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How I used Bullet Journal and Pomodoro to Combat Procrastination and Attention Deficit

bullet journal procrastination

I have the worst version of what I called ‘Shiny Object Syndrome’. It goes like this.

I have something I absolutely need to do (say an unavoidable deadline for a very important assignment is approaching, OMG). My mind insists that there is this one side-track (totally unrelated) nifty idea I should pursue right now. Usually it’s a new project that has nothing to do with anything else I have done in my entire life, a new course or a new book I decided to pick up. Sometimes this means I’m getting sucked into the rabbit hole of Youtube videos or Reddit. And, yes, consuming these medias seems like a really important ‘learning’ experience at the time. My brain is totally convinced that what I am doing is very hard work. In the back of my mind, the worry about the deadline is looming, introducing a low-grade stress throughout those side-track madness experience. After hours or days spent on the side projects, I absolutely cannot avoid the deadline. So I forced myself hard to suck it up and complete the assignment, and boom, I completed that scary task last minute and saved myself from earth-shattering embarrassment.

When the next deadline looms over, the cycle repeats. And I rarely revisit those side projects I worked on in the past. What?!

So far, this strategy has somewhat worked, in a very forgiving sense of the word. I got decent grades through college and grad school, and people thought I am an overachiever. Little do they know, in my head, I feel like I work 500 times harder than what I actually achieve, and I feel the struggle all the time. I am very suspicious that I have a little ADD, but never got a real diagnosis.

I have taken brain supplements (and it really helps by the way; I just don’t want to do it long-term) and also read some good books, which I will talk about in a bit. These experiments were helpful and probably contribute to why I have gotten to this point. But I think what seals the deal with me and my procrastination is the combination of Pomodoro techniques and our beloved Bullet Journal!

What is Pomodoro Technique?

It’s a truly simple and wonderful idea. Since I cannot explain it better myself, I’d rather quote an excerpt from LifeHacker.

The Pomodoro Technique was invented in the early 90s by developer, entrepeneur, and author Francesco Cirillo. Cirillo named the system “Pomodoro” after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student. The methodology is simple: When faced with any large task or series of tasks, break the work down into short, timed intervals (called “Pomodoros”) that are spaced out by short breaks. This trains your brain to focus for short periods and helps you stay on top of deadlines or constantly-refilling inboxes. With time it can even help improve your attention span and concentration .

It’s a splendid idea! Pomodoro technique became very famous a few years ago and got voted the best productivity method by many polls. It is a unbeatable champion as far as productivity methods go! The process of Pomodoro goes like this.

  1. Pick one single task you want to accomplish.
  2. Set a countdown timer to 25 minutes (though I often used 15 minutes). If you have no concentration (like me a few years back), set it to just 5 minutes for the first few rounds.
  3. Put all of your mental focus into that task during the time.
  4. Take a break (like 5 minutes) and for every 4 pomodoros you complete, take a long break (say, 20 minutes).

You can get a cute physical pomodoro timer for this purpose. Or use your phone as a timer. My favorite app for keeping track of pomodoros is ClearFocus on Android, it has the best minimalist interface and also keep track of statistics. It’s free and just really great!

This is what I call “Single Tasking”. It is known as Pomodoro technique. Set a timer for 15 minutes and during that period, work on one and only one task. Putting all your energy into that task and get into the zone. It’s remarkable how fast that 15-minute flies and how much you get done. Whenever I have a task that I have been putting off and feel a bit scared of starting, I thought to myself “Just start a pomodoro. Only 15 minutes. It could not possibly hurt.” And it works everytime! PS: the best Android app for this is ClearFocus. #planneraddict #bulletjournal #bulletjournaling #bulletjournalcommunity #bulletjournaljunkies #bujo #bujocommunity #bujojunkies #wearebujo #filofaxpersonal #filofax #filofaxing #filofaxlove #filofaxaddict

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In my experience, Pomodoro is quite magic when it is in use. I realized that, for me, focusing on the task is not that hard (at least not for the first hour), but getting started is my true weak link. Pomodoro convinces my ADD brain to pay attention for the first few minutes, until it gains some momentum and my brain takes off to the right direction.

Here Comes our Bullet Journal

I have used Pomodoro on and off for years, but the practice never really stuck. This is simply because, without a constant reminder to use it, I just forgot it exists!

So here’s where the bullet journal comes in. I use Bujo to track pomodoro sessions. With a constant visual reminder in the notebook I use every single day, it is hard to forget how great this technique is! Also, after I finish a good series of Pomodoro sessions, I use color pens to mark my accomplishments.

This act of coloring the squares is quite rewarding! Overtime, the action-reward cycle reinforces my brain to love setting the pomodoro and make it stick! Sometimes when my husband and I feel the post-lunch slumps, we will set up a ‘joint Pomodoro’ for our respective tasks and get things done together. We found that practice is really helpful when lack of motivation hits.

But that’s not all. I think the psychology of procrastination is complicated and you cannot beat it by just tricking your brain to get started once in a while. If you find it hard to tell yourself to start working in the first place, chances are you are going to find it hard to convince yourself to hit the pomodoro start button too.

According to The Now Habit, my all-time favorite book on procrastination, we procrastinate because of several reasons. For example, we feel unfulfilled and frustrated about our lives in general and never really allow ourselves to feel satisfied with our accomplishments. That one clearly resonates with me.

Another one that is definitely the case for me was the lack of clarity in my goals. As an accused overachiever, I actually never really know what my goals are. I just want everything! I want perfect family, great financial status, awesome academic profiles, and plenty of relaxing times. I never really understood that life cannot be perfect and these goals are sometimes conflicted. I will blog in detail about how to discover your passion with bullet journal. But for now, it’ll suffice to say that a lot of these mindsets must be changed to truly ‘fix’ procrastination.

So this is the area where bullet journal has helped me tremendously. I journaled a lot more in my bullet notebook (more than I ever do on Evernote app). When I have a bad day, I ask myself why am I suffering and jot down those thoughts. This gives me a chance to later look into those entries later in a new perspective. I discover great insights from them all the time. I also keep a collection of bullet journal items labeled ‘LESSON’, which contains nuggets of wisdom I revealed as I carefully examine my thoughts. When I feel bad, I go through these lessons to remind myself I can choose to abandon the bad feelings right now.

Here’s an example of my note entry to analyze the route course of my procrastination habits.

I think overall, healthier emotional states naturally lead to recovery from procrastination syndrome. I think all of us are competent and have a capability to achieve great success, we just need to get out of our own way and stop sabotaging ourselves! Bullet journaling helps us become more aware of our thoughts and mentally healthier. This is just one way this planning technique helps me stay productive :).