When I was a child, I had some significant attention deficit problems.
Meds, counseling, discipline. You name it, we tried it. But nothing seemed to work.
Nothing, that is, until I reached junior high. The time-bound classes, coupled with the passing periods, extended lunches, and study hall all combined to give me a schedule that worked.
In junior high I knew I wouldn't have to stay stuck in a situation for very long. I also knew that I would get a time to stretch my legs and clear my head between classes. Lunch and study hall were welcomed because of the time given to socialize and think deeply.
My ADHD wasn't gone, but it decreased significantly. All because of those three principles:
- Time-bound activities
- Short time blocks to rest
- Longer time blocks to think deeply
As I've gotten older, I've seen how powerful these principles have been to developing my own productivity routine.
When I work, I set a timer for [25:00] using the amazing Pomodoro app (it's based on the, aptly-named Pomodoro technique). That's how long my focus blocks are. I find that most tasks I have on my to-do list take about one block to accomplish. Some take two, three, or maybe even four. The point is, they're timed.
I know that no matter what happens, no matter how distasteful the task, I will only have to do it for 25 minutes. You have to know how incredibly freeing this realization is. Most tasks take much less time than I imagine they will, especially the unpleasant ones.
Short Time Blocks to Rest
The genius of the Pomodoro technique is that it builds in mini-breaks for each work block. Research shows that intense concentration followed by short blocks of rest dramatically increase productivity.
Call it a mental recess, but I give myself five minutes in between tasks to check Twitter, Facebook, email, or go grab a new cup of coffee. When the block is done, I'm back, ready, and refreshed for the next task.
Longer Blocks to Think Deeply
In junior high I knew I had lunch to look forward to. A time to connect with friends and relieve some stress. As a result, I was able to concentrate better during the day. Long time blocks in your schedule allow the same freedom.
When you set aside an hour to disconnect, you give your brain and body a much-needed respite from your schedule. I use this time to have lunch, catch up on Hulu, read a book, go on a walk, or talk with my wife and son.
The point is to make it timed, limited, and built-in to your schedule. More than just “goofing off,” you're actually increasing your capacity to work, not decreasing it.
NOTE: If you don't proactively build this in, you won't do it. Many of us feel like we're “wasting time,” but the exact opposite is true.
Human beings are not robots. We are not automatons. We need breaks to rest, recharge, rethink, and disconnect.
This is what having attention deficit disorder taught me about productivity. I'd love to hear from you if you or someone you know has had the same struggles.
What do you do to stay on task? How do you regiment your day to increase productivity? Let me know in the comments. I'd love to hear from you!
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