And Why the Pomodoro Method Sucks
I’m always eager to find the latest hacks for managing my symptoms of ADHD; after all, it’s not news that medication helps, but only to a point.
To add to the joys: the medication that works best for me doesn’t have a generic yet, and my insurance decided to stop covering it, so I’m back to a far-less-effective one I can actually pay for.
Ergo, I need any life hacks for my executive function I can find.
My journey with Fitbit didn’t start with ADHD or hacks or anything else like that, unless you count regular exercise as hack because sure, exercise does help.
ADHD isn’t why I got my first tracker, and if you’d told me a year ago that my new one would be one of my best friends for productivity I would have laughed.
But Dang, It Is!
I’d long been a fan of the Fitbit One, largely because I didn’t have to remember to put it on (remember the whole executive function thing?), and because I could wear it discreetly, usually clipped to my bra. It synced with the app, so without looking at it, I could see my stats.
When it died after about seven years of faithful service, I was dismayed to learn that I couldn’t replace it with the same model. The One was no longer being made at all.
Worse, no current model exists that can be clipped out of the way and out of sight.
The one option for that was taking the Inspire off the wristband and putting into a clip, but the result was bulky at best.
I felt sure I’d still want the clip, so I got the Inspire HR, which also tracks your heart rate, on the off chance I’d ever wear it on my wrist. I highly doubted that; as a writer who spends a lot of time at the keyboard, I often have to take off bracelets because they get in the way. Why would I wear a tracker all the time? No way.
Oh, but now I laugh at myself.
I found myself wearing the tracker on my wrist after all — and not noticing the weight or bulk. It didn’t get in the way of typing. I liked knowing my heart rate throughout the day and how that led to more accurate calorie counts. Plus, I and like being able to my stats quickly, without my phone.
Also, it’s nice to, you know, check the time without my phone. (Remember wristwatches?)
But then I discovered a new feature that changed my days and my productivity.
If something can help me be productive during a pandemic, when my brain is likely to go offline at the slightest provocation, sign me up!
Fellow ADHD-ers know that hyper-focusing is practically a super power for us. While we can’t always turn it on, man, it’s powerful! We can slip into such deep focus that the world and time melts away. We work and work at the thing we’re (finally!) focused on, and come up for air, only to discover that three hours have passed.
With age, my hyper-focusing ability has gotten weaker, which means managing projects and getting stuff done is much harder.
I turned to classic hacks like the Pomodoro Technique.
Simply put, the Pomodoro Technique is using a timer to work for 25 minutes, then taking a break for 5, then going back to work for another 25, wash, rinse, repeat. Some people use slightly different sized chunks of time, but 25/5 is the most common I’ve seen.
People swear by Pomodoro, so I gave it a shot; I really did. But it totally did not work for me.
The timer always rang at just the wrong moment. I’d faithfully take a break, only to be entirely unable to focus on my work when I returned to it. Or I’d forget to get back to work, and the five minutes turned into twenty-five.
Pomodoro Just Didn’t Work for Me. Here’s why.
For me — and, I’m guessing many ADHD-ers — this method doesn’t give the dopamine hit my brain need to keep going. Hyper-focusing can be a steady stream of dopamine.
So can small but measurable progress, like a list of steps that are part of a larger task, but then you get to mark off the smaller items as you go. Each check mark is a hit of dopamine that keeps the brain going. For me, that can be drafting a scene of a novel. I can’t write a novel in a day, but I can draft the next scene today.
I needed dopamine hits that Pomodoro wasn’t giving me, and I needed longer periods to get my work done without breaks.
Enter Fitbit’s Steps per Hour.
Fitbit encourages users of newer models to take at least 250 steps per hour, for nine consecutive hours, each day. I think it’s based on science, but even if it’s not, I don’t care.
As with every other metric (including water now, yay!), steps per hour has a graphic that shows the progress you’ve made today. Every time you walk those 250 steps for another hour and sync the tracker, you get a new little line toward a full circle:
While in the app, if you click the steps-per-hour tile, you’ll see a chart with your steps per hour for the last seven days.
Every hour is a white dot. When you get in the required steps, the dot turns red. Miss an hour? That hour’s dot will be gray forever, alas. Past days’ dots are all bright red, while today’s are white.
If you haven’t gotten in the steps for the current hour, the correct dot pulses.
