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Nowadays, there are a plethora of productivity techniques you can apply to help you work more effectively. One of the most popular is the Pomodoro Technique, a time management system you can use to break your work into sets of 3-4 25-minute focused sprints, with 5-minute breaks after each one. The idea is that this allows you to concentrate on one task at a time and that 25-minutes is the longest we can focus without needing to take a breather if we want to remain productive.
But this assumes that every task you undertake is the same, which is patently untrue. Just as every person is different, so is every task. That means one productivity system, however well-known and lauded, cannot possibly suit everyone.
Luckily, there is an alternative system out there, the Flowtime Technique, which offers more flexibility and that you can customise to help you complete specific tasks.
Read on to find out how you can use it to boost your productivity.
The Flowtime Technique: What is It?
This is a productivity and time management technique. Despite being less well-known than the Pomodoro Technique, the Flowtime Technique has been around for a while. Zoe Read-Bivens came up with it to address some of the shortcomings she spotted with the Pomodoro Technique. For her, sticking to the 25-minute work sprints advocated by that method interrupted the state of flow she entered when fully engaged in a task, and therefore hindered her productivity rather than enhancing it. She sought to devise a system that incorporated the strengths of the Pomodoro Method but dealt with its weaknesses by allowing you to stay in a state of flow when you get there.
How Does it Work?
So how do you start using it?
You need to create a timesheet to help you manage your daily tasks. You should include the following headings
- Task Name.
- Start Time.
- Work Time.
- End Time.
- Break Time.
Now you have created your timesheet, here is what you do.
Select a task
List the tasks you have on hand and pick one you can realistically finish in the time available, however long that may be. The task you choose should be specific because if you aim to do something which is more general or too large a task, you’ll have more trouble keeping the work on track. If you have a complex or large task, do your best to break it down into more manageable chunks.
Get to work
List the task you’re going to work on in the appropriate column of your timesheet. Next, fill in the start time. Then dive into the task. Focus only on the task you’ve set yourself and don’t try to multitask. Doing this will help you concentrate and eliminate most distractions, allowing you to be more productive.
Work through until you need a breather
Work on the task for as long as you want. If you start getting tired after a quarter of an hour, pause and take a break. Similarly, if you manage to enter a state of flow and can work for an hour without needing a break, go for it!
By working until you need a break, you can familiarise yourself with your own working patterns and create work sessions that suit you best. For instance, if you find you can usually work for 40 minutes, you can start to block off that amount of time to work on specific tasks. Remember that the amount of time you can work for without needing a break may vary depending on the nature of the task you’re engaged in. If you discover you have trouble focusing on a given task, try working for shorter periods before taking a break. By contrast, if you become immersed in a task, you may as well make the most of it and work for as long as you can stay focused.
Most of you will probably find that the longest you can concentrate for is about 90 minutes, as this is in line with our Ultradian Rhythm, which are periods of alertness and restfulness that our brains cycle through each day.
Take a break of the right length
When you decide you are ready for a break, note the time in the appropriate column. You can make your break as short or as long as you please. But don’t take the micky, or you will end up spending more time on break times than you do working.
A good rule of thumb is to take 5 minutes for every 25-minute work session. That means that if you have worked for an hour, taking a 20-minute break is a good idea. Remember to add the time you begin work again onto your timesheet, as well as the duration of your break. You may want to use a timer to help ensure you continue your work at the right time.
Note distractions as they occur
It is inevitable that when you are working, you will get distracted at times. Someone might ring, a colleague may come over to ask a question, or an urgent message might land in your inbox. Whenever something like this does happen, write it on your timesheet. Endeavour to keep each distraction short but accept that they will happen and don’t try to eliminate them entirely.
Even if you do try to block all distractions, you will most likely be unsuccessful, as sometimes what we are distracted by is more important than the task we are working on. Therefore, it makes more sense to deal with distractions as best you can when they crop up than to try to deny they exist.
All you must do now is cycle through these 5 steps until you finish your daily tasks. You can work out how long each task took and add it to your timesheet.
Come up with an ideal daily schedule
Use the timesheet you create to help devise a schedule that will help you become more productive and get more done. Recording your work periods and breaks each day, won’t just make it easier for you to stay on track, it will also help you create a schedule that’s tailored to you.
At the close of every week, compare your timesheets and see if you can spot any patterns. You might identify:
- A particular period of the day when you were able to work for the longest stretch.
- A point in the day that is usually chocked-full of distractions.
- Which kinds of tasks you were able to focus on the longest and which the shortest.
- When you are most productive.
You can then use them to plan workdays better in the future so that you have a better chance of working at peak efficiency.
You may want to schedule your most vital tasks for times when you are at your most productive and are least likely to be interrupted, and tackle your least important work at times when you have a higher chance of getting distracted. This will help reduce the number of errors you are prone to make and boost your productivity.
It’s time to explore the advantages and disadvantages of the Flowtime Technique.
The Strengths of the Flowtime Technique
- As with the Pomodoro Method, dedicating a certain amount of time to tasks helps enhance your focus. Instead of constantly switching between tasks, your attention is devoted to completing one thing before moving on to the next. Focusing on one task at a time will improve your efficiency.
- You can craft a better schedule for yourself in future so that you can make the most of productive times of your day.
- By keeping tabs on how long you are working for, you make yourself accountable for that work, dealing with the spectre of procrastination.
- It makes it easier for you to get into a state of flow because you won’t be interrupted by a pre-set timer, so can immerse yourself completely in the task.
The Weaknesses of the Flowtime Technique
- Coming up with a better schedule and workflow to boost your productivity will take more effort than it would if you employed other productivity techniques. Be aware of this and allocate more time to build timesheets, analyse them and use them to continuously improve your workflow. Spotting patterns in the way you work over time can be time-consuming as well as useful.
- It could be tricky to work out how many breaks you should take, and how long they should be. It will take a while to work out the difference between the desire to check social media and the need to give your brain time to refresh itself. Nevertheless, it is crucial to take a break when you feel one is warranted if you want to be productive.
- Planning is essential. You need to know the tasks you will work on before you start, as well as the order in which you want to tackle them.
- If you have an unpredictable schedule, the Flowtime Technique may not prove as effective. Always facing change during your workday — whether that be in the form of unplanned meetings, or something else — can make it difficult to track your time and record breaks and distractions.
Despite these weaknesses, using the Flowtime Technique can be great if you need to do something creative that requires a lot of mental concentration. This time-management system might also prove a good fit for those who like building structure into their day themselves and be useful for those who are especially prone to get distracted.
You now know how to begin building timesheets, identifying patterns, improving your workflow, and making the best use of your time with the Flowtime Technique. All that’s left to do now is to try it out and see if it works for you. Who knows? With a little effort, you might see a marked improvement in your productivity. You might even find you produce higher quality work as a result. So, give it a whirl and let us know how you get on!