There have been time recently when I’ve been having trouble with focussing, as many of us probably have, for long periods of time. I think this has got worse since the pandemic started Some days it is fine and then others I feel like I drift between different things, never really getting a handle on the task in hand. This is infuriating, particularly when it is something urgent! I irritate myself and then weirdly feel unsatisfied even when I have finished the task. Gah. I should probably be kinder to myself and focus on what I am achieving, which I have done at various points by making “achievement” lists and so on, however, I’m always up for improving things and trying something new.
So this week started a short 5 day focus programme set by Harriet Minter. I’ve got a book chapter of 6,000 words to write by end of September and thus not much time to do it, or I should say I need to FOCUS to do it. The programme is neat – 5 emails – with short tasks to do. I won’t give any spoilers in case you do it but the techniques include creating rituals and be clear on what you want to focus on. One day focuses on the Pomodoro Technique which I had heard about but not tried. The basic idea is you focus for 25 minutes on the task without ANY interruptions – ignoring phone and email etc – then take 5 minute break and repeat. Up to 4 times then have a longer break. Its been around for years and there is a lot of information about it online. So I decided to use it throughout Wednesday morning as I ended up with an unexpectedly clear morning of meetings and a list of tasks to do. This was after having a similarly unexpected afternoon clear at a different point in the week and feeling like I frittered the time away in an unfocused smorgasbord of random tasks.
For the first two pomodoros I focused on the article writing. Conclusion, it works pretty well for writing, slightly less well for reading and I have read it works less well for “research” however I did find it helpful to really focus on reading and collating citations for a shorter period of time. This is a classic drift point for me. I then tried to allocate my remaining tasks across another 3 or 4 pomodoros. This went ok and what was interesting was how I found that I woefully underestimated how long tasks would take or ran them over more than one pomodoro then ended up with weird itty bits of time which resulted in me not taking a longer break. Then I was tired towards the end and more unfocused. On the positive side it was great to know that in 25mins you could check email, dance around the room, go to the loo or just chill and this really helped my focus – I also did a “laters list” so if random thoughts popped into my mind I then could jot them down and do in my break or later.
I would definitely use the technique for writing and writing research articles. It helped my focus and gave me a defined period to work on a task. Again very useful for making progress and breaking down the task into do-able chunks. It was less useful if you have a long list of shorter tasks as you might end up with weird bits of time. Also definitely define a two hour period and then take break – this makes a big difference. Only challenge I now have is finding a good timer – I used one but it didn’t remind me to have the longer break and I lost track of my pomodoros!! I then did waste ahem maybe 15 minutes looking for new timers and downloading a lot on my phone. I think I might have lost the plot by this point!