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Improving Time Management to Improve Passive Income

While I was figuring out my passive income goals for 2010 – I went thru the tired but true exercise:

  • What went well last year?
  • What went badly?

Oddly enough – it was quite easy for me answer both questions – I think this is an important skill that being in business for yourself develops – one thing I cerainly hadn’t expected to learn while working online was to be much more aware of my own faults and weaknesses. Anyway back to the point – what went well – I haven’t had to get a real job that’s more than good! When someone asked me the other day whether  Iwas going to get a job on my return to NZ – I looked him in the eye and said, why? I made over US$4000 last month – what would I want a job for?

What went badly – well unfortunately that was equally easy to answer  my time management sucks! This is not a new development – but now my inability to focus is costing me money not just an employer! This has to stop and like now.

So what has NOT worked for me so far as time management is concerned;

  1. Public accountability – that was one of the reasons I stated this blog so that I could report and measure progress – after all I totally get about having goals and even about setting up SMART goals No the goal setting wasn’t the problem.
  2. I decided to record all the time I spent online and look at the time wasted. I found a free online time recorder system called SlimTimer that I recommend – the only problem with it was that it couldn’t tell me to turn itself on when I conveniently “forgot” for a week or two!
  3. I tried to get my head around GTD (Get Things Done) system – but frankly it seemed like  I’d have to study for a week to even get to the start – it appeared more a way of life than a way to boost productivity – I wasn’t sure that I was ready for a way of life!

Pomodoro Technique to Rescue?

Several people of a forum a frequent mentioned they had found the Pomodoro Technique helpful – even though they usually struggled with focus – sounds like me I thought –  I will give it a shot – oh and the comprehensive e-book is free – even better!

The system was developed in Italy by a guy who is now an IT Project Manager – but at the time was a student. Its well worth reading the e-book becuase it acutally explains the science behind why it works – with references eve – a slight change of pace to a lot of what you come across these dasys. Any – in essence the Pomodoro technique is:

  • start working on your first task – work on it for 25 minutes then take an approximately 5 minute break;
  • repeat until you have down 4 1/2 hour “pomodoros” (named for the kitchen timer from Italy);
  • then take a longer 20 minute break.
  • if an urgent interruption comes along (say the sudden urge to check your email) – you right it down on an urgent list and keep working. (It will either become another real pomodoro in its own right or it will be a quick task you do in a break, or you forget about it);
  • if a really urgent thing comes along – house burns down or similar – you abandon the pomodoro and have to start again with that particular pomodoro;
  • each task should be at leas 1 pomodoro (30 minutes) long – no task should be longer than 5-7 pomodoros – either group similar tasks together or split larger tasks down to fit this criteria.

My current implemenation of it looks something like this:

  • write a list of everything you need to do (I tend to work in a “this week” or “this month” list);
  • put the top priorities on today’s todo list – with a box per a pomodoro – in black – which get ticked off as I do them. If I have underestimated the time required which – I seem to do more than I realised – I re-estimate by adding more boxes in red so I can see where I under and over estimate. If I have an interurption I use a ” ‘ ” symbol to note it.
  • At the end of the day I retrospectively fill in what I did over the day using Slimtimer and tag the activities as pomodoros – meaning I can easily see just how many hours of my so-called 10 hour days  I was actually doing focussed “pomodoros” (4 or 5 at the start!)

Initially what I found that basically focussing for 1/2 an hour isn’t that hard – in fact it was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. My issue seems to be more the time wasted in between pomodoros – but I can work on that.

Pomodoro – without the Kitchen Timer

The original is with using a tomatoe shaped wind-up kitchen timer – your grandmother may use one – I personally thought that was what the micowave was for. And in the midst of packing I certainly was not going to buy a kitchen timer! Fortunatly there is a software solution for that. Initially  ithought I wanted a silent timer  – but in some way I find the annoying ticking sound actually makes me focus – not sure if that will work long term but I have it turned  for the moment.

Options for the timer abound – I ltried Pomodeiro and FocusBooster both of which are free and run on the Adobe Air (so will work across most operating systems). Neither really deals with the reporting on the amount of work done though – or not in format I liked. There are quite a number of Pomodoro apps for Macs but the only software I found came close for Windows was PomoTime – I really like this software – again free and a very cute interface unfortunately it had a couple of major flaws for my use: only 7 items on a ToDo list a day and only one ToDo list a day.

However the developer did respond to my comments so mayit will be upgraded.

