As I return to “blogging” after several years away from the practice, I have struggled with what the perfect message was for that triumphant first post. After much consideration and false starts, I decided that if I am going to start blogging again, it is going to be on whatever interests me at the given moment.

Sometimes it will relate to the work or ideas being advanced by First Steps Consulting, but other times it may not. This is the first post is what is going to be a series of posts where I explore what interests me. Because lots of things interest me, my posts could be about a wide range of things. I hope you find them interesting and if they raise questions or require revisions, please comment. These posts are really about having conversations with interesting people in a format that is a bit deeper than social posts allow. Thanks for reading!

Productivity: Going Old School for a New Age

As I have been tucked away in my house in Brussels Belgium for the past year, I have been forced to address lethargy, distraction, and the general chaos that ensues from having the whole family under one roof. Where I use to have a “schedule” imposed upon me I  found I needed to bring to the table a new level of discipline to be effective.

I resorted to past hacks to stay focused. Specifically, I went back to timeboxing and the Pomodoro technique. While there is lots of material online about these techniques, there are two adaptations that I have embraced that have made a difference for me, so I wanted to detail what they are and why they have helped me.

  1. Try an Hour Glass

  2. Spin some LP’s

  3. Manually record progress

Try an Hour Glass

I have been using the Pomodoro technique for decades. I started with the little ticking tomato and since I have used apps on my pc, my mac, my phone, music timers, you name it. They all sort of work, but several aspects seem to trip me up.

Ring, Ring, Ring: I am always bothered by the hard stop the apps imposed. An alarm would hit me and yank me away from what I was doing often right when I was in the groove of getting something done. I would keep hitting the “5 more minutes” button up to the point where it got kind of silly. If I am yearning for a break, I want the Pomodoro tool to tell me I have earned one, but when I am in the groove, I just want to work and I don’t want the tool to keep poking me.

What to do Next?: many of the apps on the market are really trying to do it all. They allow you to pull tasks from your “to-do” list; determine how much time you want each work session to be; tag them based on the type of work they are, etc. I found I was spending too much time preparing my Pomodoro session. With the hourglass, I just flip it over and start. I don’t need to decide which task I am working on, how long, whether it should tick or not, etc.

Old School: my job is all about the computer screen. I am writing, analyzing, zooming (is that an official verb now?), you name it. The hourglass yanks my eyes away from the screen just enough to remind me that my whole world does not truly exist in my widescreen monitor and that all things are not measured in data bytes.

Spin some LP’s

I find it very hard to work in complete silence. Since my days in university, I have always needed some background noise. I have tried white noise, bubbling streams in the mountains, crickets, roaring fireplaces, rain of course, and the soothing sound of others working at a trendy cafe, but I always come back to music.

The problem I have with music is that I am constantly thinking of what I should listen to next. The endless music made available through streaming media means that there is always something new or recommended by algorithms of Amazon and Apple sitting about three inches from my actual work. I decided to experiment with spinning LP’s when I work, and it has really worked for me, and this is why;

Great Sound: Ok, so I don’t want to start a debate on LP vs Digital, Verse live band in your office, but for me, with the whole LP set up (great speakers, good player, good receiver) the sound quality is just great, certainly better than the music pumping out of the digital stream into my wireless speakers. The great music sound does not come cheap, but if you are sitting in your home office for 8 hours, it’s a really nice addition.

Great Music: If something is produced as an LP these days, the chances are it is music that has earned its stripes. For music from “the day”, like when my parents were my age or earlier, getting onto an LP was even more associated with quality. I don’t want to try to define what is good music for anyone but myself, but for me, I have been opting towards what I consider better musical choices by spinning LPs while I work and enjoying the discovery of music through the medium in general.

Lock and Load: Music quality and choice aside there is another benefit I find with LPs. Regardless of whether it is Run DMC or Dave Brubeck, when you put an LP on, there is no skipping songs, adjustments, or any other fiddling with music. You just drop the needle and with an average LP at about 25 to 30 min, you have a music Pomodoro keyed up and I can position the music where it belongs, in the background, while I focus on work. Also, since I am using an hourglass that does not beep at me, the end of the LP is a nice check to make sure I take appropriate breaks in my work.

Manually record Process

As a data analyst, I love data and all the associated charts and graphs you can produce with them. Given this, you might find it unusual that I like to manually record the number of work sessions I complete, but I have found that the manual process of recording the work sessions provides greater simplicity and a constant visual reminder of my progress for the week. My weekly “Pomodoro Log” looks like this.

Took me hours to structure this template, so happy to share it if anyone is interested : )   It is not a huge task to record these sessions as I do them. My sessions are all 30 min per my hourglass, and if I complete 10 sessions a day of focused work, I am quite pleased.

The time to make 10 checkmarks does not substantially impact my workday, and given how many online buttons I press during work, the act of making a hand-drawn check to complete a session is actually quite pleasing.

At the end of a week, I go through the painstaking task of counting all those checks. It takes about…..20 seconds….then I add the number to my weekly graph….another 20 seconds.

By doing this manually each week I have a moment to reflect on my productivity for the week. I found that if all this “session recording” was done for me automatically that I just did not pay any attention to it.  Now, I end my week reviewing how productive it was and assess what I need to do next week to raise the bar or at least keep the engine humming.

Always Learning

This was a fun post for me to write, and I truly would love to know if you already do something like this or end up trying this and it works for You. Also, if you have some tips for me, bring them on! Especially interested in great Jazz music for “work from home!”

If you are on the site because you are interested in Innovation and Data Analysis, check out the website where we are slowly adding content, or just drop me a line and rest assured some of my future posts will address “work”.