Each quarter, our wellness team tries and reviews a popular wellness trend. This quarter, we're trying time management strategies, and Kat and Yusof are reducing distractions to improve productivity.
Wellness Tries is a quarterly series in which members of the UF-UF Health Wellness Team try out different wellness trends. This quarter’s theme is time management.
This week’s time management strategies focus on eliminating distractions. Distractions can get the best of us and keep us from our work. Over time, too many distractions can cause extremely low productivity levels. There are a ton of ways to be distracted at work, whether from hunger, someone talking on the phone, your phone buzzing with notifications… the list goes on. So what do we do when faced with distractions that make it feel impossible to concentrate? We find a time management strategy dedicated to clearing the clutter and propelling our productivity forward.
Kat Tries: The Ivy Lee Method
How I Worked Before
I consider myself to be a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to productivity. I write all of my responsibilities down, and then work through the list from top to bottom. As new projects come my way, I add them to the bottom of the list. On occasion, I’d re-organize the list to make sure that time-sensitive work got done first.
While this system worked for me with small, one-off tasks, it crippled me for larger projects. To-do lists and timelines can be misleading when something like “Charge the Fitbit” is below “Create and send a survey from registration email list.” The former is a quick task that takes very little mental energy, while the latter requires multiple steps and higher-order thinking to complete. Some days, I’d never make it to the simple task of plugging in my Fitbit. This method left me frustrated at my lack of progress and my productivity seriously suffering.
What is the Ivy Lee Method?
The Ivy Lee method is a form of time management that limits what you put on your to-do list. Each day, you begin by writing down the six most important tasks you must complete. If it’s not on the list, it’s not your priority that day. Not only does this method require you to identify and prioritize the most important tasks for the day, it also protects your mental energy by preventing you from creating a 20-something list of tasks that you’ll never get to.
One important thing to note about this method is that you’ll never find success if you continue to list six projects that simply cannot be accomplished in a day’s work. One must learn to break bigger, long-term projects down into bite-size pieces and then work through them. This meant I had to get organized.
How Did It Go?
I used the Ivy Lee Method for three weeks. For the first week, I was incredibly dutiful, identifying the six most important tasks for the day and even writing them the night before, so I lost no time at the beginning of the next day. It seemed so silly at first… I thought to myself, “I only have to do six things today?” The reality was that I had more focus when the other 94 items from my to-do list weren’t sitting in front of me, begging for my attention. As a result of this experiment, I started noticing how many ‘flow’ periods I experienced throughout the workday. With extra mental energy, I was able to completely devote myself to the project at hand. One day, I noted three flow periods, ranging from 45 minutes to over two hours!
Here’s how I decided what went on the list:
- Time-sensitive work comes first. If it’s ‘due’ today, it’s ‘do’ today! Items like timely emails, preparation for tomorrow’s presentations, and scheduling campaigns were always at the top of my list. Often, these are quick tasks that take no more than twenty minutes. By accomplishing quick, small tasks, I felt energized and capable enough to tackle larger projects.
- Larger projects come second. These are projects of mine that have multiple moving parts and take weeks (if not months) to prepare. This is where I learned that to continue through my daily six-item list, I had to chunk projects down into smaller, more manageable pieces. For example, instead of writing “Plank & Drank 2020”, I’d write “Identify goals and objectives, create pre-survey, create webpage and update with pre-survey link”. Large, looming projects suddenly became three small steps I could take today.
- Everything else comes last. This catchall category is where I listed long-term tasks and items added to my plate the same day. Some examples of these include “Review and send me your edits by next week” or “Complete this survey by the end of the quarter”. It’s not that these items were not important, but they weren’t as important as the ones listed above them. It can be hard to shift your own project down the to-do list, but the list only allows for six items, so you’d better choose wisely.
Will I Continue the Ivy Lee Method?
I learned a lot from the Ivy Lee method, from prioritizing, to long-term planning, to chunking down large projects into practical pieces. This method helped me clear away the clutter of my classic to-do list and get cracking on what mattered most. While I’m grateful for the experience and opportunity to try something new and keep my work situation exciting, I don’t think I will stick with this method. In fact, since the end of my trial period with the Ivy Lee method, I’ve been utilizing the Box method and have found great success.
