The Amygdala

The Amygdala, life’s almond shaped base of irrationality, poor choices, and primitive emotions. Where would we be without it? Well… Probably no where, as in extinct nowhere.

Having an evolved amygdala meant that our species knew how to keep itself safe and healthy, a crucial component of staying alive. “Knew” may be the wrong term, this part of our brain isn’t big on informing us of what to do next, it does it for us. And this is great because the second between being aware of a lion, your brain telling you to run, and you reacting is plenty of time to for you to become human du jour.

So, this bit of brain, opposable thumbs, and a protein diet helped make humans what we are today. Great! So why beat up on the amygdala in the introduction?

Well, it’s been a couple thousand years since our brain received an update. Not the worst of all situations, we’re still the dominant species by a landslide, but it does mean we run into a couple glitches from time to time.

If you’ve ever overreacted to an insult or chosen to do something wrong, fully knowing the consequences, you’re more than welcome to blame your amygdala. It’s the cognitive filter for emotions like fear, sadness, and anger, it triggers aggression, and drives desire. We also know that the amygdala is part the reason intelligent people do really stupid things. 

In stark contrast to the amygdala is our prefrontal cortex (PFC), the portion of the brain involved in logical thought problem solving, and decision making. It’s the most advanced portion of our brain. Unfortunately as the amygdala starts to react the PFC becomes less active, making it difficult to control our responses. 

We can thank the amygdala for bringing plenty of zest into our lives, firing us up at the right moments, and keeping us safe when it truly does count. It’s only in those moments of stress where we need to remember we’re working with outdated software and it’s best to check ourselves, rather than fly off the handle.

 

Further Reading: The Amygdala is Not the Fear Center

The Pomodoro Technique

What is the Pomodoro technique?

A time management technique, based on timeboxing, developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s.  The technique users a timer to breakdown work, normally into twenty-five minute chunks, separated by short breaks.

The six steps of pomodoro

  1. Choose a task to finish.
  2. Set the pomodoro timer (25 minutes to start)
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down (it doesn’t matter where), but immediately get back on task.
  4. After the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper or in one of the many app. (Links below!)
  5. If you have less than four checkmarks, take a short break (about 5 minutes), then go back to step 1. During this time, avoid work as best you can.
  6. If you’ve got more than four marks, take a longer break (20-30) minutes, then either start back over or end for the time being. Absolutely avoid work during this break.

Pivotal Stages

The stages of goal-setting, tracking, recording, revising, and visualizing are the foundations of the pomodoro technique.

In the planning phase, set each task for the day and prioritize them according to need. This sets the stage for tracking, recording, and visualization.

In order to plan properly you’ll need to estimate the number of pomodoro’s, 25 minute increments, you’ll need to complete your task. After each pomodoro you record your progress and take a short break.

At the start of the next set take a few minutes to revise the amount of work left over from the previous pomodoro and if that affects your tasks for the day.

Tools/Apps:

Francesco was keen on keeping things low-tech. He felt like the actual turning of a timer meant a commitment by the user to see things through. I’ve only ever used the chrome extension, Pomodoro Timer. But writing in the task and starting feel pretty similar to winding up a timer. At least I imagine. So, either should work. Low-tech or “high”, it’s the process that counts.

When do I use it?

I only use time techniques when I need sustained, but shorts bursts of focus. I’ve never allocated more than three pomodoros because I usually want a longer break after an hour and half of work. While this violates the essence of the technique, it’s what works for me. I’d never advocate sticking to the rules if it’s ineffective for your work habits. (Even now, I’m typing during what should be a break.)

While Pomodoro hasn’t been a bulletproof solution for distraction and procrastination, I have been able to minimize the amount of wasted time I have each day. And I’m happy to spend those extra few minutes relaxing exactly how I want to, instead of losing it reading a wall of Facebook posts.