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Does Your Workday Need a Diet?

Published by Mikala on

With so many more people working from home at the moment I thought it might be helpful to talk about something that I have witnessed right here in my own home. 

Under normal circumstances my wife works full-time from an office in the city. Her day usually starts around 8am finishing around 4.30pm with a couple of breaks for morning and afternoon tea and an hour long break for lunch. A few weeks ago, like so many others, she transitioned to working from home, from our dining room table to be exact. Along with this change, because she no longer had a commute to and from work (we live in Hobart, so to be honest peak hour is more like peak-15 minutes), she would start work earlier at around 7.30am and continue to work until I turned off my computer for the day which is often around 5.30pm.

At first, she was thrilled about her perceived increase in productivity, talking about how she was getting so much more done in her day and how she was actually enjoying the lack of distractions and water-cooler chat of the office. However, into her second week she came to realise that despite more time spent at her desk she was starting to struggle with her deadlines and was starting to finish later and later to try and keep on top of things.

This was when I mentioned to her the concept of Parkinson’s Law, the adage that:

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

You might also be familiar with this law in another form, the one in which you set aside a day to complete a project to meet a deadline. You then proceed to spend 80% of your day in procrastination and avoidance mode scrolling socials, answering emails, telling anyone and everyone about this really important project that you MUST complete today.  But it is only when you find yourself in the last 20% of the day with that 5pm deadline looming on the horizon that you finally pull your finger out, throw yourself into the focus zone and get it done.  

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could spend 80% of our workday in the focus zone? 

You can, and it is a lot less painful and requires far less self-control that you would imagine. 

The Tomato Diet

Ok, so that’s something I made up – but hey, it’s my blog and I’m allowed to 🙂 but it’s based on a real thing so hear me out… 

So, the ‘real thing’ part of it is a method called the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is a way to more effectively manage your work time and was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980’s. This technique utilises the fact that we work faster when a deadline is near and uses specifically timed blocks of your day allocated for work and breaks to boost your productivity. (BTW the word pomodoro means tomato in Italian, thus, The Tomato Diet 12)

The Tomato Diet is a simple and effective way to trim the fat from your bloated and unhealthy workday.  It requires just a little planning (because you know – failing to plan is planning to fail) and best of all – next to no self-control. Here’s how it works. 

1. Download a pomodoro timer to your computer – not your phone, you want to reduce distractions, not invite them. The one I use and recommend is the Google Chrome Extension Marinara: Pomodoro Assistant which you can find here.

2. Set the timer so that each focus session is 25 minutes long with a break of between 3 and 5 minutes after each pomodoro. You can play around with this as you go along to find the best timeframes for you. I use 25 minutes sessions with alternating breaks of 3 and 6 minutes (3 = a quick stretch and check in with my kids, 6 = a bathroom break and time to make a cup of tea). 

3. Download a copy of my Pomodoro Productivity Planner (which you can find here) and plan your day. Write down five tasks you want to achieve during the day and the Target or number of Pomodoros (25 minute sessions) you think it will take you to complete each task. 

4. Set your timer and get started. As you work through your tasks tick off a bubble each time you complete a pomodoro. At the end of the time add up the number of pomodoros the task really took you and write it in the ‘Actual’ box. 

5. At the end of the day review your progress, rate your productivity and reflect on whether or not you can do anything to make tomorrow even more productive. 

The trick is to not touch your phone or sneak into your social media accounts during each pomodoro, start the timer, take a big breath and jump into the task.  

Benefits of The Tomato Diet:

Bigger daunting tasks become bite-sized: You will find that tasks you have been procrastinating or putting off become easier to handle because you can tell yourself “I just have to do this for 25 minutes” then generally by the time that first 25 minutes is over you are so immersed in the task that completing it is far more effortless. 

Far Fewer Distractions: The best thing you can do (unless you are waiting on an important call) is switch your phone to silent during your Pomodoros and check it during your breaks. I also find it really helpful when family members want my attention. One glance at the timer and I can tell them exactly how many more minutes they have to wait until I can give them my full and undivided attention – this is REALLY helpful during homeschooling and school holidays. 

The Timer is Ticking: As mentioned earlier on, we as humans often work much more effectively when we are on a time limit and the deadline is looming. I find that I whizz through tasks with one eye on the timer trying to get as much completed before my next break, trying to beat my pomodoro target. 

So, there you have it. Does your work day need a diet? If so, I highly suggest giving the Tomato Diet a go. 

Categories: Productivity