In the classic movie Groundhog Day, Phil Connors covers the annual festivities as the weatherman.
After an overnight freak storm, Connors awakens the next morning to discover he is doomed to relive Groundhog Day all over again.
He spends his days performing a heist, learning languages and romancing his co-worker Rita. Despite getting off to a disastrous start with a slap in the face from Rita, he soon learns to redirect this Groundhog Day loop into a source of personal improvement until the curse is broken.
While it isn't possible to become stuck in a time loop like this. Some days can feel as though you are living your own Groundhog Day experience.
Each day you wake up feeling even more tired than the last. Your to-do list is jam-packed with incomplete tasks from yesterday, and then it happens... a grotesque assignment has graced your inbox.
An email pops up labelled with that flaming little red flag, and the words URGENT in capital letters.
The sight of the notification alone makes you wince, and you haven't even opened the email, you just know it is going to be painful.
The assignment demands your immediate attention, requiring you to be elbow-deep in a mess you just don't want to be dealing with.
The very thought of getting started is daunting, your to-do list is already overflowing. So, you do what an average person would. Shove it further down the list and avoid it like the plague.
For now, you choose to tackle more achievable tasks. Cleaning out your inbox, create a few social media posts or book that dentist appointment you've been avoiding...
Before you know it, hours turn into days, days turn into weeks. The deadline is speedily approaching, and it has become routine to dodge this assignment like a bullet.
Every day begins to feel like GROUNDHOG DAY!
It doesn't have to be like this though. You don't need to dodge those daunting tasks day after day, and we have two productivity techniques to help.
Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash
Grab your silverware and eat a frog for breakfast
I don't mean literally, grab grandma's silverware, perch yourself at the dining table and tuck into a frog for breakfast...
If you have googled the words, "how to be more productive," then you have come across the Eat That Frog method.
Made famous by Brian Tracy's classic time-management book, Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.
Tracy explains the core principles of effective time management as decision, discipline and determination.
Eat that frog is a metaphor for actioning the most important task currently sitting in your to-do list.
The task that you are likely to procrastinate on and push further down the list if you don't do something about it now.
To help you determine what your frog, each morning divide your tasks into four categories:
- Tasks you don’t want to do, but need to be done.
- Tasks you want to do and need to be done.
- Tasks you want to do, but don’t really need to.
- Tasks you don’t want to do, and don’t really need to.
Now, focus only on the tasks you don’t want to do, but need to. The one you have been procrastinating over!
While the thought of swallowing your frog first thing in the morning sounds challenging, once it is crossed off of your to-do list, everything from here on is going to be a breeze.
You have knocked off the hardest part of from the get-go. Now the confidence and momentum will carry you through the rest of the day.
Take your frogs and put them into action with the pomodoro technique
The pomodoro technique is another one you would have come across amidst your productivity Googling.
Created in the 1980's by Francesco Cirillo, also previously known as the tomato timer.
The time management philosophy maximises your focus on the one task at hand and improves mental freshness, allowing you to complete tasks quickly with less mental fatigue.
For each task or project you work on today, you work in short increments and take breaks periodically.
The process is simple:
- Allocate how many pomodoros you think this task should take, lets say 4.
- Now, start your focus booster timer and work for 25 minutes.
- When the timer is up, mark your pomodoro with an X and take a short 5-minute break.
- After each break, repeat steps 2 and 3, three more times.
- Now you have completed 4 pomodoros, take a longer break of about 20 minutes.
After you have implemented these steps over a period of a few days, you will quickly notice a difference in the way you are working.
The only catch here is, the technique requires consistency. You aren't going to see improvements if you are constantly abandoning your pomodoros due to distractions and you definitely won't make progress on a task when you switch from one job to another.
By mapping out your to-do list for the day in pomodoros, you are holding yourself accountable and working towards a to-do list full of little X's.
Hold your nose and start chewing
The pomodoro technique itself is one of the most successful productivity hacks out there.
Books have been written by famous entrepreneurs like Tim Ferris, blog posts, testimonials and stories are in the thousands across the internet.
So, there is only so much you can talk about when it comes to the technique these days.
While our team have mastered the pomodoro technique, I mean.. we created an app based on it!
We decided to work on skyrocketing this technique even further by combining it with other time management methods that are available.
