Deep Work vs. Pomodoro: Which one is best for you?
Plus, Carpio 2.0, the ergonomic wrist rest you need.
Welcome to another edition of ProductiveGrowth 🌱, monthly stories about productivity, leadership, motivation, and anything else that allows us to work less and achieve more.
First time reading? Sign up here.
POMODORO AND DEEP WORK CAN GO TOGETHER. HERE’S HOW.
In a world that’s in constant demand of your attention, choosing to focus on work is almost a rebellious act.
Push notifications are fighting for it. There's always a pending email, Instagram DM, or Slack message demanding a response. And even if you've muted all notifications, the Internet always finds new ways to catch your eye.
Especially since the pandemic sent most of us to work from home, giving in to distractions seems to be the norm.
While many love remote work, doing so also means fighting off distractions in your own home. Washing dishes, walking the dog, making lunch, paying attention to your children, parents, roommates, etc.
And if you haven't quit your job by now — like the 4.4 million Americans who did in 2021— then, you might be thinking about improving your productivity levels so you can have more time to enjoy your life.
Because living your life cannot come at the expense of your performance. But also, work shouldn't be the reason why you're not doing the things you actually want to do.
In this issue, I’ll be going through two of the most famous productivity techniques: Deep Work and Pomodoro. Test them out, and use the one that's best for you.
Deep Work 101.
If you’ve read any productivity articles since 2016, you've probably heard about this technique.
Deep work became widely popular after Cal Newport, a best-selling author and professor at Georgetown University, published the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
Newport explains that “Deep work is a state where your mind is free of attention residue and, therefore, is operating at the highest level of intensity that it can.”
Deep work also involves time you set aside to work on tasks that only you can do without any distractions. The type of tasks to do during deep work shouldn't be routine or operational work. Instead, they should be tasks or projects that you can add the most value to — tasks in which your insights are needed and appreciated.
Attention residue, as mentioned above, is a concept Newport introduces early in his book. It is "when part of our attention is focused on another task instead of being fully devoted to the current task that needs to be performed," according to Sophie Leroy, associate professor of management at the University of Washington. This happens a lot when people have back-to-back meetings, for example.
That's why deep work is, above all, a mental state, and like other techniques, achieving deep work requires training. Don’t expect to be fully focused for six hours straight, five days a week on your first try. You’ll need to train your mind and body to get accustomed to your working and resting schedule. Once you can cover the basics, you can start increasing your time blocks.
Cal Newport explains that there are four different ways of getting into deep work mode.
Monastic approach - Shut yourself off completely from the world until you complete your task (à la life in a monastery).
Bimodal approach - Work in blocks of 4-6 hours a day. Once one block is over, swap to shallow work. Then, get back into deep work again.
Rhythmic approach - Work for shorter periods of time, like 90-minute distraction-free chunks.
Journalistic approach - Work on-demand whenever you have a looming deadline, or whenever you have free time.
An important part of deep work is that you can make rituals around it to habituate your mind to get into deep work mode. If you are methodic in the way you make yourself go into high focus mode, your brain will get used to it.
Resting rituals are as important as scheduling and removing distractions. In fact, the only way to achieve longer deep work periods over time is by properly resting. Cal Newport ends his day every day at 5:30 p.m., and before he finishes, he checks his email one last time. He then writes down what he missed that day and what he’ll do the next day. He explains that once he finishes the day’s recap, he shuts down his computer and says to himself out loud, “shutdown complete.”
Some studies that might explain why deep work works:
The average human attention span has decreased by four seconds since 2000. This means that choosing to stay focused is a challenge. Additionally, staying focused can make you smarter. “When you focus on one thing at a time, the brain cements learning through a process known as 'myelination', strengthening the connections between neurons so they can fire faster,” explains the website of Flown, an app that helps users achieve deep work.
Understanding attention residue. According to Flown's website, attention residue reduces productivity by 40%. Therefore, managing to focus solely on a task or project helps you improve your productivity.
Resting and having time to recharge makes you focus better, and not doing it can lead to inattentional blindness. According to researchers at Union College and the University of Illinois, inattentional blindness is “the failure to see visible and otherwise salient events when one is paying attention to something else.”
Rewiring your brain. Once you choose and habituate yourself to focus deeply, you’re rewiring your brain to approach that skill in a more effective way. “Research suggests that this rewiring can only happen when you concentrate on a single task at a time while avoiding distraction (in other words, when you work deeply),” writes Caeleigh MacNeil on Asana's blog.
This technique was invented in the 1980s by developer Francesco Cirillo who named it in reference to the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used to use when he studied.
When Cirillo was just a university student, he struggled to stay focused whenever he had to study. He challenged himself to stay focused for ten minutes. That’s when he found a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, started increasing the minutes of focus, and the Pomodoro (Italian for tomato) Technique was born.
