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I read a lot of articles about time management techniques and talk to a lot of clients about the best way for them to manage their time and all of these systems have one thing in common- they rely on your guilt or your drive to get things sorted which whilst effective is not always the best system and if it fails can lead you into a guilt cycle where not doing enough makes you feel so bad you’re unable to motivate yourself to do anything- it becomes a vicious cycle.

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a close friend about motivation during depression. Not the motivation to do big projects or large tasks but the motivation to do, well, anything. He suggested a great way of operating during these situations that involved not feeling guilty or perpetuating the cycle of feeling like you’re letting yourself down; but replacing that time with a reward culture- much in the same way we do with children: ‘good’ behaviour is reinforced.

It’s actually an excellent technique for depression and anxiety, it just takes some reprogramming of your brain and the conversations you have internally. It involves mentally congratulating yourself and deeming yourself worthy of reward which isn’t natural in those situations. However, it also made me think about one of my favourite time management techniques- Pomodoro.

The Pomodoro system is perfect for people who get easily distracted from what they are supposed to be doing or people who have a list so long they don’t know where to start. The basic premise is that you break your time into chunks of highly productive time where you work at full tilt without stopping or distractions and follow these with periods of downtime where you do something for you e.g. Checking Facebook or making a phone call.

Essentially these periods of ‘you-time’ are reward based but I don’t think they go far enough because they are short and unfocused. I think altering these periods to include a substantial reward and an internal, mental pat on the back would be a really effective system. I tried it out yesterday- I worked solidly from 9-11 then treated myself to an hour off, I then ate lunch and worked again 1-3, after school pickup I relaxed again and then worked 8-11pm. At the end of the day I took a photo of my list and how many things I had ticked off and congratulated myself on my achievements. Those periods of working time were focussed, productive and really great actually. The rewards helped me retain focus and allowed my brain to shift from one project to another without becoming fatigued.

What I also realised is that it’s important that your rewards really are rewards- eating lunch, school pick up and so on are life necessities, not a joy giving activity so think carefully what rewards and downtime would best motivate you.

I’d suggest you give it a go and see how much more productive you can be when you’re working towards your reward.