“When it comes to interacting with the world of always-on information, the fundamental skill, on which other essential skills depend, is the ability to deal with distraction without filtering out opportunity.” -Howard Rheingold
As knowledge workers, our social (or learning) networks are like oxygen. We need the information streams they provide, to survive. As Dr Inger Mewburn, aka Thesiswhisperer, recently said in her #PLEConf keynote and blog post, these practices are “the work you do in order to do the work you do.” That applies whatever your learning and information environment of choice is; Twitter, Yammer, Facebook, LinkedIn, email or any combination of those. They are indispensable.
However, being dependent on those enticing, rich, abundant, omnipresent, (can we even say addictive?) information streams, does indeed mean that the ability to deal with distraction, as Howard Rheingold says, becomes a key skill.
I find that I am good at one facet of this skill: setting up appropriate filters so I don’t miss out on the opportunities provided. However, I would like to be better at another part: attention or “time on task”.
I’m not saying that I’m unproductive, but I could improve my productivity. As we know from John Medina’s excellent Brain Rules, it takes you four times as long to complete a task, when it’s interrupted. For me, there is a lot to be gained there
So it is time for me to reintroduce into my practice a time management approach that has helped me in the past (in fact this is how I finished my Master’s thesis): the Pomodoro Technique.
I was reminded of its existence by this tweet today by Sarah Thorneycroft.
Just did my first-ever pomodoro. 700 words in 25 min. This I like.
— Sarah Thorneycroft (@sthcrft) July 31, 2012
The Pomodoro website states the technique lets you “turn time into a valuable ally to accomplish what we want to do and chart continuous improvement in the way we do it.” It was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. On the website you can download a PDF of the book or you can order the paperback version, which describes the psychological and behavioural ideas behind the technique.
However here is the short-short version:
- Choose a task to be accomplished
- Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)
- Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings,
- Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
- Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break
(Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, and it alludes to this much-loved shape for kitchen timers. :-)).
So in the month of August I will try to reintroduce Pomodoro into my practice, and this time I’d like it to become a habit. I’ll attempt to use the Pomodoro technique for all of the 31 days, for work and writing on weekdays and for work, writing and other projects on the weekend. Today was the first day and it was moderately successful: 3 x 25 min Pomodoros, mostly on this blog post though :-). I think that on a work-day with no meetings, by the end of the month, I should be aiming for at least 2 sets of 4 x 25 minute Pomodoros. I’ll blog how I go.
Pomodoro got a lot of mentions in tonight’s Australian #phdchat. If you think the Pomodoro technique might help you too in acquiring what Howard Rheingold describes as a fundamental skill for the 21st century, do join in. I’ll be using the Twitter hashtag #pom31.