As my readers know, I’m a big fan of working in well-defined blocks using an alarm or timer as per the Pomodoro Technique or it’s variants.

I’m also a big fan of noise-cancelling headphones and minimally-distracting (usually non-vocal) music.

One problem with working in blocks is that if you’re really engaged in the task, or almost done when the timer goes off, it can knock you out of your productive groove.

I personally don’t find this to be much of an issue, as I’ve gotten pretty experienced at defining my tasks so that they do fit in the block. Even when they don’t, I’m used to the alarm that I can just turn it off and keep working for a few minutes with minimal mental disruption.

However, a number of readers have complained about this, so I started playing around with a few ideas and have found one I think works pretty well.

To get the advantage of well-defined workblocks (mostly avoidance of burnout/spinning your wheels when you’re tired and the fact that you’re always pushing towards a mini-finish line) without having to deal with the distraction of an alarm, do soft blocks using a passive timer.

You’re not familiar? I would hope not, because I just made those phrases up.

By soft block, I mean there is a defined work period but it doesn’t have a hard end. If you’re still engaged, you can keep going without interruption.

By passive timer, I mean something that turns off when time is up, rather than on.

A simple example might be something like an hour-glass, however, that has the disadvantage that if you’re tired or a little unengaged, you’ll compulsively check it rather than work. More specifically, you’ll look away from your work to check it.

Far better would be an audio passive timer, like a song or playlist that lasts as long as your work block.

That way, keep working until the music stops. If you become tired or disengaged, all you have to do is note if the music is still playing. If not, and you’re feeling fuzzy, stop working.

On the other hand, as long as you’re really engaged, you probably won’t even notice that the music is off.

That way you can keep going until the task is done, or until you tire out enough to start wondering when you can rest.

It’s the best of both worlds for no extra effort.

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