My frustration with lack of focus can be intense. This week I stumbled upon what may well be the kryptonite to my ADD. Check it out.
In my experience as an artist and writer, I've come to understand that creativity can be a fickle companion. There are days when I can breeze through an article or painting in an hour, and then there are moments when crafting a single sentence or laying down a contour outline can take just as long. To combat the unpredictability of creative flow and lack of focus, I've adopted a new approach to productivity: the Flowtime Technique, also known as Flowmodoro. This method encourages working during peak creative periods and taking breaks when needed, rather than staring blankly at my canvas when I am spent. It also helped me to prevent multi-tasking which can negatively impact my productivity. In fact, research by Fast Company has shown that if you shift focus for only a few seconds, it takes up to 23 min to get back into the zone. Ugh. Diving down rabbit holes is one of my favorite past times. Here is the concept, execution, and what I have found to be the best tools for implementing Flowmodoro.
A momentary trip down a rabbit hole can take up to 23 minutes to get back on task
First, we need to understand the Pomodoro Technique, as Flowtime is a variation of it. The Pomodoro Technique involves selecting a single task, setting a timer for 25 minutes, and working until the timer rings. Following this, a five-minute break is taken. This cycle is repeated three more times, after which a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes is taken. This constitutes one full Pomodoro cycle. I found this to work for me sometimes depending on what I am doing. It is excellent for tasks that are less appealing or require minimal thought but it didn't serve me well for many studio tasks, it tended to disrupt the flow state. For warm-up and some exploration it was great. For actually being productive I found it too short for me even with severe ADD. Next.
The Flowtime Technique, conceptualized by Zoë Read-Bivens, addresses this issue. It still involves dividing your day into work periods but allows for immersion in a task until a natural break point. Here’s how it works:
Choose a task and note the start time. Work until you feel tired or distracted, then record the end time and take a break. The duration of the break varies:
- For 25 minutes or less of work, take a five-minute break.
- For 25–50 minutes of work, take an eight-minute break.
- For 50–90 minutes of work, take a 10-minute break.
- For over 90 minutes of work, take a 15-minute break.
These are guidelines; longer breaks are fine if needed. As Read-Bivens says, "Refreshed work is far superior to fatigued work."
Sometimes I tend to get lost in deep work, but I found that focusing on smaller tasks can help me manage break frequency and understand my limits before fatigue sets in. If I am in the studio, I found that in most cases the last few weeks, that 50 minutes was just about right. With tasks that I may not enjoy or have a difficult time getting into, the 25-minute time frame was best. And finally, with writing, I often found that I could go 90 minutes. It did vary for me so I am developing more awareness about how effective I am and can sense when that begins to dwindle. On another note, I found that the timer on my phone worked best because I don't like a jarring ringer or loud tone to signify times up. I can change the "notification" on the phone timer. A chicken, egg, or tomato timer might work best for you. Experiment for a week to find your grove.
Using time as a gage to combat mental fatigue and sharpen focus has been a game changer in my studio practice.
Using a loose Flowtime Technique seems to work for me better for these reasons:
- Improved Scheduling: By recording start and end times, I can gauge how long different tasks take, aiding in future planning.
- Minimized Interruptions: Tracking distractions has helped to identify and reduce them.
- Understanding My Chronotype: Your data can reveal your most focused times or productive environments. I have known it for decades but tracking this even for a week showed that I am most productive and efficient from 4am to 7am. I guard that time ferociously.
- Personalized Time Management: If Pomodoro suits you better, use your Flowtime data to adjust Pomodoro intervals for a tailored approach. A combination of them seems to work best for me.
I like using spreadsheets or pen and paper for time tracking, I find time-tracking apps like Toggl Track to be more of a distraction than helpful. If I track it with scrap paper and whatever marking utensil is at my fingertips when in the studio, I just transfer it to the spreadsheet after my morning pages the next day while I am planning. If you are full blown digital and spend most of your time on your computer or online you may like a tracking app better.
Seek out and capture your own productivity strategy. Find out what works best for you, whether it's Pomodoro, Flowtime, or a hybrid of both. The key is to stay focused, prioritize effectively, and maintain creative productivity, even on less motivated days. I want to clarify. Sometimes the words productivity and efficiency make me cringe just a touch. It almost sounds corporate and gives me a bit of a tinge in my tummy remembering the prison that my days in corporate were for me. Productivity in my studio practice would still include plenty of play, experimentation, and research. As we have talked about before, making a mess or making something ugly counts. In fact, sometimes that is the goal. The trick is to work in your studio practice EVERY DAY and incorporate that into your own personal best creative life without being dogmatic about the process. Find your creative rhythm and keep rolling.
Have an amazing week!
P.S. If you are a book geek, here is a link to a great book on flow. It is an affiliate link at Amazon.Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. His book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience