Tiny Habits + Pomodoro: The Ultimate Productivity System

Tiny Habits + Pomodoro: The Ultimate Productivity System

Our society is separating into two camps:

  1. People who can focus (are masters of technology)
  2. People who can’t (are slaves to technology)

You have 80,000 hours of your career. Are you going to spend 10,000 of those hours flicking through social media posts? 

If you’re like the average smartphone user then yup, you will. The average smart phone user spends 3 hours per day on their phone. That’s 21 hours a week 1,092 hours a year…

The call to action

In a society of constant distraction, how can you focus on the most important task every minute of every day?

You need a system.

I’m always experimenting with different ways to focus on what matters most, every minute of every day. Until now, I didn’t have a reliable system.

The Pomodoro Technique

A while back, I discovered the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a simple yet powerful productivity method.

Each time you start a task, set a 25-minute timer. Focus on the task for 25-minutes. When then the alarm rings, take a five-minute break.

This technique leverages the two modes of thinking called: “focused” and “diffuse”. Your brain needs to balance the two modes of thinking to solve problems. The diffuse mode is where the subconscious makes connections and discovers insights.

Most of us run around in a state of perpetual distraction. We never let our minds rest. We never enjoy the “diffuse” mode of thinking and its benefits.

The Pomodoro Technique helps us focus on a specific task then let our mind rest for a set amount of time.

The challenges of implementing Pomodoro

I’ve been trying to use this technique every single time I work on a task but I kept running into a handful of obstacles:

  1. How do I remember to set a 25-minute timer each time I work on a task?
  2. How do I ensure that I stay on task while I’m working?
  3. How do I force myself to take a break and stop working when the alarm goes off?
  4. How do I make sure that I only take a five minute break, not a much longer one?

I’ve tried a bunch of different ways to overcome these obstacles. Nothing seemed to work.

During my Tiny Habits course with Mike Coulter this week, I finally discovered a breakthrough.

Mike introduced me to Datexx “blocks of time”:

Tiny Habits

Tiny Habits is a method developed by Dr. BJ Fogg PhD at Stanford University. It is a research-backed method for creating lasting behavior change. 

Tiny Habits rests on the intersection of three key insights from BJ’s research:

  1. The easier a behavior is to do, the more likely we are to do it
  2. Behavior only happens when prompted.
  3. The best source of prompts are behaviors we already do in established routines.

The Tiny Habits + Pomodoro System

The Tiny Habits + Pomodoro System is an eight step behavior sequence, as shown below:

  1. After I open my computer, I will say out loud, “My intention is to ___________” (the task I am focusing on).
  2. After I state my intention, I will set a 25-minute timer with a block of time.
  3. After I hear the confirmation beep of the timer, I will focus on my task for 25-minutes.
  4. After I hear the alarm of the timer go off, I will close my computer immediately (I will NOT finish my thought / sentence).
  5. After I close my computer, I will stand up and celebrate. (I throw my arms in the air in victory, say “YES!”, close my eyes and breathe).
  6. After I celebrate, I will set a 5-minute timer with my block of time.
  7. After I hear the confirmation beep of the timer, I will not focus on anything, letting my mind relax and wander.
  8. After I hear the alarm of the timer go off, I will celebrate. (Then the cycle begins again).

Notice how all the behaviors in the sequence follow a specific structure:

After I [existing behavior], I will [new behavior].

This is important! It makes troubleshooting your behavior sequence much easier. When a new behavior isn’t happening, you can figure out why. Go back to your prompt (the existing behavior). Ensure the prompt is happening. Then make sure your new behavior is as easy to do as possible.

A powerful vehicle, over time

This system will allow you to invest time in what matters most, every single day. Write a book. Launch a business. Learn a skill. Pick up an instrument.

Step I: Make it automatic

It may take a while for the system to become automatic. Once it’s automatic, you can extend and change as you like.

First, make sure you can do the system each time you work on a task, you complete the entire loop of the system. Do this each time you work for at least three days.

Step II: Extend + improve

Then, try adding tasks that don’t need mental energy into your five-minute break. They can be:

  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • etc.

Make sure you choose pick behaviors in your breaks that need little to no mental effort. If you have to focus too much, you’ll tire out your brain and the whole system will break down.

Go deeper

Want to go deeper? Check out the following resources:

Let me know!

If you’re experimenting with changing your own behavior for good, let me know how it goes! I’d be curious to learn from your experiences. Send me a note: john@john-ellison.com

Happy iterating!

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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