If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably got one too many balls to juggle, making that work-life balance seem impossible. The traditional 8 to 5 approach to productivity isn’t a “one size fits all” solution and, in fact, it can be quite demoralising to work according to the “bums in seats” ideology.
What I’ve discovered, as the Operations Manager of our team, has completely changed the way I approach my daily to-do list. By using a simple time management technique, and the right tools, you’ll be able to improve your productivity, profitability and personal satisfaction levels. You’ll also be able to empower your team by teaching them how to problem solve and manage projects effectively, in their own capacity.
I first heard about Pomodoro technique from a colleague, and turned to Google, to find out how people use this technique to free up so much of their time. In my search, I came across a post by Chris Winfield, an entrepreneur, writer and life-coach based in New York. It captured my interest because, as Operations Manager, I know that burnout is a very real problem in the workplace.
How to Work 40 Hours in 16.7 (The Simple Technique That Gave Me My Life Back) explains the basic principles of the Pomodoro technique, and how it helped Chris to “work smarter, not harder”. Chris worked 60 to 80 hours a week but, using the Pomodoro technique, he’s been able to cut that down to an impressive 16.7 hours. He says, “This revolutionary time management system is deceptively simple to learn, but life-changing when applied correctly.“
Chris explains that his work week still consists of 40 to 45 hours of “work” but not in the traditional sense of the word.
He’s clearly separated his tasks into two categories: focused work and less focused work, and explains that he spends a considerable amount of this time on what he refers to as “less-focused tasks” which are not counted towards actual “work” time. These less-focused tasks include networking, phone calls and meetings.
Here’s an extract from his article explaining it in more depth:
“The final piece to my puzzle was moving from a five-day work-week, where I had to stop by 5 PM, to a seven-day work-week, where I could work when it suited me. This took me from 40–45 hours available to get my 40 Pomodoros in, to having 168 hours each week. Since I only need 16.7 hours net, that means I only work 10% of my time. What a difference!”
“I truly ‘work’ 16.7 hours each week… and I get about five times more accomplished in those few hours than in the other 25 hours.
There’s no avoiding it. Life happens. As long as humans are involved, and especially if you live in modern society with its 24/7 connectedness, it’s next to impossible to have a perfect working environment. However, you can work smarter without having to work harder.”
I discovered that the staff at The Wall Street Journal also tested the Pomodoro technique. Journalist Sue Shellenbarger wrote an interesting article describing her experience with various time-management systems, including the Pomodoro technique, titled “No Time to Read This? Read This”.
She says, “This quirky method had me working in intense spurts guided by a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato—or pomodoro, in the inventor's native Italian. Developed by Francesco Cirillo, director of XPLabs, a software design firm based near Rome, this technique is spreading via Twitter and other social networks.”
How does the Pomodoro technique work?
The Pomodoro technique consists of 4 principles:
1. Work with time, not against it
We tend to believe time is our enemy, constantly racing the clock to meet our deadlines. The first principle of the Pomodoro technique is to work with time, by breaking it up into short, focused bursts of productivity. Each 25 minute segment is a Pomodoro.
2. Eliminate burnout
The second principle is to take five minute, scheduled breaks between Pomodoros. After four Pomodoros, you’ll take a longer break of 15 to 20 minutes. This allows your brain to relax and get ready for the next set of Pomodoros. By taking regular scheduled breaks, you’ll avoid pushing yourself too hard.
3. Manage your distractions
The third principle of the Pomodoro technique is to minimise your distractions. By keeping a log of your distracting thoughts or events and consciously ordering your priorities, you will be able to keep track of which tasks are urgent and which tasks you can attend to later.
4. Create a better work-life balance
Finally, the Pomodoro technique forces you to overcome procrastination, one of the biggest culprits of stress. Creating an effective timetable and sticking to it will help you to be productive when you need to be, but it will also help you enjoy your down time more. You’ll be able to enjoy your leave, without that report you’re avoiding weighing on your conscience.
READ MORE: Four reasons to quit your job (and four reasons not to)
In our office, we’ve implemented a strategy for time-management, which is similar to that of the Pomodoro technique. We’ve introduced flexi-hours, which enable you to work when you’re at your most efficient.
For me, personally, that’s early in the morning, whereas other staff members may prefer to start their day later, and work into the evening. The key is to figure out which time of day you’re most productive, and use that time to focus on the tasks that are your highest priority. We’ve also introduced the ability to work remotely, if necessary.
We use various tools to assist with time management, boost our productivity and embrace our core value of freedom.
Two of our most valuable time-management tools are Basecamp and WorkflowMax, which can be used very effectively in conjunction with the Pomodoro technique.
Basecamp is an online project management tool, which we use to assign tasks amongst the team. The beauty of Basecamp, is that you’re able to plan activities ahead of time, meaning that the whole team’s always aware of which deadlines are coming up in the future.
This allows you to book off appropriate time to complete these tasks on your calendar and and establish levels of urgency. Basecamp is a great tool for coordinating everyone’s busy schedules.
WorkflowMax is another project management tool, which we use for project tracking, job monitoring, reporting, timesheets and invoicing. It has a timer function, which records, in real-time, how long it’s taken to complete a task. If used correctly, you’ll be able to accurately track your productivity metrics, which helps you identify and improve your weak areas, to increase your profitability. Ultimately, WorkflowMax is a highly efficient business management tool.
Since we’ve implemented this time management strategy, I’ve noticed an increase in our team’s productivity. We’ve also grown closer as a team. Everyone tackles tasks collaboratively and it’s relieved the stress of trying to cope with our to-do lists in isolation.
The bottom line is that when you’re happy, you’re more productive - and a happy, productive team is the key to achieving your business goals.
If you’re interested in reading more about the benefits of Pomodoro technique, you should read Chris’ full article, How to Work 40 Hours in 16.7 (The Simple Technique That Gave Me My Life Back) and Sue’s full article, No Time to Read This? Read This. You can also visit the Pomodoro website.
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