The success of this productivity approach lies in its simplicity. It consists of setting yourself to work for twenty-five minutes without interruptions and then giving yourself a five-minute break. After four Pomodoro sessions, you can take a fifteen to thirty-minute break. All you need is a to-do list, pen, paper, and a timer.
Pomodoro also helps manage mental distractions. By staying on task for twenty-five minutes, you can more easily postpone the urge to make that call you just remembered you had to make or check that email you were expecting. Once you get that kind of mental interruption, Cirillo proposes you add an apostrophe on your tracking list of Pomodoros and add at the task at the bottom of it under a subtitle called “unplanned and urgent.”
Another way to manage the personal interruptions is by committing to the rule: If a Pomodoro begins, it has to ring.
“The time you spend noting down the interruption is perfectly legal within the Pomodoro, since you are not interrupting the task; you are dealing with the interruption. The amount of apostrophes in the sheet will allow you to become aware of your tendency to procrastinate,” writes Francisco Sáez in the blog FacileThings.
Follow these five steps to have a successful Pomodoro session:
Write a to-do list - This sounds like the easiest part, but in fact, this part is crucial since it can set you up for success or failure. Make sure you break big projects (more than four Pomodoros) into smaller tasks that you are able to do in twenty-five minutes. You should also batch smaller tasks that will take less than one Pomodoro. So, if you have to pay your bills, set a doctor’s appointment, or read those articles you’ve constantly been putting off, you can make those little tasks part of one Pomodoro.
Assign your Pomodoros - The next thing you should do is set an estimated number of Pomodoros each task will take and choose the one you’ll do first.
Set your timer - Make sure it rings whenever the session is ready, and pay attention to it. Once it stops, you need to stop and take a break. If you prefer doing it offline, kitchen timers or stopwatches will do the job. But, if you want to use a digital timer, Pomofocus.io is the one.
Keep a visual record - I’d say that the success with this technique lies in three things: the simplicity: we can all focus for 25 minutes; the breaks: knowing that you’ll always take breaks is a great way to manage your focus; and the visual motivation: keeping track of your Pomodoros is great for motivation.
Take breaks - As I mentioned, breaks are also a crucial part of this technique. Use this time to take your eyes out of the screen, go out to your porch and breathe, look at your neighbors, stretch, and get ready to go back to work. Once you’ve had four Pomodoros, take a longer break (15-30 min).
While this technique seems too simple to actually work, people all over the world abide by it.
Some studies that might explain why the Pomodoro Technique works:
Changing connections in the brain. By challenging yourself to finish within a period of time, you’ll probably be competing against that number. And those kinds of challenges “may create new connections between brain cells by changing the balance of available neurotransmitters and changing how connections are made,” explained Dr. Kathryn Papp, a neuropsychologist and instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.
Vigilance decrement. Working on the same tasks for a long period of time makes your focus drift because you get used to the constant stimuli. That’s what scientists call “vigilance decrement.” Professors at the University of Illinois, Atsunori Ariga and Alejandro Lleras explain, “Vigilance decrement occurs because the cognitive control system fails to maintain active the goal of the vigilance task over prolonged periods of time (goal habituation).” The way to reactivate that focus is by changing what you’re doing for a few minutes. That way your brain kind of cleans the cookies and cache so you can see the task with a fresh pair of eyes.
Boredom. Following the previous study, there’s another one that explains why working on a task for too long can make you bored, and therefore, not that productive. "We know when people are bored they're more likely to make performance errors and likely to not be as productive," explained Psychologist John Eastwood, Ph.D., of York University in Toronto.
I could write an immensely large list of studies that explain why focusing for a certain period of time is good for you. But knowing which technique is the best one for you has little to do with theory.
Which technique to choose?
It depends on the type of work you usually do, your context, and whether you have the time and money to rent a cabin in the woods and leave all the distractions behind so you can focus solely on your work – not that you actually need to.
The important thing to remember is that these two techniques, while they may not seem like it, are compatible. You can use Pomodoro as training for deep work. You can start by stretching each session so that instead of focusing for twenty-five uninterrupted minutes, you can do it for thirty, then forty, and so on.
Many people use the four Pomodoro sessions to do deep work, and instead of checking their phones or talking to someone in those five-minute breaks, they reflect on the tasks that they were working on. Once the four Pomodoros are over, they’ll have worked for two distraction-free hours.
Some people say that if you’re a designer, creative, musician, or a leader, deep work is great because you can focus on one thing for longer periods of time. Meanwhile, other more dynamic or operational types of work might fit better into shorter Pomodoro sessions.
In my case, Pomodoro helped me realize that my FOMO was way worse than I thought. Having a timer that showed me how many minutes I had been working before I attempted to grab my phone was both humiliating and eye-opening. I started using the technique to focus on smaller tasks and train myself to focus for timed periods.
I used to find it extremely hard to sit at my desk for more than an hour by choice. Knowing beforehand that I needed to focus on a task alone for that long made me self-conscious. I kept looking at the time. I wanted to get up and go to the bathroom even if I didn’t need to go. I can usually work for a longer period of time uninterrupted (by external factors), but knowing I had to try this out just made me anxious.
