If you live to be 90, you’ll live 4,700 weeks. If you’re 30 years old now, you’re 33% done and have 3,000 weeks to go. It’s upsetting to see the limited and dwindling nature of our lifetimes like this, yet we unintentionally fritter away time on activities that don’t nourish our lives. It’s not that we don’t realize our time is precious and limited. It’s that time feels abstract and that makes it hard to be intentional with our time.
If put aside the question of an entire lifetime and just look at a single day we’ll see the same phenomenon at a different scale. When you feel like you’ve got a whole workday at your disposal, it’s easy to say you’ll take on a few fifteen-minute tasks from a colleague or jump into a couple thirty-minute meetings. After all, you’ve got the whole rest of the day to do the work you believe is most important. Those small numbers add up quickly, there’s only room for 16 of those meetings in a day, or 32 of those tasks you told a colleague you’d help with. You start running out of time for your most important work pretty quickly.
It’s not all bad news though. As Michael Altshuler put it —
“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”
In this post, we’ll look at three techniques you can use to pilot your time (and your life) with intention and focus.
Pomodoro Technique: Build your focus muscle
We recommend the Pomodoro technique to anyone who identifies with these feelings when working:
- “I can’t focus on one task for a long time”
- “I can’t get started on a big project”
- “I get easily pulled away by distractions while working”
The Pomodoro Technique is an effective way to build your ability to focus. Here’s how it works, you work on your task for just 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. This 30-minute session is called a single Pomodoro. You can string together 4-5 Pomodoros and then take a longer break of 15 minutes.
The Pomodoro Technique has 5 steps
- Get a pen & paper. Note down your task in the order of priority.
- Set your timer for 25 minutes, and focus on a single task until the timer rings.
- Work on your task until the Pomodoro rings.
- Enjoy a 5-minute break.
- After 4-5 Pomodoros take an extended break of 15-30 minutes.
This simple technique helps you avoid distractions by prescribing a small amount of time on one & only one task. It trains your mind to not get distracted by the urge to check email or look out your window. You concentrate on your task, which also improves the quality of work you get done.
Here’s why the Pomodoro technique works so well
It asks you to be intentional with your time e.g. for the next 25 minutes I’m going to work on my one task and nothing else. It’s much easier to not be distracted when you’ve got a clear idea of where your attention should be.
It trains your focus muscle in small increments. It’s hard to stay away from distractions for the whole day but going 25 minutes without checking your email or social media is do-able. With repetition, 25 minutes will start to feel like not enough focus time and you might swap to a 50-10 Pomodoro ratio.
It asks you to break a large and overwhelming task into achievable chunks that can be done in 25 minutes. This reduces your feelings of overwhelm and lets you build momentum as you check off smaller tasks.
How to use Pomodoro with Sunsama
- In Sunsama, you can create a task with subtasks under it. For each subtask, you can set a “planned time” of 25 minutes.
- Hit F to enter Sunsama’s Focus Mode. This will bring up the single task you should be focused on during this time.
- Hit SPACE to start the timer, Sunsama will focus on the first incomplete Pomodoro task you created.
- Once the task is done, click on the checkbox to mark it ‘completed.' If you hit 25 minutes, you can hit SPACE again to stop the timer and then return to this task in your next Pomodoro.
If you want Sunsama to have a custom Pomodoro timer with sounds and notifications (we’re working on it!), let us know after starting a trial, and we’ll notify you when it comes out!
If you identify with any of these feelings, I’d consider adding time blocking to your repertoire:
- “I’ve got a lot of meetings and don’t have time to get heads-down work done.”
- “I always end up working much later than I want.”
- “I never get through my list of work each day.”
- “I’ve got more work to do each day than I can actually get done.”
Time blocking works because it takes advantage of Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. With time blocking, you set specific times to work on your tasks. For example, “I will work on the slide deck for demo day from 9 am to 11 am. I will respond to emails from 12 pm to 1:30 pm.”
How to time block in Sunsama?
Create a list of tasks
Create a list of all the tasks you need to do today. This can include personal commitments as well.
For now, just worry about listing all the things you want to do today.
Assign time estimates
Set a planned time for each of your tasks.
When you assign time estimates, you start to get an idea of your workload for the day and if getting all these tasks done is realistic.
Drag your tasks into your calendar
Drag your tasks from the task view into the calendar view. Start with your most important tasks and then work your way down your list. You can also hover over a task and hit X and Sunsama will automatically find a time for the task in your schedule.
Once you run out of time for adding new tasks, stop. You’ve now translated the list of tasks you want to do into a list of tasks you can actually complete.
Pro Tip: Create guardrails for your time outside of work. For example, put your morning routine in your calendar & mark your calendar with a shutdown time.
If you use Sunsama’s Guided Daily Planning Ritual, Sunsama will walk you through these steps one at a time.
Timeblock more effectively with these three features
- Integrate with your project management tools — Sunsama integrates with Notion, Trello, Asana, Jira, etc. With Sunsama, you can set aside time to work on the tasks assigned to you in these tools.
- Schedules - Sunsama allows you to define working hours for different types of work. Set up custom schedules for each of your major categories of work and let Sunsama find a good time for you to work on a task.
- Reporting - Sunsama’s reporting allows you to better understand where you are spending your time. This can help you make better decisions about what work you should delegate and whether you are pushing forward on important projects or getting sucked into lower-value work chores.
Time blocking is a strategy that can work well for chipping away at larger projects or making sure you carve out time for heads-down work on a particularly busy day with a lot of meetings. It’s not necessary that you run your entire waking life via time blocking. In fact, Neitzche cautions against this in “The Gay Science”:
One thinks with a watch in one's hand, even as one eats one's midday meal while reading the latest news on the stock market; one lives as if one always "might miss out on something”...Living in a constant chase after gain compels people to expend their spirit to the point of exhaustion in continual pretense and overreaching and anticipating others. Virtue has come to consist of doing something in less time than someone else.
Embrace your single-pointed attention
Nietzsche's diagnosis, all the way from 1887, calls out multi-tasking and an obsession with efficiency as root causes of the corruption of modern life and the human condition. This prescient diagnosis has only picked up steam now that we’ve got the internet in our pocket.
The final technique to your tool kit is embracing your single-pointed attention as a way to flourish and flow in whatever you set your mind to.
Here are the steps we recommend to prime your environment for single-pointed attention:
- Remember the importance of my attention: Attention is sacred. Your ability to choose the focus of your attention is the greatest freedom. Single-pointed attention creates a sense of fulfillment and flow. On the contrary, when your attention is divided across many things, it can overwhelmed and unfulfilled.
- Close all the windows and tabs that you don’t need
- Shut down Slack, Email and place your phone and computer in Do Not Disturb mode
- Open just the windows and tabs you will need for the work ahead
- Open Sunsama in full-screen Focus Mode for my next task
If you’re just getting started on your journey to managing your time and attention, don’t worry about being perfect on day one. Take the time to learn, experiment, and see how you feel.
Ultimately, the motivation to use these techniques comes from you. If you need a little extra help, tools can help you along. We’d recommend Sunsama — it offers a guided daily planning process with all of these techniques baked in and will help you create a calm, focused, and achievable plan for your upcoming workday. Try it for free for 14 days. No credit card is needed to signup! Give it a try, and watch it make you work better 🤝