Feeling Unmotivated? Try Interval Working

How a 1980s Technique Can Keep You Productive

Jan 18, 2019
Management

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  Finding it hard to get started on some of those nagging items on your to-do list? Maryland Smith’s Nicole M. Coomber suggests you try “interval working.”

Coomber, an associate clinical professor of management at Maryland Smith, has mastered the technique as a way of staying motivated.

“It’s the same idea that some people use for exercise – a longer period of walking or jogging, followed by a short burst of running,” says the mother of four young boys who also runs Managing Motherhood, a blog and consulting service to help parents juggle their busy lives. And all you need is a timer – the one on your phone will do – to make it work.

Coomber uses the “Pomodoro Technique,” pioneered in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, who used a tomato- (pomodoro in Italian) shaped timer to tackle his to-do list. Here are the basics: Take a look at all the tasks you want to get done today and pick a specific interval at which to set your timer.

Cirillo used 25-minute intervals, broken up by 5-minute rest periods, but stick with an interval that work best for you, Coomber says.

Whatever you decide on, simply set you timer and get to work. When the timer goes off, make a check mark next to the task on your to-do list. That way you can easily see how many “pomodoros” a particular task took and which ones commanded the bulk of your time. Adjust the time intervals as you go forward to better re-allocate your time, Coomber says.

After every work session, take a 5-minute break and after every three work sessions, give yourself a longer break to chat with colleagues, eat, or watch YouTube videos like Coomber does. “That can brighten your mood and make you more motivated to work,” she says.

She also advocates using the interval technique at home to tackle chores or spend focused time with your children.

Start right now, she says. Pick a task you’ve been procrastinating and set your timer.

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About the Expert(s)

Nicole M. Coomber

Nicole Coomber is on the faculty in the Management & Organization area at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.

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