How I got 20% more productive

I don't have a super cool SaaS tool I use, and neither do I have any expensive toolsets around my house to keep me on my toes. Here's my story.

I'm young. I don't have much responsibilities outside building my mentorship platform, family and other full-time work.

My biggest problems

  • I'm very, very vulnerable to being distracted. One moment I'm writing an email and the next minute I'm on Tiktok or setting up a Zoom call.. annoying.
  • I get discouraged very easily. When I don't hit big goals, I start feeling demotivated to move forward.

How I'm improving
I use the Pomodoro Technique. I didn't think a weird thing like this would even help me remotely, but it did. Here's how it works for someone who's not aware:

  • You work for 25-mins
  • Then you rest for 5-mins
  • You repeat for x hours a day

I've noticed that my short, 25-min sprints are now more action-packed and I get more done, read more emails, send out LinkedIn voicenotes to strangers who hate my guts, etc.

I'm eager to answer any Qs you may have about this process / my challenges. I'm building a platform for growth-stage companies to seek mentorship from startup mentors, so tweet me if you're feeling lucky. Find me at https://twitter.com/sparrowstartup.


  1. 2

    I dig Pomodoro! Some other things that have worked for me, in case people are interested: Beeminder, meditation, working out (if you hate that, so did I, maybe start here), cold showers (srsly, give them a try, they can help increase your discomfort tolerance), making boring things fun (see Ali Abdaal's videos on this), coworking (maybe over Zoom), Venmo'ing a friend $10 which I get back when I do the annoying task, using Screen Time to limit distracting apps to a few minutes a day (give your Screen Time password to someone else), Habitica, learning how diet relates to focus. And remember: https://hum.school/images/worth.jpg. OK, gonna do a few Pomodori now...

    1. 2

      This deserves its own little article, @feweraxioms. Do you wanna write one up? It'll take 3-4 mins. Also, your last link didn't work.

      1. 2

        Thanks, curiouskitten! I'm psyched about your suggestion, though now I'm also remembering another one of my favorite proverbs: "If I say yes to this, to what am I saying no?" (Marie Kondo). And while I'd love to write a productivity post, I'd probably end up trying to make it pretty good, and then I would be procrastiblogging. Procrastinating by researching and chatting about procrastination is one of my favorite hobbies.

        Fixed the link, cheers for catching that.

        1. 1

          Honestly man, doesn't have to be that long. I only write blogs here when I'm super driven. At those times, I wrote at 2x the speed, with 2x the passion and I'm able to write a 100-200 word post in less than 15 minutes with solid takeaways.

          Small habits ===over time===> big changes.

  2. 2

    The thing I liked about pomodoro was basically having a start button and keeping track of how I spend my time. But the 25 + 5 was disrupting my flow - especially for dev work. A couple of months ago, I added a timer function to an excel spreadsheet and it works sort of like a pomodoro table. Each row is a time bucket for things like planning, eat, dev work, reading, entertainment etc. along with a target cell for how many hours I want to spend in each bucket. Now every morning I just modify targets for the current day and click the timer for each row as I shift tasks throughout the day. If I get distracted, I'll click on my row for my entertainment bucket and just try to not let myself go over my target (usually about an hour). It's incredible how well this has worked for me so far.

    1. 1

      Hey @archetech, Excelodoro more like haha. This is actually pretty cool. For me though, this might actually be more friction-y because I'll be like, "Ugh, I need to do another Spreadsheet.." and probably just.. not.. do it.. haha.

      Happy to hear it's working out for you man!

  3. 2

    I can also highly recommend brain.fm !

    1. 1

      Wow, didn't know about that thanks. What's the pricing like?

      1. 2

        I think it's really reasonable, I pay the $50 annual plan but otherwise it's $7 a month, and I literally use it for hours every day so a no brainer for me really :)

        1. 1

          No "brainer" I see what you did there haha. Thanks again!

  4. 2

    I also use pomodoro but I found that 25 + 5 was too short for me to get into a flow. So I use 50+10 which I find works much better. I actually have a couple of YouTube videos ( like this one ) saved which I put on my second screen as if someone is working alongside me which has strangely really helped!

    1. 1

      Hey @Meri_Earthfound, that's actually pretty smart haha. Kinda too real for me ngl.. it feels like I'm on a video call with him.

      1. 1

        Lol I get that. Sometimes I can't have him on, I feel like I'm being the shitty colleague who isn't doing anything haha

  5. 2

    How do you deal with deep focus work? As a programmer, when dealing with more complex challenges it takes me a good 10-15 minutes to build up the full picture in my head before I become really productive. At that point losing focus is not an issue though since i'm in flow. But just wondering whether you have these flow like moments and if you then also break it up in 25+5 minute intervals

    1. 1

      Hey @Join, nice username. For me, my flow lasts an hour or two at max. After that, my body wants to relax. During those 1-2 hours, I'm able to pomodoro and if I'm in the flow later on as well, I'll use the pomodoro once or twice more before going into a low productivity grind. So it's like:

      2 hours = 4 pomodoros
      Long pause, food, shower
      1 hour = 2 pomodoros
      x hours reduced producitivity

      I want to start targeting my hardest problems first in the day. HOPEFULLY from next week... keep me accountable? Haha

      1. 2

        This is so great to see, loving how differently everyone's brain handles timings and tasks throughout the day. I'm similar to you, I need to get deep brain stuff done first. it sounds super cliche but I've found that just sitting at my desk and saying 'what DON'T I want to do today' immediately identifies the thing I should start with, then it's out of the way and I feel great!

        1. 1

          Yep. "Eat the frog" as they say. I love the titles of your bite-sized blogs. I'm always eager to talk to others on this forum, so if you'd like, feel free to reach out over Twitter! I'm building SparrowTheApp.com

          1. 1

            Thanks! Will do for sure - and so glad you're finding the blogs helpful!

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