There are a set number of hours in any given workday, and it’s important to consider how your time is spent. It’s the basis of all time management, and different experts have their own approaches for tackling the issue.
One common thread that has gained popularity is breaking down your work into “manageable blocks.” For different people, this obviously means different things, but the consensus among experts seems to suggest that somewhere between 20 and 40 minutes offers the best balance of mental alertness and overall productivity.
A recent post by Dave Logan at BNET offers what he calls The Multiple Put Down technique. 20 minute blocks of absolute attention to a task you’ve chosen, with no phone, email, or IM interruptions. He suggests using a timer. At the end of the 20 minutes, you’re able to choose to work for another 20 minute block or opt for a short, medium, or long break.
For those who’ve followed time management topics for some time, this probably brings to mind the Pomodoro technique, which praises the use of 25 minute ‘sprints’, aided by a timer. Pomodoro is the Italian word for apple, and it gained the name from the apple-shaped kitchen timer used by Francesco Cirillo when he came up with the concept in the 1980s.
At the end of each sprint, you’re supposed to take a 5 minute break. At the end of every 4 pomodoro periods, you’re supposed to take a longer 15 to 20 minute break. With a growing number of books, websites, and mobile apps, the technique has millions of fans who attest to its effectiveness.
But why do these techniques work? It’s clear that there’s some connection between the brain’s natural attention span and the time limits. If you’ve spent uninterrupted hours on one task, you probably know what it feels like to get mentally bogged down. The structured breaks prevent that.
In addition, they let you assess your progress with each pause. You’re able to appreciate your incremental accomplishments, and use them as motivation to move forward.
If you’re interested in Pomodoro, a useful browser-based timer can be found at http://tomatoi.st. And if you’re interested in a more comprehensive time tracking tool to observe your overall work patterns (especially among teams), there’s always software like Time Doctor.