I like the Pomodoro Technique. It is a time management practice that has the intention of keeping you focused. It utilizes a timer to keep track of work and break periods (the original one was a kitchen timer and was shaped like a tomato—pomodoro in Italian—hence the name of the technique).
In the Pomodoro Technique, you work for twenty-five minutes, then take a five minute break. You repeat this four times, and then you take a longer break of twenty minutes. During the work period, you do nothing but work on your primary task. If something or someone interrupts you, make a quick note of the reason, then you return to your primary task. During breaks, you can do whatever you wish (stretch, make some coffee, respond to a previous interruption, etc.).
I think that this is great. The concept makes sense to me—it resonates with my habits. Except that I haven't put it into practice. I believe that this is due to “the resistance” or “the lizard brain.” Details make a difference, so I felt that I could improve on the technique. I started restructuring the process and what follows are the result of my experiments. On the chance that you will find this to be helpful, here is my technique:
I decided to name it Tic-Toc-Tec (short for the Tick-Tock Technique). It is about time, and I use the sound of a ticking clock to help me maintain my focus during work periods.
Twenty-five minutes didn't seem right for the work period. My ego argues about it, using fear, resistance and the lizard brain as rationalization. So I set about redesigning the work/break structure. The trick was to figure out the amount of time that would bypass my ego's defenses.
Fifteen minutes feels right. I felt resistance to other lengths. Fifteen minutes is easy to commit to. I can work on a task for fifteen minutes at a moment's notice, no thought or analysis required. This means that I have no fear of starting—there is zero resistance from my ego. Sometimes, simple solutions are the best answers.
If you add a five minute break, you get twenty minutes—again, it just feels right. Multiple that by three (read about the rule of three to see why sets of three are a good idea), and the result is a tidy hour. This makes more sense to me than Pomodoro's two hour and twenty minute schedule.
When I finally settled on the 15/5×3 sequence, it clicked. An hour of time dedicated to focus and productivity, with an amount of breaks that balanced it all out. Seventy-five percent of the hour is dedicated to work, and twenty-five percent is used to clear your mind and refresh your energy. It's a good ratio. This sequence is easy to start, long enough to get real work done, and it makes me feel productive. That feeling is priceless. I tried it out and discovered that, for me, it works. It works well.
There are numerous timers available on smartphones that will help you. Choose one that allows you to set fifteen and five minute intervals. Search for pomodoro or interval timers. If possible, choose a timer that allows you to play different sounds/music during work and break periods. On my iPhone, I use Seconds Pro. Focus Time is good too.
While the timer is running, I recommend playing a sound effect (such as a ticking clock or white/brown/pink noise), atmosphere replication (such as rain/oceans/coffee shops) or music that has a steady, focused rhythm (such as Bach). Play what works for you. As I started to write this article, I was listening to an audiobook about the daily rituals of artists. Listening to what Picasso and Hemingway did helped to motivate me. Words flowed onto the page. Figure out what motivates you and listen to it during the work periods.
Each of the work periods can have a specific focus. Here are some examples (wherein my love of alliteration is exposed):
When working on ideas, I create concepts during the first period. I compose them for the second period. And I craft them for the final period.
When writing, I purge onto the page without concern (for spelling, grammar or punctuation) during the first period. I process for the second period. And I polish for the third period.
When designing magic for performance, I design effects during the first period. I draft methods for the second period. And I develop performances for the last period.
You could also maintain a specific focus for three work periods in a row. In the writing example, I purge for the first three work periods, process my words for the second hour periods, and polish the spelling, grammar and punctuation for the third. That is a lot of productivity, and Tic-Toc-Tec makes it easy to sneak all of it past your ego/resistance/lizard brain.
I think you get the concept. Figure out what works for you, and use it. Whatever helps you focus and produce your art is the right solution for you.
Let me know how it goes. Now go work. The clock is ticking.