The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Working in 25 Minute Stretches

February 11, 2015

Greetings, Ducks!  Thanks to Josh for such a wonderful facelift of the Duck website! I’m looking forward to seeing everyone in New Orleans next week.

This is been a very service-intensive year for me – first year post tenure – and I’m still trying to figure out how to manage my time.  Unlike common “wisdom,” my colleagues and I in academia work an incredible amount of hours.  And, yet, we never actually feel caught up.

In an effort to work smarter, I’ve been looking into different time management techniques and tips.  Most of the tips you can find in the literature or from self-help gurus seem to be things I think a lot of academics are doing anyway: prioritize your day, limit distractions, set a word count goal, beware of perfection-seeking (“the only good dissertation is a done dissertation”).  Unfortunately, these techniques were not good enough for me this semester – I was still feeling like I was drowning, either in (a) mom guilt or (b) work guilt, at all times.

Thanks to my friend and co-author, Susanna Campbell at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding, I’ve recently become aware of the Pomodoro Technique.  I’ve been using this technique this semester and it’s been a life-saver.  Here’s the scoop:

  1. Break up big tasks (ie complete a paper, code 80 organizations) into 25 minute increments (ie write 500 words for the introduction, code 1 organization). Or, give little tasks (ie answer emails, update Blackboard) a 25 minute increment only a couple of times a day.
  2. Set a timer on your computer – Google has a great one – for 25 minutes.
  3. Close everything down on your computer except the task at hand.
  4. Work 25 minutes without any Internet distractions.
  5. Reward yourself with 5 minutes of distraction.
  6. Repeat, taking a longer break after 4 consecutive 25 minute tasks.

I really can’t say enough about this technique!  A lot of the steps I was already doing (religiously plan out your day, close down distractions, etc) but the key for me was the 25 minute increments.  A lot of times, I’d get started on a task I thought I was going to spend an hour on (ie look up the new literature on NGOs, run analyses for ISA paper) and then end up spending a whole day on the task.  Meandering days spent reading or writing can be a great thing but, unfortunately, I just don’t have that luxury anymore.  By making tasks only 25 minutes, I’m able to better manage my time and work smarter.

Anyway, my 25 minutes for this task is up.  Please leave comments on the time management strategies that work for you.  I’m excited to learn about more techniques that work!

website | + posts

Amanda Murdie is Professor & Dean Rusk Scholar of International Relations in the Department of International Affairs in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. She is the author of Help or Harm: The Human Security Effects of International NGOs (Stanford, 2014). Her main research interests include non-state actors, and human rights and human security.

When not blogging, Amanda enjoys hanging out with her two pre-teen daughters (as long as she can keep them away from their cell phones) and her fabulous significant other.