After a few weeks, I started including deep work in my working schedule by blocking a one-and-a-half-hour session every other day. Now I’m using a mix of the two techniques depending on my needs. My goal is to keep expanding those time blocks and to do deep work for longer periods of time if needed.
One thing that’s helping me expand those time blocks is to incorporate personal necessities into my ritual. I need to leave my phone in a different room. I need to have water near me. And I need to have noise-canceling headphones with some sort of music. Cal Newport says that you shouldn’t have any external stimuli, but you can also habituate yourself to some things like music.
The important thing here is to get to know yourself. Learn what kind of things fuel you and what gets you to focus deeply for hours. Then, adjust your schedule to make sure you have the right spaces booked for you to perform at your peak.
The truth is, we can all have a life outside of work, and these productivity techniques can help us achieve that.
Thanks for reading,
Edited by: Lauren Maslen.
You Don’t Need To Be Qualified To Start. - We all have big dreams, but to achieve them, we need to learn and take risks and responsibilities — even if we think we’re not ready. While we might all feel like impostors at some point in our lives, that doesn’t mean we’ll always be fakin’ it ‘til we make it. It means we’re on our way to being qualified.
Structured distraction: how to make the most of your breaks at work. - We’ve been told that we need to avoid distractions at all costs. But living in a constant hyper-focused state is impossible. We need breaks to enjoy what we do rather than continuously forcing ourselves to work through demotivation or fatigue. This article by Anne-Laure Le Cunff explains the importance of distractions and gives ideas on how some activities foster microbreaks.
Why You Want to Be a Butterfly, Not a Genius.- This article by Inc. explains the theory Joseph Henrich, a professor of human biology at Harvard, captured in his book “The Secret of Our Success.” He explains how we can learn a lot from butterflies. While many value high IQ in the workplace, he explains, social butterflies often have high emotional intelligence, or EQ. They can achieve more by befriending others and learning from them. Click on the link to read more about why you should butterflies.
Kobe Bryant - The Power of Sleep & Meditation - Kobe Bryant left this world way too early, but luckily, he left us with some great memories and knowledge. In this video from Thrive Global, he shared some tips to unleash the power of sleep and meditation. My favorite was calming your mind and scheduling 30 minutes of extra sleep. Watch them all by clicking on the link.
Using a mouse and keyboard all day long can leave you with wrist pain and might increase your chances of developing carpal tunnel. Carpio 2.0 is an ergonomic wrist rest that will help you feel comfortable both during and after work. Plus, not having to worry about pain helps you improve your productivity. Read the full review here.
Sometimes it’s important to be reminded that our value is not in the work we do or how efficient we are. This is not an excuse to slack off. Instead, it’s an important reminder for our mental health.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Tips from ADHDers that will boost your productivity. Living with ADHD can be frustrating, especially if you haven’t been diagnosed. Adults with ADHD often find it challenging to focus on the important things, which in turn can hurt their productivity. This issue shares some tips to hack your brain into being efficient with or without ADHD.
All companies can implement the four-day workweek. Here’s how.- The four-day workweek has been getting a lot of buzz lately, but some people believe it's only a possibility for software companies and startups. That's not necessarily true. The idea of implementing a reduced work schedule is catching on in almost every industry. Read more about it in the link above.
Four ways to build influence at work, no matter your job title.- Influence doesn’t come from your position alone. It also comes from your reputation and how you come through at work. This article by Fast Company shares four areas where you can improve your influence in your job.
FOOD CURIOSITIES & ADVENTURES
Chicken Tikka Masala: an Indian dish crafted in the UK.
It had been a while since I had Indian food for dinner, and tasting Chicken Tikka Masala again took me to heaven. I started looking for its history online, and it turns out this well-known dish of chicken marinated in spices and yogurt is not 100% Indian.
Some versions of the story share that the dish was created in the UK by Bangladeshi chefs who moved to the country in the 60s and opened Indian restaurants.
Another unverified version of the story shares that the Chicken Tikka Masala was created by a Pakistani chef in a restaurant in Scotland. Ali Ahmed Aslam was the owner of the Shish Mahal restaurant in Glasgow. The UK’s Telegraph once quoted Aslam as saying, "We used to make chicken tikka and one day a customer said 'I'd take some sauce with that, this is a bit dry' so we cooked chicken tikka with the sauce which contains yogurt, cream, spices".
It appears that while CTM may not be 100% Indian, it’s 100% delicious.
What did you think of this issue? 🤔
See you next issue,
SUPPORT, CONTRIBUTE or SPONSOR
If you liked this issue buy us a coffee to support our work.
Ask a question, Write a guest post, share your story, or recommend an article: reply to this email or submit it here
Sponsor a post or social media by getting your media kit: here
If you’re finding this newsletter valuable, consider sharing 📨 it with friends, or subscribing if you haven’t already.