can give our utmost attention. Of course you will feel anxious and antsy after one hour of work. There are so many distractions and stiumulus around that it is near impossible to work without interruption. But we can all do 15 minutes. And then rest, and then another 15 minutes. Now we can all cope with our ADHD together.
Please note: I am not saying that ADHD does not exist.
The bottom line is that you have to plan your rest before you are tired and choose to work without distractions. Everytime you have to put down your work, it takes some effort and time to get back into it.