Productivity Tip: Work Sprints

Most productivity methods I’ve tried haven’t worked for me—rewards (if I edit ten pages, I can have a cookie. . . or I could just eat one now), blocking distracting websites (I always manage to find one that I haven’t blocked), strict schedules, detailed goals, and so on. Given that, I’ll begin with a disclaimer: this technique might not work for you, and that’s okay. Keep experimenting until you find one that does. But this method often helps keep me on track and off social media.

So what is it? Called work sprints or the Pomodoro Technique, this method involves working for a set period of time and then taking a short break. While some people prefer to use an app, all you really need is a timer and a to-do list.

First, decide how long you want your work sessions to be. They can last anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour, but I recommend staying within the twenty- to thirty-minute range. You also want to define a length for your breaks, ideally two to five minutes—just enough time to stretch and refill your water glass. The Pomodoro Technique specifies twenty-five-minute work sessions and five-minute breaks, but play around with it and see what works best for you.

Next, choose what you want to accomplish during each session. I usually use this technique for editing, so I simply edit for twenty-five minutes and see how much I can get done. Another option is to divide up your to-do list into tasks that fit your chosen session length. For example, if I want to publish a blog post using this technique, I might split it into three sessions: research and outlining, writing, and adding images and proofreading.

Of course, you don’t want to go all day with only three-minute breaks. Every few sessions, take a longer break of fifteen to thirty minutes. I like to have three long breaks per day—midmorning, lunch, and midafternoon—so one after every three sessions works pretty well. If you choose to use an app, it may track your sessions and alert you when it’s time for a long break. Otherwise, simply mark an X or checkmark at the bottom of your to-do list each time you complete a session.

It's important not to become discouraged if you end up with an awkward slot of time or are interrupted in the middle of a work session. Use those twelve minutes between your previous session and that meeting you have scheduled to respond to work emails. And if you have to dash away from your computer to chase a groundhog off the front porch before it eats your plants (true story), just pick up where you left off and keep going.