I like to work in cycles. Short periods of distraction-free work, followed by immediate reflection, followed by break. Usually, it looks something like this: 1 Cycle = 25min Work + 1-2min reflection + 5min break. This is very similar to the standard Pomodoro Technique with the subtle, but all important addition of a short period of reflection immediately following The work. I prefer this workflow because it creates a feedback loop for further refining the process.

As I see it, the effectiveness and quality of my work, are largely associated with my awareness of what I’m actually doing. That probably lends itself to further explanation. What I mean is that when I work, there’s a tendency to get swept away with the torrent of thoughts and feelings that pass through my brain every second. If I’m not actively trying to avoid that current, I get wrapped up and stymied by things that don’t matter. By forcing myself to chunk my work into something that can be accomplished in 25 minutes, I have a much better idea of where I’m at and as a result what needs to happen next. When I end up working on something irrelevant or get sidetracked, I can usually indentify it during the refelction period, and course correct on the following cycle. The break helps with pacing the day, and ensures I don’t run out of steam.

This approach probably seems a bit overboard and tedious. There is a non-trivial amount of additional mental effort that is required to both specify a manageable task, prior to working on it, and reflect on what was done, once the time is up. However, it’s important to remember that without these two actions, the feedback loop disolves. By making the feedback loop explicit we create data about our own work habits, and with that data we can gradually improve our performance and I would argue our happiness while working.

Think about it, when you have qualitative data about how you execute on a given task, you can start to identify things like, repeatable actions that could be automated, time wasting activies and headaches, as well as new areas for inquiry and exploration. It’s a force multiplier.

I only use working with cycles as an example of a deliberate approach to refining one’s workflow, I’m sure there are others I’m more so just advocating the need for explicit feedback loops as a part of one’s workflow. Working is such a big part of our lives I think it’s silly not to try and figure out how we can make it better for ourselves.