Learning to focus

How do you maximize the time you have to do the things you enjoy?

As part of this ‘work-at-home’ journey I’ve been on for the past nearly two years, I’ve had to learn more about focusing than ever before. As much as I enjoy my job (well, not all the meetings, that is) it is tempting to sometimes let my mind wander. And before I know it, 15 minutes has passed. And then I need to work later, longer hours to make up for it. And that eats into my “me” time – my time for my hobbies, the time for my stuff outside of work.

So today I’m going to share with you one of the tried-and-true methods I’ve found for making it easier to stick to the task at hand…

…the Tomato Timer! Or to be more detailed, the Pomodoro Method. Developed by university student Francesco Cirillo in the 60s to help him manage his study time, it is an easy-to-adopt method to manage your time AND help you focus on one task at a time, so you can do deep thinking.

(Let’s chase a rabbit here – what on earth has caused us all to lose our ability to concentrate? I blame two things: 1) reading on the Internet – which isn’t reading, it’s skimming, and 2) the phones. All the smart phones. We’re all too absorbed in the pictures on social media. End rant, dismount soapbox.)

Even though the Pomodoro technique has spawned countless apps (I love the one named “Tomato Timer, which yes, is on my smart phone) and is related to time-boxing in software development, you can do it with any timer and a way to keep track of your time.

Here’s how it works:

  • Set your timer for 25 minutes. That’s one “pomodoro” – so named because Francesco used his tomato-shaped time when he studied.
  • Focus on one task during that time.
  • After the 25 minutes, take a break for 5 minutes.
  • Repeat the 25-minute block, and 5-minute break, followed by another 25-minute block.
  • After three (or four, you decide) pomodoros, take a longer 10-minute break.

That’s it! The breaks leave you refreshed and allow you to get away from your desk, check your email or phone, or review your work completed. When I’ve done this, I’ve been able to get more done in a shorter amount of time – leaving me more productive AND better able to relax at the end of the day, knowing my work for the man is done, and it’s time to enjoy my hobbies.

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