Timed Hacks for Productivity and Performance

As part of our Biohacking Masterclass Series, we will explore a number of different techniques and practices to improve your daily performance. This series will range from obvious subjects like exercise and nutrition to fringe subjects like breathing techniques and sleep hygiene. Consult your physician before implementing any of these topics; we are here to educate. We are not your physician. Note: This post may contain affiliate links to the products we use. 

Whether you are aiming to work out more or make those extra sales calls, the biggest barrier to flawlessly ticking off items from to-do lists often appears to be the friction of simply getting started. 

We’ve all been there: the days when we don’t want to pick up the bar, but we drive to the gym anyway. Once we do one set, we seemingly instantaneously find ourselves with an entire lift completed. The same days when writing up your new report feels like working against gravity, but you get started and find yourself wrapping up far sooner than you thought. 

This “friction” is oftentimes the basis of “analysis paralysis”, where we think and plan and plan and think our way through problems instead of simply acting.

Many learning specialists and habit experts have targeted this “friction” with simple tools and tactics that trick our brains into moving forward. 

James Clear’s Two-Minute Rule 

Habit guru James Clear refers to key inflection points of the day as “decisive moments”. These decisive moments are the ones found between tying your workout shoes or sitting down on the couch to rest, for example. These moments lead Clear into his “Two-Minute Rule”, which states, “When you start a new habit it should take less than two minutes to do.”

By convincing yourself to do just two minutes of any particular task, you eliminate the greatest barrier to performing the entire task in the first place. Reading a book becomes simply reading one page, knocking out that workout becomes only doing one squat, etc, etc. 

When you’re working on a big project or in the middle of your training program, however, you might require more than one or two minutes of on-task time. 

In many of these cases, the abstractness of the task creates paralysis in action. Fortunately, there is another way to combat this persistent friction while keeping your brain fresh and on task for greater amounts of cumulative time. 

Enter, The Pomodoro Technique. 

The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity technique “created” by Francesco Cirillo. The basis of this ‘hack’ is similar to Clear’s in that tasks are broken down into more manageable pieces. 

Instead of 2 minutes, The Pomodoro Technique uses 25 minute timed working periods where you allow yourself to be fully immersed in the work, workout, or recovery session. Each 25 minute period is followed by a 5-ish minute break where you allow your brain to rest and recover. Each 30 minute (25 min. + 5 min.) cycle is called a Pomodoro. Tallying Pomodoros gamifies learning and creates a reframed perspective of productivity and accomplishment instead of the overwhelming analysis of the greater task at hand. 

A focused attack on each item of the to-do list builds a sense of momentum and enables similar habit formation to that seen with Clear’s Two-Minute Rule. 

Create a productivity support system

Between these two productivity techniques, your approach to ‘high-friction’ tasks can be two-fold. If you set a goal to work out but you feel too low on energy, the Two-Minute Rule is highly effective and well-suited to cast votes in favor of the identity you want for yourself: a fit, healthy, and strong person. 

If you feel overwhelmed by the seemingly insurmountable list of tasks you need to complete that day, The Pomodoro Technique is likely more suited to your situation. Group quick, easily completed tasks into one Pomodoro, then reserve your subsequent Pomodoros for uninterrupted task-demolishing action. If you’re interested in higher quality sleep and lower sleep latency, see our article on using a to-do journal before bed

As proof of the efficacy of The Pomodoro Technique, I used two Pomodoros to write and edit this post without interruption. The gamification of task-completion is a real side-effect.