Since breaking out and starting my own business I’ve had to face the issue of managing my working time effectively.
At any given moment I have a number of different projects that demand my attention and many different tasks to be completed for each of these projects.
Sometimes it can seem overwhelming when I think about how much I have to get done to reach my goals with these different projects.
So it’s essential for me to manage my working time efficiently.
I also have to ensure I don’t become burned out or overwhelmed by all these tasks.
How To Manage Your Working Time More Effectively
When you’re working on your own from a home office, you’re left to your own devices with regard to time and your working day. OK, when I was an employee and contractor I still had to do my own time management for the most part, so it’s not like this is something new to me.
But there are still a number of differences in the new situation. When you become entirely your own boss, working from home, you suddenly have no organizational structure. You have no colleagues or “boss” (other than yourself) to impose a structure on you and your working time. There’s also the fact of now being at home all the time, which is also where you are when you’re not working, ie in your “free” time.
As a result, if you aren’t careful it’s easy to squander your time in this situation. And when you are working for yourself, time is a resource you can’t afford to waste.
However, there is a simple and effective way to manage your time that you can put into practice right away.
A point to bear in mind is that our concentration on a task starts to decline the longer you work on a task. After roughly 45 minutes or an hour concentration is already falling. And after working for 90 minutes or more, it falls off even more. This is why seminars, talks, classes and presentations tend to schedule a break for their participants after this time.
My First Attempts At Time Management
So it is with your working environment. When I started working from my home office, I would try to work for 45 minutes at a stretch, then taking a 15 minute break.
During the 45 minutes I also prohibited myself from doing any net surfing not closely connected with my immediate work, or from checking email. And in the 15 minutes break I’d make sure I got up and away from the computer for at least part of that time.
Recently I discovered a website on time management that has a similar, but slightly different take to mine on this concept. Also, I don’t mind admitting, it’s a more effective method than the one I’ve been using so far.
The Pomodoro Technique
Pomodoro was developed by an Italian called Francesco Cirillo in 1992 when he was a university student. He called it the Pomodoro Technique because he used a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato (pomodoro is Italian for tomato) – together with an A4 sheet of paper.
His idea is similar to mine in that you break down all your tasks for that day into short segments, with a break after each one. However, there are a number of differences to my approach.
The first difference is that Francesco recommends much smaller time units of 25 minutes, with a 5 minute break after each. He calls these segments “pomodoros”. Another difference is in how he allocates the tasks to the time segments.
How the Pomodoro Technique Works
First you list all the tasks you want to achieve – or have to achieve for today. This is something I also used to do with my old system.
Next you estimate how much time each task will require. This is an important aspect. It’s very easy to make a simple list of tasks, but we often fail to budget the time needed for each task.
You then group the tasks into 25 minute segments (the pomodoros).
If a task takes more than one pomodoro, then you simply allocate more pomodoros to it.
You set your Pomodoro timer for your first pomodoro.
There’s a Pomodoro Kitchen Timer – in the shape of a tomato – that you can purchase via the Pomodoro website. There’s also now an iPhone Pomodoro app available.
But you can use any suitable timer, even a free software-based one if you prefer. The timer can be a kitchen timer, or you can use your mobile phone timer or your watch, if it has a timer facility. The main thing is that you have access to a timer of some sort.
When your timer rings after each pomodoro you take a 5 minute break. You then set the timer again for your next pomodoro.
So for each hour you are effectively working for 50 minutes and having breaks for 10 minutes.
After you’ve completed 4 pomodoros (including the 5 minute pauses for each) you then take a 30 minute break.
My Experience With The Pomodoro Technique
I’ve tested the Pomodoro approach and I have to say I’ve found it much more effective than my old “rough and ready” method of time management.
The best thing about it in my opinion is that, firstly, it forces you to budget the time needed for each of your tasks. Secondly, you only work for 25 minutes at a stretch and you then get a break. And after 4 pomodoros, ie 2 hours, you then take a 30 minute break.
It’s definitely an effective and simple way to structure your working time. And the Pomodoro Technique is FREE. It’s a technique that anyone can implement, straight away, at practically no cost. Nothing to buy, subscribe to, or register for.
All in all, the Pomodoro Technique is a simple but smart way to improve your productivity. It helps make the “mountain of work” that you face at the beginning of your working day much more climbable.
It helps to keep your focus and concentration sharp and boosts your motivation. You get a sense of achievement in completing all your tasks – and without letting your energy levels run down or become dissipated.
Visit the Pomodoro Technique website at www.pomodorotechnique.com/
What method do you find most useful for managing your working time? Do you have any experience with the Pomodoro Technique?
I’d be interested to hear about your own practical experiences with time management.
Image courtesy of Darrell Hamilton