If you have a day where you get all nine dots, you get a special line and graphics that cheer your accomplishment.
Can you see where this is going?
Seeing the dot turn white creates a huge dopamine hit. Sure, it’s a small accomplishment, but still: it’s a real, measurable accomplishment, and that’s all that matters here.
Better yet, it’s an accomplishment that adds to itself hour by hour. That can be a serious motivator.
Easy Dopamine Hits
You can take 250 steps in three or four minutes. If you time it right and do your steps near the end of an hour, say,beginning at 2:53, you can get in your steps for two hours (the 2:00 hour and the 3:00 hour) with a ten- or fifteen-minute walk, doing a circuit from the kitchen to your bed and around again.
While I’m getting in my steps, I’ll read a few pages from a novel or think about the scene I’m writing next, or chat with my family. Then, when I have the steps I need, I’m ready to get back to work.
This works because I get a quick dopamine hit because I just accomplished something, so my brain decides it can keep working to accomplish something else (my actual work).
Plus, I’ve had the brain break the original Pomodoro Technique is built on, and I’ve had a bit of physical exercise,which helps brain function.
Gamifying = Dopamine
Turn anything into a game, and an ADHD-er is far more likely to follow through.
It’s how I wrote a novel faster than I’d ever managed when on deadline, by having a chart where I challenged myself to hit a certain word count each day and rewarded myself with a chocolate truffle every time I hit it. The reward of a single bite of chocolate proved that my inner writer is easily bribed, but heck, whatever works.
Honestly, it’s a little scary how well shooting for nine straight hours of 250 steps has worked for me. I don’t get 9 hours straight every day (as you can see from the picture). If I miss just one hour (which happened twice this week), it drives me crazy. Sometimes I know I’ll miss one or two of the last hours simply because of schedules, so I try to keep my week average 8 hours per day. (Fitbit calculates your week’s average for you.)
Using that awesome completed circle as a goal for my day has made the rest of my day doubly or triply productive. Seriously.
Want to Give It a Try?
Below are a few tips from my experience. Your mileage may vary.
Schedule Meetings for the Half Hour
Whether it’s virtual meetings like mine, or ones in person, if a meeting is scheduled on the half hour, you can get in your steps both before and after the meeting. That’s because the 250 steps are counted from the top of one hour to the next. The half-hour meeting is your friend.
Customize the Nine-Hour Block
You get to decide when the block begins. It comes with a default that lines up pretty well with a standard workday. That doesn’t work or me.
Like many ADHD-ers, I’m a total night owl, so I’m up later than most people and, now that I no longer have little kiddies, I sleep in later than most people. I’ve adjusted my hours accordingly so I don’t sleep through the first couple.
Use Phone Alarms
Though my Fitbit buzzes at ten minutes to the hour, reminding me to get up and get my steps, I find myself setting timers to make sure it happens.
The executive dysfunction and time blindness characteristic of ADHD means we’re likely to go, “Oh, right. Steps. I’ll do that now.” Then we reply to a text real quick, glance up, and realize that it’s 3:01 — and we’ve blown the 2:00 hour.
Depending on the day, I set an alarm for about halfway through an hour, and I when it rings, if I don’t get up right away, snooze it until I get my steps in.
I don’t turn the alarm off until I get in my steps, or I’ll slip into the kryptonite of the time-blindness vortex.
If I’m within ten minutes of the top of the hour, and I know I can’t snooze it again and still get my steps for the hour, I purposely grip my phone so I can’t use it (a physical/visual reminder to get up). I don’t look at it again until I’m actually walking around to get my steps.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from my adult-diagnosed ADHD and the accompanying adventures with my diagnosed kids, it’s that not one thing works for every brain.
If Pomodoro works for you, embrace it! If you haven’t tried it, do.
And if you have an exercise tracker, specifically one that rewards you for moving hourly, take advantage of it. Gamify the heck out of it.
You may end up with a far more productive day than you thought possible.
Annette Lyon is a USA Today bestselling author, an 8-time Best of State fiction medalist in Utah, and Whitney Award winner. She’s authored over a dozen books, including the Whitney Award-winning Band of Sisters, a chocolate cookbook, and a grammar guide, and is a regular contributor to the Timeless Romance Anthology series, and has a particular love of historical women’s fiction. Annette is represented by Heather Karpas at ICM Partners. Learn more: https://taplink.cc/annette.lyon