I Tried 4 Popular Productivity Techniques—Here’s What Worked
I’m a creative thinker, with thoughts popping up as quickly as bubbles, and rainbows of ideas swirling overhead. My mind is cluttered by nature, and working partially remotely has added a layer of never-ceasing technology that’s only thickened all that mental mud. Slack, Asana, Google Suite, spreadsheets, Keynote. Wait what… was I… supposed to be doing? Then I stumbled across an article about productivity hacks. Mapped-out techniques designed to help anyone—even me?—crank out work without losing track of time, losing their way, or losing their minds. Deadlines looming, red mist gathering; I gave a few of them a go.
The Pomodoro Technique
The super-popular Pomodoro method is simply a timer system in which you break your working hours into 25-minute chunks separated by 5-minute mental “rest” breaks. These intervals are referred to as pomodoros. After about four pomodoros, you take a longer break of 15 to 20 minutes. A quick search returns free sites with the very basic timer function, which is all you need.
Usually I can get stuck underwater for hours, but when I heard the first 'ding!,' I felt both relief and a bit of glow for “earning” it with the quick work I’d just banged out.
Does it work? Umm, yes; I was shocked at how effective this was for me. (Okay I may be late to the party on this one, but showing up fashionably late is still cool I think.) At its heart, Pomodoro is all about automatically building in short, sharp deadlines for given tasks, so you don’t get lost in them. It creates an effective sense of frisson and pressure, which can be helpful if you’re driven by the last-minute panic of a scary close deadline.
Twenty five minutes was perfect timing for me to dive into a copy writing task. I also found it helped to write out a list of specific to-dos beforehand, one for each block of get-to-it time. Usually I can get stuck underwater for hours, but when I heard the first ding!, I felt both relief and a bit of glow for “earning” it with the quick work I’d just banged out.
Bottom line: Learning about this from TikTok completely validates the hours I’ve lost to the app—when I’m not Pomodoro-ing, that is.
Flowtime certainly sounds great (flowwwwtiiiime) and the internet touted it as the solution for creative thinkers like myself. How exciting, I think, it’s made for messyheads like me! Then, I read the instructions. To paraphrase: Flowtime is a time-management tool for people whose work requires deep concentration (say, developers, students, writers, kind of everyone at some point?). You pick a task, work on it until you get tired, and then take a break. Then you, uh, continue doing the thing, repeating the cycle until it’s finished.
Does it work? Wait, what? You call this a technique? It seems kind of like just…doing stuff. Until you get tired. Which I definitely already do—and no thanks! Working until my brain or body feels fried is exactly what I don't want to happen. Plus, as a creative struggling to keep it all together, I find more structure to be most helpful. Boundaries and guidelines are good for my jumpy, distracted mind, which I’m guessing is likely why you’re looking for help focusing too.
Bottom line: It’s a no from me, and yes I’m taking the liberty to speak for all creatives (and people who don’t like being tired). Everyone else, let me know if Flowtime is a good time, for you.
I, like most living humans, am not energized by sitting all day, laser-staring into a computer screen.
Physical Activity Bursts
I, like most living humans, am not energized by sitting all day, laser-staring into a computer screen. I also know that when I succumb to mindlessly scrolling during breaks, my cognitive function and productivity are exasperated. More input—penguin video-inspirational quote-Kardashian-ad-recipe-news thing-meme—revs up the anxiety engine every time. So when I’m working from home, I try to use that in-between time to stand up and move instead. At the top of every hour, I make a point to start jumping around. During calls I do random arabesques in the kitchen. While writing I stretch, flex, etc.
Does it work? Lots of studies go on and on about the benefits of even light exercise during the day, and the CDC is a big fan of physical activity breaks. I’m going to keep incorporating this one into my everyday routine. Just 60 seconds of intentionally bopping around has helped me shake off writer's block, would-be panic attacks, and spacing out.
Bottom line: This isn’t about looking cool (no one’s watching, probably), so do whatever feels good and enjoy the subsequent endorphins.
The 2-Minute Rule
This one is less technique, more common sense, but the construct of it is still something when you’re getting a whole lot of nothing done. It’s also worth pointing out that this isn’t unlike Pomodoro in that they’re both about forcing yourself to focus for a set amount of time. But the 2 Minute Rule is particularly about accepting that you’re feeling lazy. Don’t wanna do it, but as the clock ticks, crisis inches closer.
The no-brainer how-to: Commit to whatever task you need to do for just two minutes. (Didn’t see that one coming, huh?) Tax form. Awkward email. Project that makes you want to poke yourself in the eye. Whatever it is, this mind trick is just saying to yourself, All I have to do is work on it for two minutes and that’s it. Once those two minutes are up? You can decide what to do next.
Does it work? Surprisingly, yeah! Even two minutes of work made me feel calmer and more confident about the project I was avoiding. That tiny seed of work I put in was all the incentive and starting point I needed to get over my resistance.
Bottom line: All that annoying “just start” advice is unfortunately kind of true. (Ugh.) But apparently we can all write that novel, invest like a boss, and start our own business; it’s just going to take two minutes at a time.