Now recently there have been quite a large number of changes in the work I do and how I do it, my old system of crazed caffeine ridden keyboard hammering just was not cutting it, and I started detecting in myself the first symptoms of Burnout (but not due to over work, just due to bad organisation), clearly I wanted a very simple system to manage my time, something that just lets me work thought my clients requests in a way that delvers timely responses without waste and still lets me keep a grip on making sure I do not run my self into the floor (which would be no use to anyone)
After a good search round the net I choose the Pomodoro Technique
Which basically consists of:
- Choose a task to be accomplished
- Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)
- Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper (or in my case PomLife for android)
- Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
- Every 3-4 Pomodoros take a longer break (15-20 mins)
This looked perfect for me, as I tend to work off a liner task list for multiple clients ordered by if I’m ‘on site’, priority and due date/time, and it does not add any over head to the paperwork,
In addition there are a number of studies that indicate that the human mind can only REALLY concentrate for 5-6 hours per day ( I don’t have formal references for that), this means that I aim for a minimum of 10 Pomodoro per day and a max of 12, now that does not sound much, a total of 250-300 actual mins work a day, but its not “at work” time but rather “exam level concentration” time, and I’m finding that I am worn out after doing this for a day, managers might want their staff to work like this for 8+ hours a day but frankly the human brain in general is not capable of this day in day out, where at this level I can provide excellent service comparable with a 10+ normal working day.
I’m finding it also gives you a definite indication of how hard you are working (rather than just pottering around and thinking at the end of the day, “What have I Done?”) as I dont use my Pomodoros for stuff like reading emails, meetings and such, the only down side I have found is clients perceptions, they tend to think “oh, I only need to pay for 5 hours if that’s all your working” or that 5 hours elapsed is the 5 hours of concentration i.e. I should have done a full days work by 1.00pm, but still I’m getting more stuff done than ever before and that is a good thing for both me and my clients
** Update ** After a few days of using the system in anger, I am now including meetings and normal day to day tasks like email and client admin in my time allocations, but batching them up to into 25 min segments at the beginning and end of the day, rather than the constant interruptions they normally are this is saving me tons of wasted time and meaning that clients can now cope with the system as a method of keeping track of time, all this means I now do between 16 and 20 Pomodoro per day ** End Update **
I also use a pomodoro-system and it is unbelievable how more efficient you become when using this.
Another methodology that has worked very very well for me (and de-stressed me completeyl) is GTD, Getting Things Done. eProductivity make a replacement for your Notes Mailfile which I can also recommend. In any case, order the book, it’s one of these rare self-improvement books that isn’t utter nonsense, if you momentarily forgive the american hyperbolae ‘e.g. a dramatic paradigm shift which will revolutionize…’
It’s kind of complementary - one of the messages is that basically, you need to stay on top of the list of things you have to do to be relaxed, and to be able to communicate to your clients what are realistic delivery dates. When asked ‘When can it be by’, I used to be unable to recall all the other things I was supposed to do, then I would give an unrealisically estimate, and then, shock horror, discover other things I had to do.
Regarding your productivity, getting rid of the interruptions is key. And I would never ever go into the discussions with clients about ‘I am paying you only the time you are really productive’. When I look around me when at clients, it’s shocking to see how badly resources are allocated. Just the time spent in meetings is enough to make me cringe. They pay for your presence. The occasional bursts of creativity more than make up for the hours of unproductive scratching.
Heard your taking notes podcast, well done sir!