Productivity for Creativity – Advice #3 Timebox with Pomodoro

Why this may be helpful for you

This is about why you need boring productivity techniques when you want to be spontaneous creative. Here, I want to give solid advice about what techniques you might try, because they are working for me. This is part of a series of articles which will run as long as I still have something to offer. I hope you give this train of though a try and it would be awesome to hear/read from you about this. If you’re in the mood for a bit more introduction, check the first article of the series. This third article is about getting inevitable stuff done and about how to avoid spending too much time on the wrong things.

Tip #3: Use Pomodoro to Timebox Tasks

Sometimes I use the Pomodoro technique to timebox tasks. To be more precise, I use only a small part of Pomodoro. The full technique has a lot more to offer but for my recreational music making I decided to tread lightly and just use this tip of the iceberg:

  1. Decide on a task you want to work on in a focused and intensive way
  2. Wind up a timer to 25 minutes (called “1 pomodoro”)
  3. Work on that task
  4. If interrupted by someone, inform what you’re doing, promise to call back, make a note and carry on (called an “external interruption”) –> Stay on task!
  5. If interrupted by yourself (called an “internal interruption”, like stand up and get something to eat or drink or to look up something on the Internet this minute etc.) make a note and carry on –> Stay on task!
  6. When the timer rings, stand up at once and take a break (3-5 Minutes). Ideally do something completely different. No “just another minute to finish that”, but take that break at once.
  7. Not finished with that task and another 30 minutes available? Start the next pomodoro

Sounds more like hard work and nothing like creativity? More appropriate for day jobs and not for recreational/fun stuff, right? You’re right. Therefore I use that for two types of tasks:

  1. Boring stuff which has to be done
    Like cleaning up the library or those download directory with 30 Gigs of downloaded free plugin. Maybe learn something boring which may be useful in the future like practicing scales or learning Ableton Live hot keys.
    Every time you feel the dread of the big elephant you have to eat, Pomodoro may be your tool of choice to manage that slice by slice = one pomodore at a time.
    Often you feel better when you started to work on that pile of work and one Pomodoro may be enough to make you feel good about it. Maybe afterwards you have the energy to go on and make the next one. Either way, it’s cool and helpful.
  2. Fiddle-to-death-Tasks
    You know these tasks: Finding the perfect values for your kick drum compressor, finding the perfect kick drum in the first place, browsing synth presets, checking out new tools, watching tutorials on youtube, surfing the web for free VST plugins or free samples or free Ableton live packs etc.
    Maybe your main task is to make music. Bad news: This is not making music, this is preparing to maybe making music sometime in the future. So, it may be a good advice to limit your time doing it. It may be that you’re totally happy with finding the perfect preset when you come out of your studio after 8 hours. If that is the case, I’m all for it and please keep at it. But, if you look at the time and think “I wanted to make progress with that song and all I did was fiddling with my tools” than Pomodoro may help you. Give yourself a number of pomodoros up front and a task (“1 pomodoro to find the best kick drum”) and when the time is over you have the best kick drum and you can move on.

You may use a real (hardware) timer to use this technique, you may use one of the many tools out there to use a software timer, just pick your choice. What I’m trying to do here is to keep those boring / challenging / uncreative task in their own space and in limited time to free up the other time for flow / creativity.

Another point of view is this: Creativity is about energy. Yes, we all want to be highly productive and full of ideas. We have times when we are just that and we have times when we don’t. For those times, you may say “I’m tired, but I can do one pomodoro to clean up my library”. You have a clear mission, you have a clear timeframe. In the end, this will feel like success, like a small step on your way to creating something. Small maybe, but a useful step nevertheless, mission accomplished.

Well, I could overanalyse this topic all day, but I will stop here and hope that you will check it out. It would be awesome to hear from you about your experience with time boxing in general or Pomodoro in particular.



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