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I think I’ve found the ultimate productivity tool: LEGOs. Don’t leave! Let me explain.

At the beginning of the day, it’s easy to look at your to-do list and feel overwhelmed. Every item on that list represents something you need to do, and you’re not sure you can get through it all.

But you have a resource for dealing with your tasks: time. And a to-do list does a really crappy job of representing that. Sure, you have a clock. And a calendar. But neither of those give you a tangible sense of how much time you’ve got for accomplishing things – how much time you have left today.

You know what does? LEGOs.

The Pomolego Technique

lego-pomodoro-stacks

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For a few months, I’ve felt like LEGOs are essential to doing my job. I might be insane – my roommate certainly thought so. But it works for me.

Why LEGOs? Because I have a box of them. Because they’re perfect for the absent-minded fidgeting I do while writing.

And because they stack.

We’ve written endlessly about The Pomodoro Technique, pointing out various pomodoro timers Cut Through Procrastination With These Pomodoro Technique Apps & Software Cut Through Procrastination With These Pomodoro Technique Apps & Software Procrastination is a malady that pervades students and workers in all corners of the world and it infects amateurs and professionals alike. As a writer, I suffer from procrastination on a daily basis. Some people... Read More . Among my favorites is Tomato.es, a web-based timer that records your progress Pomodoro Web App Tomato.es Is Time Management Made Simple Pomodoro Web App Tomato.es Is Time Management Made Simple Can't focus? Get to work, now. Tomato.es is a free Pomodoro timer you can use directly in your browser – and it's possibly the best such app I've ever used. The Pomodoro technique is simple:... Read More .

But which timer you use doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you work for uninterrupted 25-minute time periods, followed by five minute breaks. After four such sessions, you can take a longer break – typically, 15 minutes. The idea is to keep you distractions isolated to the breaks, and to focus only on particular tasks during your work sessions.

What’s this have to do with LEGO? Everything. I have, on my desk, five stacks of four standard bricks. I also have a little car.

lego-pomodoro-train

Every stack of four represents two hours – every individual brick represents 25 minutes of uninterrupted work. At the beginning of each day, I look at my calendar and work out how many uninterrupted sessions I have time for. Based on this, I set an appropriate number of bricks aside – then work out how many of my tasks I can accomplish using them.

lego-pomodoro-stacked

With that done I get to work, 25 minutes at a time. When I complete a session, I add one of my bricks to the car – in whatever shape I feel like.

That’s the system. What does this do for me?

  • Acts as a counterpoint to my to-do list. Sure, I have a lot I need to get done, but the bricks are a tangible reminder that I have time – a fact I find easy to forget.
  • Makes my time tangible. There’s something about looking at, picking up, and interacting with bricks that can make something abstract – time – feel concrete. My chimp brain thinks “eight hours” means I can fool around for the next three, then work for five. The bricks make time seem more like a commodity I need to ration appropriately.
  • Puts my time spent into context. It’s easy, when not every task is accomplished, to feel like you’ve wasted a day. Seeing a car full of bricks reminds me of the effort I spent – the time I was completely focused. If all that wasn’t enough, maybe I’m trying to do too much – and need to re-think my planning.
  • Gives me something to fidget with. It’s more important than you might think, at least for me.

There are variations of the above system you could create, of course.

Use Your Time Wisely

I’m not saying everyone should immediately go out and buy LEGOs if they want to be productive. I’m only saying this is the system that’s ultimately helped me get more out of the time I have.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by what you need to get done, remember: you have time. A good chunk of the web is designed to take as much of that time away from you as possible, which is why it might be helpful to block time wasting websites How to Really Block Time-Wasting Websites How to Really Block Time-Wasting Websites Finding yourself unproductive because of distracting sites? Block them. No, seriously: block them. If you've got work to get done, and you can't focus because the Internet is too fascinating, make it impossible for your... Read More . More than that, though, you need to decide that you want to use your time to accomplish things – then work out a system for doing that. You’ll enjoy your down time more if you do.

What unlikely tools do you use to keep focused? Let me know in the comments below.

  1. laura
    April 15, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    I have a 13 year old that this would really help. This is just his style. He struggles with time management and as a homeschool mom we have tried everything up till now. Thanks for the great idea

  2. Katie
    March 25, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    I've been trying this technique for the past few weeks, love it! :)

    Here are my modifications, into a "Zen Garden" version - https://critter.co/blog/2014/03/zen-time-lego-garden/

    Thanks for a fantastic idea! :)

    Katie

    • Justin P
      March 26, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      This is a fantastic variation, and I loved seeing your photos. I might need to switch to garden mode myself...

  3. Aibek E
    March 5, 2014 at 11:37 am

    awesome suggestion! will give it a try and let you know)
    p.s. loved the video

  4. Deshawn Wilkins
    March 4, 2014 at 12:50 am

    Unbelievable stuff. I am really stacking Lego in front of my desktop. My colleagues think I am totally lost. But who cares- it works pretty well so far.

    Hey thanks for sharing.

    • Justin P
      March 4, 2014 at 2:42 pm

      Not all who Lego are lost.

    • Nicole H
      April 16, 2014 at 7:34 am

      Janna - I assumed that was the case, and in fairness Hoover has become a common noun in the UK. I just personally really dislike the way it looks and sounds. When brand names become common nouns brand trademarks can be adversely affected so I try to steer clear. I guess the most common global example of this is Google, which has become an adjective. Google finally let that one go a few years ago though.

  5. Nicole H
    March 3, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    LEGO is never plural.

    • Justin P
      March 4, 2014 at 2:44 pm

      This was the main lesson of writing this article: that I am wrong about pluralizing – and so is everyone I ever knew as a child.

    • Nicole H
      March 4, 2014 at 4:16 pm

      I can't help my pedantic ways. It's a compulsion.

