The last couple of weeks, I've been a bit dissatisfied with my daily productivity. It wasn't just a matter of coming off tour and having trouble getting back into the grind, although that is a factor. I was also finding I had so much on that my normal time management tactics of breaking the day down into two-hour blocks simply wasn't working. I just didn't seem to be getting anywhere and the deadlines were starting to plow me under.
Bottom line, I had too much work and too little time. The modern condition. And a lot of that work was long-form in nature. Four books; the Leviathan rewrite, After America's sequel, What Rough Beast (my big pointy-headed history of fear), and the little book I've been doing on Thomas's first year of tackle rugby. Trying to mash them in around blog and column and feature commitments simply wasn't working out. The Leviathan schedule was slipping. Nothing was getting done on rugby. Not enough was getting done on the fear book. And my horizons for the last book in the Wave series were shortening dramatically.
So last night I invested about half an hour or so in ditzing around on the net looking for articles about time management. I found a useful piece on attention span training at lifehacker - a link to a site set up by some Italian guy whose attention span was so short he found he couldn't even sit still to do 10 minutes study when he was a college student. He came up with a time management system that was similar to mine, in that it worked by defining blocks of time inside which you're committed to doing nothing but working on the project of the moment. But his system had a lot more finesse than mine. And it was based on one of those cool red plastic tomato timer thingies. Hence its name, the Pomodoro technique.
The guidebook runs to about 40 pages, but I'll see if I can explain it in a paragraph. Rather than using two-hour blocks the standard unit of time is only half an hour, and called a Pomodoro. Probably because those nifty tomato-shaped kitchen timer thingies work in half hour blocks. Of that half hour, 25 minutes is pure work, and five minutes is rest. You start your day by reviewing your activities list, which in my case would have four books and a bunch of other writing tasks on it. You cherry pick this list for your To Do Today list. Then you simply start at the top of the list and work through it in bite sized chunks; Pomodoro bite sized chunks.
It doesn't sound like much of a difference to my system, but in some ways it's both much more rigid and much more flexible. There's a little bit of planning and account keeping to track your time–and let me tell you the first day or two that you do that it's scarifying to realize how much time you can waste just faffing around. The main thing about a Pomodoro as a unit of time is that it is indivisible. Once you start working on it you can not interrupt it, not without abandoning that Pomodoro altogether and being unable to record it as a completed session. You'd be surprised how much of a motivation that can be to not check your e-mail or twitter or to answer the phone.
Anyway, so far it's working for me. Much more effectively and efficiently than my old time management system. With that in mind I thought I would share. If you're interested the link is here.
And now, I have Pomodoro to get into.