People tell great tales about how the key to success in life is setting aside chunks of time to focus on specific tasks. They hook me with their almost religious enthusiasm, but being a skeptical sort, I need to know more about a time management system before I adopt it.
While the concept sounds logical and practical, it also sounds too good to be real. Kind of like a chocolate sundae with whip cream and a cherry on top that has no calories.
I wonder, would it help me as an author? Would it increase my word count and decrease my dreaded sense of ‘overwhelm’ that descends upon me whenever it feels like it? Those are my first questions.
Then comes my deeper concern. Could I, the all-too-human human with procrastinating and self-sabotaging tendencies, make it work for me?
I decided to take a closer look and see if I wanted to give it a try.
History of Time Chunking
The first thing I learned was that it is not a new concept. Looking back in history, many people chunked their time to be more productive, and some, like Benjamin Franklin, talked about it in their personal journals.
In the 1990s, computers transformed the process as many people started using personal digital assistants on various devices to assist them in tracking their use of time.
Our increased knowledge of how the brain works has altered the way people manage their time. We now know that the brain can only focus for so long (please excuse my layman words) before it strays and basically needs a rest. In the late 1980s, Francesco Cirillo developed the Pomodoro technique, based on brain research, which became extremely popular.
“The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Each interval is known as a Pomodoro, from the Italian word for ‘tomato’, after Cirillo’s tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used as a university student.
The technique has been widely popularized by dozens of apps and websites providing timers and instructions.” (Wikipedia)
Why Time Chunking Works
1. Your brain likes it. It gets to focus for a certain period of time, and then it gets rewarded with rest. What’s not to like?
2. It stops you from procrastinating.
3. It reduces distractions that lead to multi-tasking (which is a less efficient use of time).
Customizing the Program to Fit You
While Cirillo focused on twenty-five-minute time chunks, you don’t have to. You can experiment with what works for you. I find 50 to 60 minutes a good time chunk for writing. Many people rest after their work period for ten minutes and return for another work period. I don’t. I have many things I want to do in a day, so I often break for an hour or more to get other things done. Then, I return for a second and later a third work interval. So far, that seems to work for me.
The essential point is that you are in control of this time management program. Design a schedule that suits you. Try it out, track it, and refine it until you find a system that increases your productivity and is comfortable for you.
Or, so the theory goes. I’m still working on it. More about that later.
How to Jump Hurdles
I knew right away that I would have two hurdles to jump: the seductions of life and boredom.
How to Fight the Seductions of Life
Damon Zahariades, in his book The Time Chunking Method, writes,
“Distractions are incredibly damaging to your productivity. They’re insidious and seductive. They promise immediate gratification but suck you into activities that can last hours if you lack the discipline to pull yourself away from them.” (p. 44)
I couldn’t say it any better than he did. I, being a very-human human, slide down rabbit holes all the time. One of his solutions that makes sense to me is to have a page of paper beside me, and when a new idea pops in my head, I write it down. I follow through on it later. The other solution for me is to remind myself that my break time is only minutes away.
How to Fight Boredom
The key to fighting boredom is to keep your break times interesting. Add variety to your day. Get out and exercise. Hit the floor and do some Yoga. Watch one episode of your favorite show on TV. Check your email. Eat, play, and be merry.
How to Assess Your Progress
You can use a chart drawn on a scrap of paper, Google Sheets, or a myriad of apps to track your productivity. Have a look around and see which system will work best for you. I’m too new at this to make a recommendation.
Am I Convinced?
I’m convinced enough to give it a try. I’m starting with the goal of three one-hour segments on my writing days, and I’m tracking my progress by reviewing what I accomplish. I realize this is a subjective assessment, but it’s hard to convert all my tasks to numbers. Word counting, of course, is easy. But how can I assess editing, formatting, or PR tasks in the same way? I think maybe working hours logged is the better measurement unit for me.
My goal is to spend the rest of August playing with the system and implementing it fully in September. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I’d love to hear how you manage your time. What works for you? Why do you think it works? I love trying new systems, especially in September. So please, tell me yours.
Zahariades Damon. The Time Chunking Method. Artofproductivity.com
Lance Harvey, 5 Steps to Better Time Management Via Chunking, Medium
Tony Robbins, The Best Time Management Apps & Tools
My Latest Book is about to Release
Trouble brews when a psychic enchantress shares her magic.
When the sorceress Jane Black offers spells, potions, and tarot card readings to the regular folk in her small town, she finds herself in a cauldron of hot water. Despite her good intentions, spells spiral out of control, potions backfire, and people turn against her. As Jane’s problems multiply, a drool-worthy dragon enforcer, arrives on her doorstep and gives her an ultimatum. While the universe stacks impossible odds against her, a hot dragon breathes down her neck, and Vixen, her snarky familiar, harangues her every move, Jane refuses to give up. She’s determined to make things better for everyone, or die trying. Is Jane’s magic strong enough to heal the town’s problems? Will her full-service sorcery store, survive? And what exactly will Leos the dragon set on fire? Dial Witch is the first book in the Dial Witch trilogy, set in the Mystic Keep world. It chronologically follows The Perfect Brew trilogy, but can easily be read as a standalone story.