I’m an advocate for trying new things, so I recommend the Ivy Lee method to you, especially if you find yourself overwhelmed by your daily to-do list and accomplishing nothing as a result. Try it for a few weeks, track your productivity, and compare your ‘completed’ list to your old to-do list. The results may surprise you (and your team)!
Yusof Tries: The Pomodoro Method
How I Worked Before
Like many of my colleagues, my to-do list only seems to grow no matter how many tasks I completed. Even before trying the Pomodoro Method, I have been trying different methods and resources to help improve my time management. Keeping track of all the different projects and tasks that I oversaw was becoming overwhelming. How do I chip away at the larger project without getting sucked in or losing focus of my daily tasks? I used a combination of online tools (Trello, Outlook, Slack, etc.) along with a planer and sticky notes to help me organize my tasks and keep track of my progress. These tools helped me get organized, but I still found that time management across tasks was still a challenge. How do I tackle my never-ending to-do list in the most efficient way possible?
What is the Pomodoro Method?
Enter the Pomodoro Method – a time management system that encourages utilizing small increments of time to completing tasks. Think of it as working with the time you have instead of working against it. This method was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s and is based on breaking work into intervals of 25-minutes followed by short breaks. The intervals are known as Pomodoro, which is Italian for tomato, after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used to develop this method. Working in short intervals helps maintain focus and mental energy.
There are several different varieties of the Pomodoro Method with longer or shorter time intervals. But for the sake of this experiment, I stayed with the traditional 25-minute intervals. In the traditional Pomodoro Method, it is also important to use a physical timer as the physical act of winding up the timer could be used as a mental indicator for the start of a task. This low-tech approach also helps eliminate distractions that may come from using a phone or an online timer.
How Did It Go?
Once a task is identified, set your timer to 25 minutes. During this time focus completely on the task at hand. Stop working when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3-5 minutes). After your fourth Pomodoro, take a longer break (15-30 minutes). With each Pomodoro, you can keep working on the same task or switch to a different task.
I tried following the steps above for two weeks. They seemed simple enough that I should be able to follow them easily. However, I noticed that during the first week I struggled to stick to the strict time frames of this method. I would begin to be invested and committed to the task and the timer would ring. I found myself not wanting to take the short break and I would prefer to continue working on the task at hand. During the first week, I was lenient with the time intervals. By the end of the first week, I did not notice a significant difference in my productivity or work-rate. Because I was being flexible with the rules, I ended working the same way I would have normally and that defeated the purpose of this experiment.
Additionally, I also noticed that the Pomodoro method does nothing in terms of organization or prioritization. This would have to be completed before you start the Pomodoro method, or you could spend the first time interval to get organized and to prioritize tasks.
During the second week, I forced myself to be committed to the Pomodoro method and to follow the steps as stated. For smaller tasks and projects, I found that this method helped me stay focused as I worked to finish them. It felt as if I had an artificial deadline and this motivated me to work to finish the task at hand. However, with the larger projects, it took me a few days of practice before I got with the rhythm. Again, I found myself struggling with staying within the timeframes during the first couple of days. By the end of the second week, I found that I was able to find peace by stopping with the ringing of the timer. The mental breaks helped me stay refreshed throughout the day. I also found myself jumping between projects and multitasking with ease. I could spend 25 minutes or an hour on a project and then switch to another project seamlessly.
Will I Continue the Pomodoro Method?
The Pomodoro Method works best when you are already dedicating time-blocks to work on projects and general tasks. It could also be useful if you have a lot of control over your work schedule. It will be difficult to follow the Pomodoro Method if you are screening phone calls or fielding questions. An ideal situation would be if you can schedule an hour or a few hours, uninterrupted, to work on your project(s) and to tackle your to-do list. This is how I plan to continue to use the Pomodoro Method in the future. In this way, I can ensure that I can focus on getting through my to-do list, maintain low mental stress, and be more productive as a result.