‘Be like a postage stamp – stick with one thing until you get there’ – Josh Billings
Since the beginning of time it feels like it’s been drummed into me that, women in particular, are supposed to be brilliantly organised multitaskers. Certainly when I was a personal assistant it was expected that you could juggle a million things at once, while simultaneously being able to concentrate on what you were doing and being able to drop everything at a moments notice to do something else. That’s not to say you couldn’t plan your work load accordingly, but it was the kind of job that felt virtually impossible to concentrate on one thing for longer than five minutes.
I mean think about it. If you have 4 tasks on the go at one time, are you doing any of them to the best of your ability? Even if i’m writing a blog post with one eye on the telly I often find myself idly typing a sentence I’ve just heard on the TV rather than what i’m supposed to be writing about. Some things just require your full attention, even if it’s for a brief amount of time.
Since moving jobs about 2 years ago, and having bigger chunks of work to concentrate on, I’ve come more and more to the realisation that I’m not a multitasker at all. I’m a uni-tasker. I’ve never been shy of the fact that I have the attention span of a goldfish and have started adopting the pomodoro technique into work. In fact I became so good at it that I’ve started using it at home too, and it’s darn near changed my life.
The pomodoro technique (pomodoro meaning Tomato in Italian and is named after the little tomato kitchen timers off of the 80s). It’s the idea that you break your workload down into 25 minute chunks. You concentrate on one thing and one thing only with no distractions for 25 minutes then you have a break of some sort. There’s loads of free apps you can get to list all your tasks and allocate your Pomodoro’s to, however to be honest I find just setting a 25 minute timer on my phone works just as well.
It’s particularly handy at work, when I’m very prone to getting distracted by an email or a text. It’s amazing how quickly 25 minutes goes over and it’s equally amazing how much you can get done in 25 minutes if you’re completely focused and don’t get distracted. Afterall, if you email someone, 99% of the time you don’t expect an answer straight away, and 25 minutes isn’t a long time to wait for a response. One morning at work I had 4 things I knew I needed to get done that day, and whereas I would have normally dithered and done half of all of it through the course of the day. I set myself my 25 minute windows, with a break in between to get a cuppa or check my emails, and all 4 things were done by 11am. Cue an extremely smug face from me.
So I’ve started adopting the technique at home too for little household jobs like cleaning the kitchen or putting my clean clothes away (the worse household job of them all I’m sure you’ll agree). 25 minutes out of your evening every day feels like no time at all and I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve not finished a task within the allotted 25 minutes. I’m back on the sofa watching Love Island before I know it.
Now, before the mumsnet brigade get on my case about working and being a mum and having to cook tea and keeping a clean house and all the other million mum things I’m sure they have to do; unitasking isn’t for everyone and at doesn’t suit every lifestyle. It wouldn’t have worked when I was a PA that’s for sure, Because there will always be things that come out of the blue and mean you have to break your pomodoro for a short time. If that happens you just pause your timer, do what needs doing, and restart again when you have chance. You’re still spending 25 minutes on something, you just did it in two or three chunks.
Being one of life’s procrastinators, It’s so easy for me to think of a million and one reasons not to do something I need to get done. And despite my apparent high opinion of myself, I’m not perfect (I know, I know, but it’s best you know this now so you can come to terms with it) and I don’t do this all the time,. I need a deadline for something otherwise I won’t get it done. Similarly though, If I live life by those rules though things tend to build up and get on top of me (at home rather than at work) so adopting the pomodoro technique just helps balance my inner chi.
Time taken to write this blog post? 22mins 36secs.
What techniques do you use to help with your productivity?