And thus, Eat that frog and the pomodoro technique have been combined in our planning sheet. These are steps on how to complete it, and the planner in action by focus booster user Margaret.
- Today's priority: You guessed it, your dreaded frog.
- Allocate: Estimate how many pomodoros you think it will take to swallow your frog.
- Additional tasks: These are a combination of tasks you want to do and need to be done/ tasks you don't really need to do right away. This is where your to-do list becomes much more digestible.
- Allocate: Again, estimate your pomodoros. These tasks should take anywhere from 1-2 pomodoros to complete.
- Final estimate: Tally up your sessions for the day and make sure the number is achievable. In a standard 8-hour day 8-10 sessions is a good starting point.
- Timer: Fire up your focus booster timer and take your first bite. Each time you have completed a session, mark each circle with an X alongside the task.
- Notes: If any distractions pop up during your pomodoros, quickly make a note of what these are in the 'notes' section to visit later, then return to your pomodoro session.
- Roundup: At the end of the day, tally up your completed pomodoros and add the number in the productivity rating circle.
- Reflect: At the end of each day, reflect back on what you have accomplished. What you could change to make tomorrow an even more productive day?
Tip: Allocate yourself one pomodoro session each morning before starting work, to fill out your planning sheet.
Planning out your day provides you with the direction you need to remain focused. By marking off each pomodoro with an X, this instils a sense of achievement knowing that you are one step further to a productive day.
Meet Magaret, a focus booster user who no longer fights with her inbox
I am a business analyst, working on an agile software project.
I really struggle to focus when I have more than one urgent task screaming to be done.
Priorities are constantly changing, and it is hard work keeping up with the fast-paced delivery an agile project demands. Staying focused and working on one task at a time is a challenge.
When I discovered the pomodoro technique before focus booster, I thought it would be a great technique to adopt. However, I could not maintain my focus no matter how hard I tried.
I really struggled to stay focused on one job and felt panicked that I wasn’t working on my most important task.
Then it all changed. I received the email from focus booster with the pomodoro planning sheet. That day I had three critical items to attend to with no idea how to prioritise them , so, I used the planning sheet to help me prioritise.
As soon as I read the tag line for today’s priority, “What must you complete to feel a sense of accomplishment?” This was the turning point for me...
It gave me a chance to view this urgency from my own perspective.
I had received this email 5 business days ago but I still had not completed my report. I tried numerous times. Each morning I said, “today I will get this done”, but I just couldn’t get to it with other emails and chats asking for my time. I knew I needed to get this report done so I could feel a sense of accomplishment.
As soon as I viewed this email as important to me and my sense of accomplishment, I felt an incredible wave of focus.
I set my focus booster timer to 25 minutes with a 10-minute break (this is what works best for me) and got to work. Four sessions later, my data analysis was complete!
I could then attend to the remaining items on my list, feeling positive. Something I hadn’t felt for quite a while!
Now, when I feel the crushing weight of my to-do list bearing down on me, and panic sets in, I ask myself, "what must I complete to feel a sense of accomplishment?" This calms my mind and sets my focus so I can concentrate on that one task.
Thank you Focus Booster.
To summarise, Margaret knew a change was needed and the moment focus booster's planning resource hit her inbox, a light switch was flicked in her mind, she knew this was what she needed all along.
By swallowing her fear of this dreaded task and writing it down as her top priority for the day, Margaret ate her frog without even realising it!
Awesome work Mags!
What does it mean to be productive?
We often mistake being busy for being productive.
Being productive is about maintaining a steady speed on fewer tasks and not maximum speed on multiple tasks.
While you can make a little progress by crossing off the less critical tasks on your to-do lists, you aren't making meaningful progress putting off your most important tasks, even if they aren't the ones you feel like doing.
Have you ever realised that it's easier to say no to a chocolate bar in the morning than it is at night?
That's because your willpower is at its strongest first thing in the morning.
So, take this surge of power and tackle your most important task as a matter of priority.
The feeling of relief that comes with eating your frog is a rewarding experience. You have tackled your most important task and have now set your day up to be more productive than ever as you make your way down the list, completing those smaller tasks.
So, download the resource and start chewing!
If you would like to read about the other productivity techniques we have tried, check out our post on how we simplified our workflows using Kanban.