Use the pomodoro technique to work in small bursts.

Ask yourself: can I work on the dreaded task for ten minutes?

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In addition to breaking daunting tasks up into manageable subtasks, you can break tasks into chunks of time. Instead of saying “I’m going to work on my research memo,” for example, say: “I’m going to work on my research memo for ten minutes.” Then, set a timer and focus on that single task until the timer expires, at which time you can give yourself a break.

This method is called the “pomodoro technique,” and it is the most useful productivity tip I know. No matter how overwhelmed you feel by a task — no matter how tempted you may be to turn away from it and check on your fantasy football team — ask yourself: can I work on the task for ten minutes? You probably can. So set your timer for ten minutes and get to work. Chances are good that when the ten minutes are up, you’ll be in a state of flow and willing to continue working. If not, that’s fine too; take a break, then set another ten-minute timer.

Many workers find that visual timers are particularly helpful for implementing the pomodoro technique. My favorite visual timer is called the “Time Timer,” which also has a useful smartphone and smartwatch app. You set the clock to your desired length for the pomodoro session, then observe it in your peripheral vision as the time ticks down to zero, at which point the timer will beep to signal that it’s time for a break.


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Ryan McCarl (LinkedIn | Twitter | Blog) teaches Advanced Legal Writing at the UCLA School of Law and is a partner at the law firm Rushing McCarl.