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If you’re running your own business, juggling clients, doing admin, creating content, responding to disasters etc., it can get super overwhelming.

I know. I’ve been there.

I know that paralysing feeling where you can’t get out of bed for fear of everything you have to do and don’t know where to start.

I know that feeling where you are flitting between a million tasks and not finishing any of them.

I know that feeling of staring blankly at your computer as the crushing weight of anxiety bares down.

You may have come from a job where you only had a small area to focus on – whether that was customer service or accounts or media etc. But now you’re a one-woman band.

Work in short, timed bursts, take frequent breaks

I was totally skeptical about this at first. How could working in short bursts and taking frequent breaks have any impact on overwhelm? Surely what I needed to do was park my butt in my chair and just get on with it. Wasting five minutes on a break seemed redundant. Stopping after only 25 minutes seemed silly.

I’d been conditioned to work in long bursts: 3-4 hours – Long break – 3-4 hours etc. This is what the working world sees as productive – how many hours you are doing a thing for. Intellectually I knew it was probably not true, but this belief was deep rooted within me. Every day that I couldn’t show up laser focused for a minimum of 2 hours, I’d feel like a failure.

So, at one of my low, overwhelmed points, I took my own advice and gave a different technique a shot – the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique is named after the tomato (pomodoro) shaped kitchen timer the person who came up with it used.

Life changing

Instead of trying to fill 2 hours of productiveness, I find myself glued laser focused on a task for at least 25 minutes at a time. The urge to check Facebook or read Buzzfeed evaporates, because hey, I can wait 25 minutes, that’s not a challenge at all. What I used to accomplish in an hour is now reduced to about half that because I’m not letting my mind wander.

It’s so freaking easy

This technique is flexible and easy. Set a timer for 25 minutes. Focus. Break for 5 minutes. Repeat 3 more times and then treat yourself to a long break of around 25 minutes. If you want to keep working after the 25 minutes is up, you can. If you need slightly longer break periods or work periods, you can.

What happens when you break in the middle of something?

I admit, I don’t usually work through my breaks. I will drop what I’m doing and get up, move and do something away from the computer for 5 minutes.

Superficially this seems counter-productive, because interrupting yourself would mean you’re less likely to finish the task. But is that true?

So when I go for a break, my mind doesn’t completely empty itself of work. I know where I am and what I’m striving to finish. And the desire to finish compels me to jump back into the work with renewed vigour. The break both refreshes me and creates this compulsion to keep going.

There’s this cool thing called the Zeigarnik Effect. Basically some researchers found that people had the urge to finish what they’d been interrupted doing. People seem to have a desire to finish something they start.

The Zeigarnik Effect and I are totes best buds.

What do you do in your short breaks? 5 minutes isn’t long enough to do anything!

Here’s a short list of things I can do during my breaks (although not all in one break, obviously)

  • Leave my computer (this is a non-negotiable for me)
  • Get a glass of water
  • Make a cup of tea
  • Go to the bathroom
  • Journal a little bit
  • Do a couple of stretches
  • Fold a few bits of washing
  • Do a few dishes
  • Play with my kid
  • Give my partner a cuddle
  • Have a snack
  • Play with the cats

Treat it like a game

I’m pretty big on bringing play into work. I’m fairly inflexible about the Pomodoro Technique – I do work to 25 minutes and stop and then take a 5 minute break. This makes it one big game for me.

People have this misconception that games are meant to be easy – but games have some degree of challenge in them in order to make them fun. The Pomodoro Technique provides an excellent balance of ease and challenge for me. I go into “game” mode. This makes my entire day one big game! Woohoo!

I waste less time on social media

A bizarre thing happens when I mandate that leaving my computer during every break is a non-negotiable item. I spend less time faffing around on Facebook. Those five minutes are really valuable. I can do so much more with that time, why waste it refreshing my newsfeed?

If I’m on Facebook during my workday, it’s for work purposes and falls within a Pomodoro. I’m still not super laser focused about what I do on Facebook – old habits die hard – but I do find myself asking “what am I trying to accomplish by being here?”

How much can you really get done in one Pomodoro?

I wrote the draft for this blog post in one Pomodoro. The original word count was just under 800 words. That’s nothing to scoff at.

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