    • Justin P
      March 4, 2014 at 8:58 pm

      Don't worry, I think it's interesting. I just sincerely had no idea, and the AP stylebook is lacking in Lego knowledge.

    • Nicole H
      March 5, 2014 at 8:35 am

      Ah see but the pedant strikes back - it's a brand name and should always be written thus: LEGO. This one always stirs debate!

    • Janna Venard Pyle
      April 16, 2014 at 5:32 am

      The truth is that in America we have made the brand name into a household name for such items and then dropped the word "bricks" and just pluralized the new noun. There is a word for that but I can't remember it off hand. For example, people don't say "Will you hand me a facial tissue" they say "Will you hand me a kleenex". Kleenex is actually a brand, but we call any brand of facial tissues "kleenex". With legos, the completely appropriate plural term would be "Lego bricks" so instead of saying "Go play with your legos" we should be saying "Go play with your Lego bricks" because the term "Lego" only denotes a particular company, NOT the product they sell. We have associated the company name with the product and made it a new noun. So, my son and hubby and I will still play with our legos (Lego brand bricks and the Megablock bricks that work with them too) and have many hours of fun with said legos.

  6. Ron
    March 1, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    I've been using Sticky STARS on a calendar to help visualize "Tomatoes Accomplished" but I really like the idea of including touch and the satisfaction of clicking two lego bricks together – and with 2 boys under 6, there are lots of Legos hanging around my home office!
    If anyone is looking for a great timer for their Mac OS, "Tadam" is a favourite (http://tadamapp.com)! Simple, visually appealing, works best with the Pomodoro Technique.
    Happy PomoLego-ing everyone!

  7. Angela A
    March 1, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    This is one of those great ideas you just won't be able to use when you've got kids (who will run off with your car). Cute idea though. :)

    • Justin P
      March 1, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      NO! THOSE ARE DADDY'S LEGOS! NO!

      (yeah, you're probably right)

  8. crafter.org.pl
    March 1, 2014 at 4:49 am

    Wow! This is great! Where are my LEGO(s) ;) Thank you for this lifehack Justin.

  9. Lana
    March 1, 2014 at 1:04 am

    Here's a thought to ponder... Psychology and Pedagogy will argue against the Pomodoro 25-minute increment. The reason 25 minutes is selected is because, +5, it equals a fabricated half-hour. Howevever, studies show that 20 minutes is the waning just past the peak of of learning or performance. But wouldn't it make sense to push five more minutes to the 25 minute mark? Not necessarily, say some psychologists; we are more able to re-enter work that we were excited about rather than pushed to finish? Teachers will tell you the 20 minute mark, for whatever reason, works.

    • Justin P
      March 1, 2014 at 1:27 am

      25 minutes keeps working for me, but it certainly can be flexible.

    • Kelsey T
      March 1, 2014 at 1:46 am

      Lana, as one who has had many, many public speaking opportunities, I can attest that 20 minutes is the magic number when you're trying to hold someone's attention. It's the point beyond which in a lecture where an amazing amount of fidgeting begins. 8)

    • Kelsey T
      March 1, 2014 at 1:49 am

      And that grammar structure proves that though I can speak, my writing is shaky. 3)

  10. Guillermo Ruiz
    February 28, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    I'm gonna try out, i have a bunch of legos fooling arround my room.

  11. steve
    February 28, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Lego used to sell planning boards with tiny bricks maybe 25 years ago

  12. Tim
    February 28, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Errr, Greatest.Productivity.Idea.Ever. Now I have that excuse to go buy Lego. Thank you!

  13. Saikat B
    February 28, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Just an idea here, but you can also equate the color of the LEGO brick with the task. For instance: if I am trying to write a 1000 word article within a few Pomodoros, I can keep track of my performance by using the bricks as color codes. Works? Don't know, will try out :)

    Nice post, Justin.

    • Justin P
      February 28, 2014 at 3:54 pm

      I do this sometimes too! I'll write tasks on my white board in the colour corresponding to the bricks. Sometimes.

  14. Kathleen
    February 28, 2014 at 8:03 am

    Fun idea! And I still have my sons old Legos to play with .

  15. Dave
    February 28, 2014 at 7:08 am

    The plural of Lego is Lego. There is no added s. Just like sheep.

    • Anonymous
      February 28, 2014 at 3:44 pm

      Pedantic much?

    • Justin P
      February 28, 2014 at 7:26 pm

      I took it as a polite suggestion.

      I'm North American, and have always said LEGOs. This morning the MakeUseOf staff chatroom was people from all around the world telling me I'm wrong. I found it fascinating, I'd never heard that before. Language is awesome.

    • Dave P
      February 28, 2014 at 7:38 pm

      Us Daves know all about LEGO, it would seem.

    • Tom W
      March 1, 2014 at 11:09 am

      I had never heard anyone use "LEGOs" until recently. I just thought it was a deliberate geek subculture thing.

  16. Oswaldo Bellido
    February 28, 2014 at 4:50 am

    Looks nice, interesting, and it turns out I do have (well, my daughter has) a set of Legos. And I really need to make good use of my time. Thanks for the advice!

  17. Susan Lasky
    February 28, 2014 at 4:33 am

    As an ADHD, Productivity and Organization Coach I am always looking for ways to make time management more tangible - to turn the abstract concept of time into do-able blocks - and here you have a system using real blocks. How terrific! It allows you to see how much you actually accomplish (pile on the car). I can even see using different colored legos to represent either types of projects or level of efficiency/productivity. And as someone who struggles with this myself, I actually think I might try the PomoLego technique - thanks, Justin!

  18. Proc Rastinator
    February 28, 2014 at 4:14 am

    This strikes me as worth trying out -- I'm one of those people who really benefits from data visualizations.

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