One of the biggest struggles about being self-employed for me (aside from, you know, drumming up income) is looking at a wide open calendar and sorting out how best to use my time.

Sure, it sounds like an absolute dream: no meetings, and none of the office bullshit that comes with them. And though I do have meetings on my calendar from time to time, I do not miss the wastes of time that are most office-based check-ins.

That said, pulling a complete one-eighty on the grind of the work week can, if you’re not careful, turn into a wasteland of wasted time; a blank calendar becomes the enemy of productivity. And when there’s no one there to keep tabs on you, why shouldn’t you binge the new season of “Broad City” this morning before you return emails?

(I have never done that. I’m mainlining “Broad City” S4 while I write this. Duh.)

clock timer
Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

I’ve recently been turned onto a system for focusing one’s time that is my new favorite: the Pomodoro Technique. You’ve probably known about it for ages (apparently it’s been around for like, decades), but it’s new to me.

The system is super simple: a series of focused productive sprints and short breaks broken up by a longer break as a breather. Specifically, twenty-five minutes of work then five minutes of a breather. Wash, rinse, repeat a few times then break for a full 25 minutes. Do it a handful of times, and before you know it, half your day’s gone. And so is your To Do List!

I’ve only been using it for a couple of weeks, but so far the difference in my work days is insane. Where I used to be overwhelmed by the prospect of a wide-open afternoon (Where do I begin? What should I prioritize? How do I get the ball rolling? Can I really turn off Netflix?), now it’s entirely manageable. I set myself up at my desk, turn on the timer (yes, there’s an app for that) and dig in. Knowing that I’ll get a breather in 25 minutes means I have no problem at all pushing through and seeing how much I can get done.

Spoiler alert: you can get A LOT done in 25 minutes! Like, so much.

Pretty sure this method is perfect for me for two simple reasons:

It’s a work-based manifestation of my favorite saying in the world: anybody can eat an elephant one bite at a time. Instantly, I have my day broken down into smaller bites that I can totally tackle. And in a blink, I’ve chewed through a whole bunch of them!

And, it fits right in with my love for listing. A 25-minute work session plus a task list equals a whole lot of checking things off. And who doesn’t love watching those line items get knocked off one by one?! (Yeah, it’s probably lame how much of a kick I get out of it. Not sorry.) 

I don’t use it every day, and I don’t even use it for a whole day at a time. But I am using it when I need that extra push to get through the day. Since it’s not there anymore from a boss or an impending performance review, the Pomodoro Technique is a really helpful way to shape my days.