The Pomodoro Technique used to be the go-to recommended study method, where you’d study for 25-minutes and then take a 5-minute break. After 4 of these sessions, you take a 15-20 minute break. On paper, the thought of doing short pockets of work followed by regular breaks sounds pretty epic, and honestly, a similar method has worked for me in the past. However, it fails to address one major concern: we live in a world filled with distractions.
Our lives, in general, are almost entirely unrecognizable from what they were even 10 or 15 years ago. Technology has introduced us to countless opportunities, including the ability to work or attend school exclusively from the comfort of our home, start a side-hustle or full-time career out of a hobby or passion, and get answers to almost any question we have in a matter of seconds. But the distractions vying for our attention have increased, too. Where a 5-minute break used to be ideal to stretch your legs or get a snack, now we can easily use that time to:
- Check our email
- See what our friends are doing in-the-moment on social media
- Order groceries for the week
- Feel overhwlemed by Slack/Teams messages
- See what people are saying in our group chats
- Watch at least 20 TikToks
- Film and post our own TikTok
- Start a movie
- Shop at nearly any store our heart dreams of
The list goes on and on.
We live in a world filled with endless distractions, and we shouldn’t feel bad or guilty if our attention gets pulled in different directions. These apps and services are designed to be addictive to hold our uninterrupted attention for hours on end. However, seeing that so many of us are now in charge of our own schedules, it’s important to find a method of study/work that accommodates this new world we live in, as opposed to holding onto a past that no longer fits our reality.
How does this relate to our workflow?
Every time we take a break, our attention moves in a different direction. With all of the distractions we face today, reestablishing our workflow after our break can take substantially longer than it used to. And while there’s a growing place for these apps and services in our workplace, it can be difficult to regain our focus when we’re taking frequent, short breaks.
For myself and many others, the alternative is to give yourself longer workflow periods and to take breaks when you’re ready. Before starting this method, I used to exclusively work for 45-minutes straight, followed by a 15-minute break. And while I think there are a ton of benefits with something structured, there were two major issues for me:
- I found myself taking breaks while I was in the middle of a workflow state when I could have kept going, making it harder for me to get back into it after
- Or, I’d find myself powering through when I was noticeably distracted and in need of a break, all because it wasn’t my ‘dedicated break time’
It’s to be said that this method has its time and place. Sometimes, it’s important to force yourself to take a break when you’ve been working for too long, and other times you need to power through to finish a task. It all depends on what works for you and your individual needs. But for me, this was doing more harm than good.
The alternative is to spend long periods working on one task to allow yourself to get into a proper workflow. Of course, it’s important to listen to your body and to take breaks when you need to, but overall it’s much easier to focus when you’re only consumed by one task.
I’ve condensed my workflow method into 6 easy tips, but before I share them, let’s start with a couple of reminders:
- Your worth is not found in your productivity
- The items on your to-do list are things that need to get done, not a reflection of who you are as a person
- There is no one-size-fits-all approach to studying and working. Some people need time limits on how long they work so they will actually finish their task, whereas others do better without pressure: both are equally valid and important
- Adjust any routine to fit your needs, be kind to yourself, and trust your best is enough
6 Tips For Getting Into A Workflow
1. Map out your day accordingly
The first thing you need to know about getting into a workflow is that the time of day plays a role in our productivity. Everyone is different, but for many of us, our productivity decreases throughout the day. With that in mind, if you have control over your schedule, try to schedule the most important, creative, or attentive tasks first, and leave any mindless or mundane work later in the day. For example, if you need to write a report, you may find that you focus better earlier in the day – if you need to update a website or add data into a spreadsheet, you may want to do that later in the day. Of course, everyone is different, so make sure you pay attention to your own needs and adjust accordingly.
2. Prep your environment
Our brains like to know what’s going to happen and feed off our environment and routines. If you can, try to get into a routine of where you and when you work and then begin getting ready 30 minutes before you start. Here are some areas to do so:
- Log off social media: we know it’s a major source of distraction, so it’s best to put it away before you need to get into the workflow.
- Prep your environment: gather the things you may need, such as water, a snack, some tea or coffee, a notebook, your computer… whatever it is for you.
- Make it as enjoyable as possible: put on clothes that make you feel good, play some calming music, light a candle, open the blinds – focus on what you feel inspired by.
Think of setting yourself up in an environment that is enjoyable to be in and has the necessities. You’ll have what you need so you won’t need to get up (other than to use the washroom, of course) while still prioritizing your comfort and wellbeing.
3. Remove distractions
With constant distractions vying for our attention, it has become increasingly difficult to eliminate them, but here are some ways to lessen it:
- Silence notifications: on iPhones, you can customize your do-not-disturb settings, allowing you to pick and choose which notifications can go through at which times. If you need to be available for certain people while you’re working (such as your child’s school or your manager) you can easily allow those notifications to still go through, while blocking anything unimportant
- Let people know you’re unavailable at certain times: this will set the expectation that you won’t be replying to messages, so you don’t feel obligated to check your phone
- Remove your phone: putting it in another room is ideal, but try to at least keep it out of sight. It’s harder to hear it calling your name when you can’t see it.
Multitasking doesn’t work. Both our accuracy and our performance decrease when we juggle too many tasks or jump from task to task. The alternative? Single-tasking.
Single-tasking and batch working (where you create a bunch of the same content at once) often go hand in hand, where you focus on only accomplishing one task at a time. It seems so simple, but far too often we find ourselves jumping from task to task without much thought. For example, imagine that you’re working on a report, and then remember you need to email someone, and then see other emails in your inbox that you need to respond to, which reminds you that you need to check on the status of another project, where you decide to quickly add in something that you forgot about. Without realizing it, jumping from task to task like this is a form of multitasking, only it often happens without us realizing it. Check your email first thing in the morning, write down tasks that need to be done, and then log off until later in the day.
Tip: keep a note beside you to jot down anything that pops into your brain that you need to accomplish after
5. If you have a lot on your to-do list, set timers or alarms
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If your to-do list is long, you may find yourself stressing about the time. Set an alarm or a timer while you work so you can ignore the time to get in a flow. When the timer is up, you can move on to the next task.
6. Take a break unapologetically when you’re ready
Even though breaks aren’t built in, they’re still important and should be taken unapologetically. The issue with previous study methods isn’t taking breaks isn’t the fact it included breaks, it’s more to do with the frequency of them and the disruption they can create. Get comfortable listening to your body, and allow yourself to get up and move around when you need it. If it’s accessible for you, try to remove yourself from the space altogether, or even go outside for a few minutes. Just keep in mind that it will likely take a couple of minutes to get back into a workflow after your break, so you may wish to be mindful of the time, and possibly even set a time limit for yourself.
Once again: breaks are important and help you stay productive