I know for a fact that when I am trying to complete a task, the last thing that I want is someone or something to distract me. But this is not always possible, even if you discount the unavoidable distractions – coworkers, the occasional email, or meeting, your crying baby, etc. Do you too?
I find myself increasingly in a world built upon distractions – smart phone notifications, smart phones, television, internet (and all those viral videos), billion-dollar companies built solely around the messaging apps and the ability to alert your friends that you have a cute dog/cat/baby photo that you want to share.
Productivity and concentration? Out of the window …
I sometimes experiment with my mind by observing “myself” do a task. It sounds bizarre, but if you try it, you’ll see that it actually works.
I observed myself doing a task and it went like this: I was writing down the steps of an algorithm paper, and suddenly my phone vibrated – a new WhatsApp message. Like a robot, I was “forced” to check the message. So, I unlocked my phone, replied to the message, forwarded it and locked my phone’s screen and returned to my desk.
Wait .. what was I doing before I got distracted?
Oh yeah, I was working on an algorithm? Hmm.. what were the constraints in the equations again? Oh man .. I realized that I had lost my short-term memory completely by getting distracted.
You get the message I guess!
But, how do you avoid distractions in this world where you are “expected” to be on-call at all times of the day? I know I can’t lock myself up for 5 hours – my job just doesn’t allow me to do that. But, can I get 30 mins to myself? That I can manage!
Well, after a lot of experimentation, I have arrived at the best solution (in my opinion) to getting work done in a timely manner.
It is the Pomodoro Technique devised by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. Pomodoro means “tomato” in Italian and Francesco used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer and that’s why he named this the Pomodoro Technique!
Here is how the Pomodoro technique works:
- Get a timer (it could be your smart phone, a watch, kitchen timer, or even a sand clock).
- Decide what you are going to do and make sure you have your tools ready. This could be your laptop, books, stationery, etc.
- Set your timer to 20 mins (or 25, but I prefer 20 mins).
- Start the timer and focus completely on your task for the 20 min period. That means you do not answer any phone calls, check any text messages, WhatsApp/Twitter/Facebook feeds while you are on your 20 min focus period.
- After the 20 mins are up, you take a short 5 min break.
- If you complete your task within 20 mins, then spend the remaining time learning, or revising/checking your work. Do not lose focus.
You can reach amazing levels of productivity if you follow the Pomodoro technique with total commitment. The reason I do it is that,
- I can wrap up tasks one by one when I am distraction-free for 20 mins.
- I am able to reach different levels of creativity and focus when I allow myself to think about just one task for 20 mins.
- the more I get done, the faster I can wrap up my work day, and the faster I can get back to my loving family without work stress or tension.
Robin Sharma says the following:-
Your billion-dollar ideas don’t show up in the middle of dramatic distraction. They show up when you have the business and personal discipline to make space for your creative mind to flourish
Finally, as I wrap up this post, I realize that the ability to sit quietly and concentrate on a single task, uni-dimensionally, without any distractions is somehow lost upon us. I guess, he, who among us, conquers his distractions, will end up the winner.
I leave you with the words of Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple).
“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things – that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.”Steve Jobs
PS: As per the classical Pomodoro technique, the idea is to complete three Pomodoros and then take a longer break (15 mins or so). I find this step a little hard to do considering my work schedule – but I can always find a way to chunk away 20 mins of my time to focus on one task.
Please try the Pomodoro technique and let me know how it worked out for you. I wish you all the best!