Ask the Readers: ‘Short Bursts’ or ‘In the Zone’ to Get Things Done?

get-things-doneI’m totally a sucker for posts and tips on increasing productivity, conquering procrastination, and being more efficient with time. There are a lot of different opinions out there and plenty of strategies. I’ve heard a couple recurring themes out there, and most people seem to fall into one of two camps.  Here’s the two I hear about most:

#1 – Work in short bursts.

A variation of what I consider short bursts may also be referred to as the “Pomodoro Technique.” The idea here is that people work best when breaking up work into short, manageable periods (Pomodoro calls for 25 minute periods, but I’ve also heard some call for up to 50 minutes at a time). The idea is that you have a goal or task for that period, you set a timer, and then work to get whatever it is accomplished. The timer puts some pressure on you to get the stuff done within that period, rather than simply prolonging the task when you’re not paying such close attention to the time. At the end of each work period, you take a 3-10 minute break before starting to work again (again, the Pomodoro Technique has more specific break suggestions, which you can read about in the guide). Because of this, I would consider this strategy to be more structured, with set goals during fixed amounts of time.

To hear more about this, check out the Foolish Adventure Podcast: Episode 34 – How to REALLY Get Things Done. Tim and Izzy do a good job covering it here and make a good case for why it works.

#2 – Get in the zone.

I would describe “getting in the zone” to be working in periods of an hour or longer at a time (and sometimes much longer). To me, this involves getting much more concentrated on my work, such that I basically lose track of time. I’m extremely focused on the task, and I’m so into what I’m doing that I just keep going and going.

When I think of getting in the zone, I think of this post on The Simple Dollar or this post from Smart Passive Income (see the “After Lunch” section).

Both techniques do have some overlap. Each discourage all forms of distraction (email, phone, internet) while you’re working, and really just getting into the task you’re doing.

What works for me

I think #1 is the most effective for me on a regular basis, although I’ve definitely had success with both. When I don’t have a lot of time, cranking out lots of tasks in short bursts tends to me most effective for me. I find that my “bursts” work best closer to the 50 minute range (like when I’m writing a blog post).  I ofter schedule my tasks in 30 minute blocks on my Google Calendar during the times I need to be productive.

I do find myself relying on strategy #2 when I’m really under the gun to get something big done. This mostly makes me think back to my graduate school days when a marathon session was necessary to get that paper in the next morning.  However, I find it harder to implement #2 when I don’t feel as much urgency and I’m not up against a deadline.

What works best for you?

Do you have a preferred strategy for managing your time? Is there another way other than these two options that you find more effective? I’d love to hear your tips and strategies in the comments below

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photo by: mlpeixoto

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Comments

  1. I’m a zone kind of worker. But, having said that, my zone is filled with segmented tasks that require short bursts. I suppose I roll from burst to burst. I honestly have little time to sit around during the day and always seem to be on the go with a variety of tasks. I’m a sponge for self-improvement literature too.

  2. I prefer to be in the zone!  However life doesn’t often allow for that so I get thrown into the bursty kind of work… which I really don’t like. 

  3. I just really have to be feeling whatever it is I’m working on. In the past when I’ve really felt the urge to write posts, I would sit down and write post after post after post for hours at a time, thinking that only 30 minutes has gone by. Other times, if I know I need to write some more posts but I’m not feeling it, it might take 2 hours to write a post that really isn’t my best work. Just depends.

  4. I don’t really try to breakup  my projects into smaller chunks although i believe that will be helpful.
    I prefer to spend all the time i can on a project when i feel “in the mood” and when i feel lazy i spend at least 90 minutes. It works for me but i plan to test some of the above ideas

  5. I agree that it definielty depends on the type of work that I need to get done and what type of strategy I’ll use to accomplish it.  For most school work I’m able to concentrate for long periods of time , 2-3 hours, but for other types of work I get a bit more antsy and can’t concentrate that long or end up putting things off. For this type of work I set small time periods aside and work towards small goals, and eventually it adds up to getting it done with little breaks in between.

  6. I agree that it definielty depends on the type of work that I need to get done and what type of strategy I’ll use to accomplish it.  For most school work I’m able to concentrate for long periods of time , 2-3 hours, but for other types of work I get a bit more antsy and can’t concentrate that long or end up putting things off. For this type of work I set small time periods aside and work towards small goals, and eventually it adds up to getting it done with little breaks in between.

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