Friday, February 3rd, 2017

For all my years of working for companies, I’ve never found focussing on a task an issue. Other than those rare exceptions when you’ve got something impactful on your mind, I’ve always found it easy to work through a list of items (given or self-defined), happy with the satisfaction of  just doing my job well and getting things done.

However, whenever I was working on a side-project in the evenings or weekends, I was often distracted by any number of things which popped into my mind. Of course, because this was my own time it was completely acceptable (I rationalised), and I was free to do whatever I felt like (albeit at the cost of productivity).

So when I began working for myself, I was suddenly faced with being less productive and focussed on what I was trying to do. Initially everything was fine as the novelty of working for myself was still fresh and I was full of enthusiasm, but after 4 months it became a little more difficult to change my mindset and be more disciplined.

I considered a few ideas as to why it was easier for me to focus in an employment environment:

  • Fear of disappointing the team.
  • High expectations of my work.
  • Being watched by management (Only relevant to a more corporate environment)
  • Having set work hours, meaning a fixed amount of time to get something completed.

So while some of the above does apply to me working for myself, a few things don’t. Mainly not having fixed hours, means I feel I can allow myself to be distracted knowing I can make up the time… resulting in working longer hours at a lower working efficiency. For me though, the big change was the lack of team members, and the fear of disappointing them by slacking off or producing less than I perhaps should (or could).


The solution

Whilst searching for freelancers with similar experiences, I found the time management method the Pomodoro Technique. It’s changed the way I work forever and has led to a greater feeling of accomplishment at the end of a day or task. By breaking work and tasks into smaller chunks of time, along with guaranteed small break periods, it’s easier to control the urges and distractions knowing you’ll get to do whatever you want, guilt free, at some point soon.

There are six steps in the technique:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the pomodoro timer for 25 minutes.
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down, but immediately get back on task.
  4. After the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
  5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2.
  6. After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.

A more modern interpretation:

After discovering the technique I quickly found an iOS app which would serve as my time and record keeper. Focus Keeper was my app of choice, although there are plenty of alternatives available. It’s incredibly simple as an app, essentially being an automatic timer, and session counter.

But whilst it’s simple, having the red faced timer screen on my desk keeps me incredibly focussed, as if it was a gun held to my head. Then once the work timer ticks down and screen turns green and meows (you can customise the colours… and sounds), I’m free for 5 minutes. In this time I may indulge some of the distractions which came into my mind, but often I’ll just get up from my desk and have a short wander, or maybe a few push-ups. Importantly, it has the added benefit of taking my body and mind away from the work area for brief times throughout the day, which leaves me feeling less exhausted and fatigued at the end of the day.

Pobodies nerfect

So whilst I swear by it, I don’t always use Focus Keeper, and when I don’t I notice myself loosing focus a lot more frequently. It’s as if the boss has phoned in to say he’s not coming into the studio today… (JKs, obvs).  I didn’t use it to write this blog for example, and whilst doing so I was distracted by the following impulses and tasks:

  1. Checking Twitter (I’m not sure why, as always…).
  2. Googling something about the game Dishonored 2.
  3. Writing a quick email to a client.
  4. Making myself a drink.
  5. Visit
  6. Check a couple of stock prices.
  7. More email checks.


What do you do?

I can’t recommend the Pomodoro technique enough, but what keeps you focussed whilst working, either at work or alone? Is there another technique or tip I should be trying? Get on Twitter and reply to me @ryandc with any ideas and opinions, as I’d jump at any opportunity to become even more efficient with my time