Casual.PM Blog

Time Management Techniques: salami, pomodoro, swiss cheese

Knowing how to create a to-do list or prioritise tasks still doesn’t guarantee work to be done. A task can still sit there for hours and even days annoying you by popping up here and there causing self-blame and frustration.

If you’ve ever wondered why this is happening, here are main reasons:

  • A. Lack of focus. We all know that Facebook, email, chats notifications don’t stimulate our focus. And, of course, you are waiting for that particular mood or inspiration to come. So you keep postponing.
  • B. Fear of complex tasks. Even if we are familiar with the process, huge tasks naturally scare us away. We tend to avoid it under different reasons hoping that it disappears. All that creates painful desperation and self pity. It requires a beyond-human effort to start the task. So you keep postponing.
  • C. Uncertainty and ambiguity. It’s not only the fear of hard work but also doubt and hesitation, sometimes total ignorance. You simply don’t know where to start, how to approach the issue. So you don’t start.
All of that can be expressed in one word PROCRASTINATION.

I’m a big procrastinator! But nobody notices, because I use these three simple techniques that help me get to that unpleasant or complicated task. And I finish it before I even realise it! Here they are:

1. Pomodoro for focus

Do you remember that kitchen timer in the shape of pomodoro? There’s the whole time management technique named after that little thing. It was introduced by Francesco Cirillo around 30 years ago and since then saving lives of inattentive people.

The idea is that you remove extra noise (mute notifications, wear headphones, block your calendar) and set up a timer for 25 minutes to do a particular task. 25 minutes is enough to stay focussed and productive without burning out. You also don’t need to wait for inspiration - the urge of doing it within the time assigned activates your brain.

Regular practice of pomodoro technique helps overcome writers block, develop “creativity on demand”, fight procrastination.

There are multiple apps for every OS to have your very own pomodoro timer at hand whenever you need it.

2. Slice complex tasks like salami

To overcome the fear of complex tasks use so called salami technique. Imagine thin, juicy slices of salami. They are easy to pierce with a fork and eat one by one. Much better than trying to bite the whole stick.

That’s exactly what you do with your complex task. You “slice” it into smaller activities. They are not scary; they are easy to accomplish in some 20-30 minutes (that’s where you can use a pomodoro ;) ).

There are few slicing rules:
- Make sure small activities have logical straight-forward results. Don’t break activities halfway.
- Try to schedule activities taking into account their interdependencies. Previous results will put a good beginning for future mini-tasks.
- Follow the sequence. Do the activities the way they are scheduled if you have everything necessary for it. Try not to skip any or jump to easier/your favourite tasks.

3. Make holes in the cheese

Another simple technique for complex work was brought to us by Alan Lakein in his book “How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life”. It is called Swiss Cheese Method. It is simple but genius.

With this method you can start a complex or unpleasant task in less than 5 minutes even if you don’t know how to approach the issue. Find something within the range of the task that you can do in 5 minutes, you are familiar with it, and it is less unpleasant than the other activities. Do it. It’s gonna be the first hole in your cheese.

That was easy isn’t it? The cool thing is that as soon as you do it, you spot another mini-task like that and then another one. Couple of mini-tasks accomplished drag in the third one. And the fourth one is already half way through. That’s how you make a swiss cheese with multiple holes from your task.

This technique is perfect when there are grey areas in the task. First, cover what is clear for you. Results will shed some light on those unclear parts and finally make them easy to do as well.

Do today something you’ve been postponing using one of those techniques! You can mix them up together for even better results.

More accomplished tasks every day,

About the author: Olga Drobysheva is a blogging Project Manager with 8 years tech projects experience in startups and corporations in Asia and Europe, working with fresh grads and dinosaurs, country-top-CEO’s and basic workers, creatives and conservatives. Team builder and leader. Certified Professional Scrum Master.