Recently I’ve had a few things that have been gathering dust on my to do list. I’ve not got round to them and while writing my journal one morning, I remembered a technique I have used successfully in the past. I call it my ‘procrastination busting technique’ but it is a productivity tool from Mark Forster’s book – Get Everything Done. It has similarities to the Pomodoro method from Fancesco Cirillo but with a little twist. The twist is that it uses varying time boxes and I find it a great tool for breaking through resistance over stalled projects and jobs.
When I’ve been stalling over some project or job, the thought of spending an hour or even the next Pomodoro time box of 25 minutes on it can be very off-putting. And because of that it doesn’t happen. Good intentions do not pay off and I do all kinds of other stuff. But I probably could bear 5 minutes. That small amount of time doing something I don’t want to do is often much more palatable.
The method starts with building a list of all the things to do, including the things that you should do, and the things that you use to fill the distraction time, email, social media, etc. Then you start work on this list for 5 minutes each. Once you have finished the 5 minutes, or completed all the parts of that work, move directly onto the next item on the list. If you have finished the work, then the next block of time is 5 minutes. If you haven’t then increase the time box until you reach the maximum time box. In the standard method from the book, the maximum time box is 15 minutes. When you reach the maximum and haven’t finished the work then keep to that maximum time box for subsequent cycles. For the standard method, the increment is 5 minutes. So the time boxes are 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes then repeat 15 minutes.
The only equipment you need for this is a piece of paper for the list and something to mark time. Fairly simple.
Below is a worked example.
This is an example base on the example in Mark’s book – with some additions for me 🙂
All start with the initial 5 minute time box
e-mail 5 Social media 5 phone calls 5 filing 5 tidy 5 accounts 5 client follow-up 5 blog 5 website tidy 5
Social media, phone calls and tidying all done within their allotted 5 minutes
e-mail 5 10 Social media 5 5 phone calls 5 5 filing 5 10 tidy 5 5 accounts 5 10 client follow-up 5 10 blog 5 10 website tidy 5 10
Social media, phone calls and tidying had nothing extra – so stay with 5 minute time box. e-mails and client follow-up all done within the last 10 minute time box – so go down to 5 minute time box
e-mail 5 10 5 Social media 5 5 5 phone calls 5 5 5 filing 5 10 15 tidy 5 5 5 accounts 5 10 15 client follow-up 5 10 5 blog 5 10 15 website tidy 5 10 15
Social media, phone calls, tidying, e-mails and client follow-up had nothing extra – so don’t increase the 5 minute time box. Filing complete within the last 15 minute time box – so go down to 5 minute time box. Still some work on accounts, blog and website tidy so keep the 15 minute time box
e-mail 5 10 5 5 Social media 5 5 5 5 phone calls 5 5 5 5 filing 5 10 15 5 tidy 5 5 5 5 accounts 5 10 15 15 client follow-up 5 10 5 5 blog 5 10 15 15 website tidy 5 10 15 15
All told this has taken about 4 hours … without taking account for breaks. In that time you’ve dealt with e-mails, social media, phone calls, tidying and client follow-up and about 45 minutes work done on each of the accounts, blog and website tidy tasks. Probably you would have had a break after each cycle – 5-10 minute break. So probably would have only done 3 cycles in a morning/afternoon cycle. But in that time you would have still dealt with all the little tasks and have done half an hour of each of the bigger tasks. In that time you probably would have broken through some of the resistance, by having to chunk the task into smaller time boxes.
Working with this method for a day will often break the resistance around some of your projects. For me accounts and paperwork is not my favourite, and I find that I have often put it off until it becomes a big chore. After a day of Mark’s method and then I’ve stared and that is often enough for me to continue. If not, I’d do another day. Once I have this cracked, I can then go to the Pomodoro method of larger chunks of time on various projects.
Mark suggests some tips for success with this in his book and I have found the following are useful.
- Take regular breaks – after one of the time boxes, and you can time box that too … or maybe add it into the system
- Be disciplined and keep to the time boxes, starting the next one immediately after the time box (or the break)
- Don’t have too big a to do list. If your list is large then see if you can group stuff … or just cycle through the top 3/5 backfilling as they are done with others from the to do list.
- Break big projects into sub tasks and reset the timer back to the starting value to avoid spending too much time on one project to the detriment of another.
There are also a number of variations to the basic method mentioned in the book. One I have already mentioned when dealing with large to do lists. Check out the book and Mark’s website for more great productivity tips. But definitely try this if you have something you’ve been putting off to break the stalemate.