I looked at the clock. Another 6 hours, another day passed, no words on the page.
With your income tied to your output, having a string of non-productive days hurts your bank account, and maybe even your sanity.
We live in a world that’s filled with an infinite amount of glorious distractions. If you work online, then you know the pain all too well.
You tell yourself, “I’ll just check Facebook for a second”. Seems harmless enough. An hour later you emerge from the black hole. Your motivation gone and self-esteem destroyed. It’s not just Facebook, we have email, text messaging, phone calls, Netflix, text messaging, Skype, Reddit, and on and on.
Or, maybe you feel like you’re working, but when you look up at the end of the day your to-do list is just as big? What’s going on?
Welcome to the age of distraction. If you don’t pick up your sword and slay this dragon it’ll eat you alive.
Here’s how I used a simple online timer to skyrocket my productivity and save my business in the process.
How My Business Almost Failed
I’ve been writing for the web for four years now. Ghostblogging is my bread and butter. But, after doing this for a while, something happened.
My business stopped growing. I kept missing deadlines, and I spent days in front of a computer without a single blog post to show for it.
I thought I had to quit writing forever and had some serious dark days.
Little did I know it wasn’t my motivation that was lacking, it was my ability to focus. My days flittered away by endless distractions. When I closed my computer in frustration at the end of the day, I felt drained and tired, but my work kept piling up.
If you run your own business, then learning how to be productive is one of the more important tools in your arsenal.
Willing ourselves to focus is a losing battle. There has to be a better way.
Why We Struggle to Focus
As much as we’d hate to admit it, we’re not born to stare at our computer screens for hours and hours on end. We get tired. Our bodies yell at us. Generally, we just need a break.
On top of that, we haven’t yet adapted to this technological world we spend our lives immersed in. Mixing our general lack of body care and constant state of overwhelm, we’re faced with the perfect storm of procrastination.
Chances are, whenever you sit down to work you immediately feel the pull to check something else. This is completely normal. Our rambling minds have a tendency to lean towards prostration and distraction.
David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, believes the inability to focus comes from overwhelm triggered by the amount of information we have to digest every single day. Along with how our new technologies have become so good at distracting us.
It seems the world is working against our ability to focus and get things done.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way forever. I’m not saying I’ve found the perfect solution, but the method we’re about to dive into below makes focusing much easier and enjoyable.
How a Simple Timer Saved My Business
“Time = Life, Therefore, waste your time and waste your life, or master your time and master your life.” — Alan Lakein
Having a single unproductive day isn’t going to kill your business, but what about when this happens again and again? You look up and a week or two have gone by and you haven’t produced anything of value. Yikes!
Then, as the pressure to do more builds up, you’re existing in a constant state of overwhelm — which is difficult to work its way out of.
Needless to say when I was just about at my wits end I stumbled across this blog post (thanks Glen!). I had heard the Pomodoro Method mentioned online before, but it sounded too much like a pasta sauce for me to try it out.
I only wish I heeded the wisdom of the Pomodoro much sooner.
Why the Pomodoro Method Works and How to Do It
Francesco Cirillo invented the Pomodoro Method in the 1980s as a cutting-edge time management method.
It’s based upon the idea that people can only focus on tasks for a certain amount of time. As much as we like the idea of being in the “zone” for an 8-hour workday, it just isn’t possible. Unless you’re DaVinci, which in that case, keep on working.
So, instead of trying to sit at your desk for the 9 to 5 grind, or whatever hours your schedule allows for, you break your day up into manageable chunks.
Research suggests that taking frequent breaks can increase our levels of mental agility.
The goal of this method is to help reduce distractions and keep you in a state of flow. After all, it’s much easier to ward off distractions when all you’re doing is working for 25 minutes.
The traditional Pomodoro Method has you work in 25-minute focus sessions. After the 25 minutes are complete you’ll take a five minute break. It’s quite simple.
After you’ve completed four of these 30-minute sessions you take a longer break of 20 to 30 minutes. I usually take a nap, or dive into a book during these longer breaks.
Then, you repeat the process until you’ve abolished your to-do list.
The 25-minute time block is just a suggestion. You can work in shorter or longer stints, or experiment until you find your sweet spot.
1. Pick an App or Timer of Your Choice
If you’re set on testing out this method, then all you need is a timer.
The method you use doesn’t matter as much as its ease of use. When starting a new habit you want to reduce friction as much as possible.
2. Plan Out Your Tasks First
You could use a 25-minute session to plan out your day. But, I prefer to do my task assembly beforehand and use a Pomodoro session to help get in the zone.
Before you dive into a Pomodoro lay out any research you might need. Download any PDFs, or open necessary internet tabs. At least, have a general idea of the task you’re going to work on.
If you’re serious about blocking distractions, I recommend using a tool like Simple Blocker.
When the 25-minute timer goes off you’ll stand in awe with how much you could do.
3. Take Value-Added Breaks
I used my original five-minute breaks to check my email, scroll through Facebook, or post things on Instagram. What a waste!
Having the timer go off after five minutes did help cut these time wasters short. But there are better ways you can use your time.
If you’re trying to sustain the flow of work, I’d recommend doing two things. Exercise or meditate.
A simple 5-minute meditation is so simple, yet so powerful; it almost feels like you’re cheating life. If you’re a stressed or anxious person, it can be helpful to spend a few minutes just sitting and witnessing your breath.
Best of all, you’ll come back from your break feeling refreshed and ready to dive into your work once again.
Exercise is another immediate brain booster and stress reliever. In five minutes you can do a simple enough workout to get your brain back on track. Set a timer for five minutes and do as many pushups as you can, or do air squats, or jumping jacks. If you don’t work from home this might not be a possibility, but a brief walk around the office will do the trick as well.
Destress your body and your mind will follow.
Make sure that when the five minute break is over, you actually get back to work. After all, you’ll have another joyous break 25 minutes from now.
4. Track Your Results
When starting a new habit it can be beneficial to track your results. A simple journal of how each Pomodoro session went will do the trick.
How much did you get done? Were you more productive or less productive than yesterday? How did you spend your time during your breaks?
You can reflect during the longer breaks, or at the end of your work day.
Seeing how much more work you get done can be inspiring and help you stick with it. Once you can see the results it’s much easier to form a new habit of working.
It can be helpful to add a little celebration to the list too. You’ve mastered your productivity and found a way to get more work done, in less time.
Of course, the Pomodoro Method isn’t the end-all, be-all productivity method. If it doesn’t work for you there’s no need to keep at it. I just know it worked for me and saved my business in the process.
Not a bad job for a little timer.
What are some of your favorite productivity hacks? Share yours in the comments below.