Time management. Nothing fills dread into the hearts of people quite like time management. It is the prime weapon in our arsenal in our never-ending quest to be more productive and ensure zero-wastage of time. And for what? To fill our day with even more tasks that require completion and more activities that seem to make us better. The goal of time management has been corrupted, from being a way of managing our time to cramming in increasing number of tasks and completing them in ever decreasing amounts of time.
That doesn’t make us productive. It just makes us inefficient at what we do. As we try to complete every single task at hand, within the impending deadline, we just end up doing the task sloppily. Quantity over quality is the motto of Productivity™ now. And it’s not only the quality of the work that drops. As we cram more and more tasks into our physical (or virtual) to-do lists, the stress makes itself visible. We are driven by this constant pressure to strike off all the tasks, lest we are deemed unproductive.
When I write, I find that my internal editor butts in at every opportunity. Thus, every single writing session devolves into an editing session, where I’m not writing, but editing every single word and sentence before it even has a chance to be part of a narrative. The most reliable solution I’ve found to this quandary is the Pomodoro technique. I’ve written before about how I use a Pomodoro timer when I’m writing. 25 minutes of unfiltered writing, with no editing. Having a set time in which I write helps me in getting my thoughts down in words.
Structure, narrative coherence, and syntax, all part of my internal editor, take a back seat when I write with a running Pomodoro timer. What’s important is to get to the goal within the allotted time. You can spend a whole week editing an essay, making sure every sentence of it golden and magical, but unless you have written the words down, the essay doesn’t exist. That’s why free writing is so important, to get the story out of you, without letting your internal editor hamper your progress.
That being said, I’ve never given much thought to the ‘how’ of the Pomodoro technique. I just assumed it would work, and it did, but I did not analyse it. The concept of breaking your work into chunks and then singularly focusing on them for a short period of time is based on Parkinson’s Law.
“Work occupies to fill the time that is available for its completion.”
I’d been aware of Parkinson’s Law for quite some time, especially the paradox it gives rise to, namely,
“If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.”
The observation above is based on the fact that work expands or shrinks depending on how much time is available. Putting ourselves in a situation with a small task, to be completed in a short amount of time gets the engine going and the creative juices flowing. Where I once took close to 2 days to get the first draft of a post ready, I was now churning them out in 25 minutes flat. But why?
Contrary to what we think, having too much time on your hand can actually cause procrastination. Sanjay, over at The Polymath Ideal, explains this effect and how Parkinson’s Law plays a part in it. He also goes on to explain how the eight-hour workday strangely makes us inefficient.
Instead of trying to be productive all eight hours of the day, which is impossible by human standards, the best course of action would be to block a short amount of time- preferably an hour- void of distractions and tackle set goals. The one-hour deadline looms over you, pushing you to get into the mindset required to complete said task. But the time isn’t so long that you feel drained once the hour is up. In short, one hour of quality work is better than eight hours of half-assed work.
Unbeknownst to me, this is exactly what I was doing with the Pomodoro technique. 25 minutes of quality work, with no distractions. Because I wasn’t setting deadlines earlier, in theory, I had infinite time to write my post. This fueled my already active procrastination and put me in a spot where I had no motivation. Setting deadlines, especially deadlines that are close, can put you in a fight-or-flight situation, where your brain goes into overdrive and you’re done with the work even before you know it. But don’t take my word for it; I’m not a biologist. However, what you can take away from this is that the Pomodoro technique works.
This, I believe, is the whole concept of time management. Time management is not about completing your tasks so you can move on to the next one. It is about arranging your life in a way that helps you complete the truly important tasks, without letting it take over your leisure time. In our pursuit of a productive life, we often forget this, so it’s good to remind ourselves once in a while. Break down your tasks into small chunks, and then devote time to tackle that task, and nothing else. If you still aren’t convinced, this whole post was written with a 25 minute Pomodoro timer running. Yeah, I can be productive too. Who knew?
Also, do check out The Polymath Ideal, where Sanjay shares his book recommendations, great podcasts he’s listening to and discusses methods of improving yourself, one step at a time. I hope you have as much fun reading his blog as I do.
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