Posts Tagged ‘time management’

Fire Breaks: A Time Management Technique

Written by Dr Steven Goodwin. Posted in Time Management

As I have noted in other posts, I believe that time management, no matter what your profession, is one of the singular keys to success. This realization early in my professional life has driven me to be an ardent student of the subject. I am constantly on the lookout for new tips, shortcuts, and tools for better managing my time and priorities. One of my favorite sources for discovering new time management ideas are other successful people. Among the nuggets of gold I have gleaned in this way is the concept of creating a “fire break” in one’s schedule.

I learned this tip living in the West where wildfires are an annual threat. Until these periodic hellfires became a real threat to my home, I had no idea just how fierce, molten hot, and unpredictable these phenomena could be. Just walking up to the fire line and spraying the fire with water or shoveling sand over it is inadequate for all but mop up operations. So fire crews strategize to get ahead of the inferno to cut off its supply of fuel. Well ahead of the path of the flames, fire fighters use bulldozers and other earth moving equipment to cut a fire break, a wide swath of land without any combustible fuel designed to stop the fire along that designated line.

When a wiser colleague connected this technique to management of one’s schedule, the parallels immediately leapt into my imagination. Previously I had been frantic to try to control those inevitable periods of frenetic activity. This mentor taught me that my work life would have seasons when it is as though my schedule were ablaze with fires to put out, superheated with innumerable demands, and consumed by inordinately high pressure. He taught me not to worry overly much about these conflagrations of activity as though I had lost control my time and priorities. The remedy he offered was the insight of carving out a fire break in my upcoming schedule.

Here is how this technique works: First, recognize that there will be seasons of unusually busy activity levels. Don’t fight this as though you were failing in your management of your schedule. Busy seasons are just what comes with life as a professional. Prepare your family and close friends by forewarning them of this busy season. Tell them how long you expect it to last. Then, take out your calendar and look a week or two beyond that expected season and designate it as your “fire break week.” Plan to be home at six, schedule no travel or evening activities. Block out some extra time in your days for catching up filing, reading, training, or other long neglected tasks. Sleep extra late on Saturday and spend all day Sunday with your family or friends.

Above all – and this is the crucial detail – don’t give in to the pressure to schedule a trip or an evening meeting or a big presentation.

Don’t do it, don’t do it, and let me say it again: DON’T DO IT!!

Here is the payoff: Fire breaks in your schedule are often much more relaxing and rejuvenating than a week’s vacation!

Fire breaks have become a standard part of my management of my life and work. Why not give it a try? Open up your calendar now and schedule one now. You might just find it both a relief to look forward to and more refreshing than a vacation on the beach.


Written by Dr Steven Goodwin. Posted in Time Management

If adulthood has taught me one thing it is just this: the management of my time is critically linked to my success. It is also the central battle I fight every single day.

Since my very first days in college, I have been on a quest to discover the secrets of managing my time most wisely and efficiently. College quickly taught me that I could not possibly work hard enough to get everything done, nor could a simple to do list capture everything I needed and/or wanted to do. I discovered that I was not alone in this. Everyone faced the same challenges of too much to do and too little time to do it all in. In the decades since this perennial challenge became a daily battle I have learned a great many tips and tricks that don’t work for me and many that do.

One of my most recent, and my current favorite, time management tricks is the “pomodoro.” Francesco Cirillo was a university student in Italy in the late 1980s who had the same problem I faced as a college student. His solution was ingenious: he took a kitchen timer he had around his apartment and set it for 25 minutes. He then worked single-mindedly on only one task until the timer went off. Then he stood up, stretched, got a soda from the fridge or whatever else for the next five minutes before returning back for another 25 minute session. Since the kitchen timer he had on hand at the time was shaped like a red tomato he dubbed his newly discovered technique a “pomodoro,” which is Italian for “red tomato.”


As much as I believe that I can multi-task my way through my day, the truth is that our brains were built for focus. The Pomodoro time management technique forces me to concentrate my attention on just one thing. After 25 minutes, I get reminded to stand up, use the restroom or stretch or get a cup of coffee, but only for five minutes before sitting back down to get back in there for another 25 minutes.

Give it a try! Dash to the kitchen and nab the timer (or use a software app downloaded to your computer like I do) and start with two or three Pomodoros in your day. I’ll bet you discover that they were the most productive periods in your work day.