Making time for the important stuff in life

Who among us can honestly say we have never experienced stress and frustration at our own procrastination?

Maybe we want to do more with our evenings and weekends, like pick up that dusty guitar that’s been sitting lonely in the corner, or learn a second language, or finally do something about the fact that “there’s a novel inside me, if only I got around to writing it!”.

Ever had to stay late in the office, or bring home work at the weekend because you’d spent ages procrastinating or staring blankly at the screen, not getting anything done?  Or maybe you find yourself putting off the important things on your to do list because you don’t know where to start, and its easier to keep yourself busy with plenty of tiny and completely irrelevant errands, just so you can tick something off the to do list and gain that all-important sense of achievement.

Here are some simple techniques for getting the work stuff done faster, and freeing up time to attend to your inner guitar hero / budding author / *insert your own aspiration here!

Puree some tomatoes

Created by Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique is a productivity technique centred around the use of a kitchen timer (as any pizza-lover will know, “pomodoro” is Italian for tomato, and the technique was originally created using a tomato-shaped kitchen timer).

To start, you set yourself a clear goal of what you want to achieve, set a timer for 25 minutes (equal to one ‘pomodoro’) and focus on the task in hand.  When the buzzer goes off, you get a five minute break before your next 25 minute session.  After four ‘pomodoros’, you are rewarded with a longer break.

The technique also encourages you to become more aware of internal and external distractions and to resist them.  And it really works!  It is so much easier to resist checking email or Facebook constantly when you are able to tell yourself there is only 12 minutes (or whatever) until your next break.

Virtually every friend I’ve introduced this technique to in the past year has fallen in love with it.  Try it out one morning – and you’re likely to enjoy one of the most productive days you’ve ever experienced.

Detailed instructions are available on the Pomodoro Technique website.

 

Eat a frog

Brian Tracy’s book “Eat that Frog” encourages us to do just that – eat a ‘frog’ every morning.  The frog metaphor refers to the difficult or unappealing tasks we’ve been putting off.  We all have those, right?

The book’s philosophy is based around the saying that “if the first thing you do in the morning is to eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s probably the worst thing you’ll do all day”.

Tracy urges us to think critically about our goals are, how to prioritise them, and to set deadlines.  Essentially, by eating the ‘frog’ task first thing, we’re freed up from the stress and anxiety caused by the anticipation of having to tackle it.  We get the ‘worst’ jobs out of the way and prioritise the things that will actually make the biggest impact on our lives.  Rather than filling up time with insignificant but easy tasks, we use our limited time more wisely, making progress with the things that will help us move forward and achieve things in life that are really important to us.

 

Let me know how you get on with either of these techniques, and share any other tips for making time for what’s important in life.

Lindsey is in her final year of a Sociology PhD – essentially a four-year lesson in overcoming procrastination and getting lots done!

 

Original art by Josephine Scales

 

 

Photos by http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

7 thoughts on “Making time for the important stuff in life

  1. I have pictures of frogs stuck on the wall next to my desk to try to remind me to eat lots of them…it is kind of working….

  2. I have been using the Pomodoro technique this afternoon and I have got lots of work done. I found a simple desktop timer that sits on my task bar and shouts at me after 25 mins and then times a long or short break. I love it. http://www.tomighty.org

  3. Great to hear you tried it, and that it’s working out for you! The timer sounds good. There are now a whole range of ‘apps for that’ too.

  4. Great post Lindsey – real advice like this should be taught on research training programmes! I use a method very similar to the Pomodoro technique, where I begin with the intention of just working for 30 mins, after which I can choose to take a break or continue for another 30 mins, up to a maximum of 90 mins, at which point I make myself take a break. I found it in a book called The Now Habit by Neil Fiore (not as horribly corporate as the cover suggests) which has lots of other helpful advice about understanding and managing procrastination, work-related anxieties and even the dreaded ‘writers block’.

    I’m not very good at eating frogs, though, must try to do more of that.

  5. The Eat a Frog technique’s really helping me now I’m back home. I have a ‘stickie’ on my Macbook desktop just for the daily frog, I might go up to 2 daily frogs, it’s working so nicely!

    • Using the stickies is a good idea. Horrible as it is, eating frogs seems to always feel better than not eating frogs – if you see what I mean!

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