The reality is, I can’t ‘multi-task’. No-one can. It’s a myth. Every time I start something new, my productivity drops. By trying to focus on many things, I end up focused on nothing. The day ends in an unconscious blur.
So. I sit down to pay the bills online. What’s my bank balance? Ouch. Check my email. That’ll cheer me up. Oh, great, a cat video from my daughter. Hilarious. We love lolcats. She knows exactly how to make me laugh. What’s she doing on Facebook? Lovely photo. She’s so beautiful. I’m so proud of her.
Oooh, a message. Want to go to a movie tonight? Cool, fancy a girl’s night out. One problem. She likes art house, and I feel like explosions and car chases. Ryan Gosling. Mmmm. Johnny Depp. Clive Owen. Daniel Craig. I wonder what he’s working on now? Check imdb. The thinking woman’s crumpet. Just crumpet, I reckon. Never mind the thinking.
Next thing, I notice that it’s getting dark. I’ve spent two hours looking at animals and talking babies on YouTube.
And the bills still aren’t paid.
So, how will a tomato save the day?
Enter my saviour – the humble kitchen timer. In the shape of a tomato. I turn it to twenty-five minutes, and then do one thing – and only one thing – for twenty-five minutes. Then stop, and rest for five minutes. Stand up, stretch, quick cup of tea. Then on to twenty-five minutes again, and back into it. Either the same task, or the next one.
It’s called ‘The Pomodoro Technique’. There’s a whole heap of science behind it. And I swear by it. It’s a complete game changer.
You can do anything for 25 minutes.
When I came across this, in my endless search for strategies, I thought “Nah. Too easy.” Eventually, I gave it a try. Quite certain that I’d be the one to prove it didn’t work.
I was deliciously, delightfully wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. And so glad to be wrong. If it works for me, the Universal Grand Pooh Bah of Procrastination, it will work for anyone.
It works for my students. “Turn off your phones”, I tell them. They fight tooth and claw, kick up bobsy die. “Now stop talking.” They stare at me as if I’m something disgusting in the bottom of the bin. We count down together, and click ‘Start’ on our timers. Silence falls. The sound of breathing, tapping. I warn them, ‘Five minutes to go … Three minutes … Stop!” All over the class, alarms go off.
I have to shout to make them stop. “Stop! Stop Now! I mean it! Stand up and stretch! Stoooop!” They want to keep going. Then they want to do another one. Then they confess, “Miss, I got heaps done.” I nod sagely.
Warning! If you use this technique, you will get really excited and want to keep going, without a break. Do Not Keep Going! That leads to burn out, and eventual discouragement. You must stop for the five minutes. It paces your mental effort.
It works at it’s very best if you have a steady rhythm. Work, rest, work, rest. It’s amazing what you will get done.
It works for all those jobs that I avoid. Paying the bills, cleaning the oven, tax returns, vacuuming (a pet hate), folding the wash, ironing, data entry, sorting paper, quick house clean up.
And it works for fun things, too.