UPDATE: PomoTime has now been upraded I am using it in preference to manual method I described below – up to 12 items on the daily todo list seems to make all the difference – try it you may like – and its free!

Pomodoro without Software

So currently my sytem looks something like this:

  1. A long todo list – about a week’s worth – on paper.
  2. Daily todo list –  using the paper system described in the original Pomodoro e-book. Different colours when I underestimate tasks – which I appear to do more often than I thought…
  3. Slimitmer – to retrospectively fill in day – using tags to count tasks with pomodores – result can t rack total hours and total hours of pomodores a week

What Pomodoro Technique Has Taught Me So Far

  • not as many internal disruptions – haven’t had to cancel a pomodoro over the first few days;
  • the ticking actually seems to work! Although wish I could disable it during the breaks;
  • I badly underestimate how long keyword research and installing sites takes.

So what do you use for time management – have you heard of the Pomodoro technique before – like it? Used another technique that you’d recommend.?

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40 replies on “Improving Time Management to Improve Passive Income”

Lis, this is great. I am brrrrilliant at making lists and then forgetting to actually take much notice of them. The 30 min split sounds like a very good idea, will give it a go as I really need much more focus for 2010. Thanks for all the links I shall try not to waste too much time going through them all! 😉

LOL Lec – read the ebook – the first link I think its all in there – and its not even very long – yes the forgotten list thing seems to have struck a chord!

I have heard of it before, even downloaded the ebook, but didn’t manage to read it – yet. Time management, or better said the lack of it, is also my main weak point. Regarding why the ticking helps you to stay better focused, I use something similar with watching always the same films whilst working, it has a “white noise” effect on me, that helps me to focus better on the task at hand. Regarding that you want to turn the sound off during breaks, if it is a desktop app, can’t you simply turn the volume down? Oh, and finally something where there are more apps for Macs then for PCs, yeah! SY

LOL I thought you might like that – yup more Mac users need help with time management … The ebook works better if you actually read it LOL

I’ve never even heard of Pomodoros until now. And the issue of time management surely is relevant when setting daily goals to improve passive income.
By far my best time investment is writing articles as they seem to generate the most passive income thus far. Some recent articles have been drawing in visitors by the 1000’s, but I simply lack in the discipline of being consistent with my writing goals. Although Adsense is beginning to rear its $$ head on many of my sites and I see hope for my future with that resource, the niche targets are too often hit and miss…
Like you I spend much time simply doing keyword research and site maintenance, but perhaps I can learn to manage this better by implementing a time management scheme to increase passive income…

Glad the new year is almost upon us.


Scott the 30minute thing works really well for articles – should be able to do a couple of 400 words in that time!

One of the cool things about Pomodoro, is that when people come to ask you something, they are supposed to learn not to interrupt you when they see you are “in a Pomodoro.”

That alone could be a major time-saver. LOL!

I agree with JL Palmetto, another great advantage of using Pomodoro-Technique is that when your motivation is down it really helps you to get through your tasks.
Thank you Lis for the kind words spent for PomoTime sw.
I see that more rows should be available for the task list, well in the next releasess…

Thanks Antonio – let me know when you update the software and I will update this post – thanks!

Hi Lis, just yesterday I released a newer version of PomoTime.
It has more rows in the To-do sheet, 12 rows for planned tasks and 12 for unplanned ones. If that is not enough further changes will be added in the future releases.
Another new thing is a separate small window to display the minutes left which stays always on top, even if you minimize PomoTime window.
Many people were asking to have the screen area as much free as possible, so now you can start the timer (F5) and minimize the PomoTime window (‘Escape’ button) while the minutes count-down is clearly displayed in a very small – sligthly transparent – window.


Biggest problem for me is spending too much on Facebook and playing Wii all the time LOL.

Your last month’s earning is not bad. Do you think you can double that in 2010? 🙂

I’ve been a reader of your site for some time, Lis. I have to say that this is one of the absolute best posts I have seen you put up. Accountability is so crucial in this business, especially self accountability. Thank you for the inspiring read.

I’ve pulled the timer out of the kitchen and will be testing out the pomodoro method tomorrow. I’ll report back after trying it for a week to see how it goes.

Good Luck in your ventures in 2010!

Thanks Stephen – I thought maybe I wasn’t the only one with the problem – let us know how you go with the kitchen timer!

This is an excellent subject — time management — and an excellent time on the Pomodoro technique. Thanks.

The number one reason I ever hear from anyone about why they aren’t succeeding is time management. And yet time is the one thing that all of us has, equally, and the one thing that is almost always most under our control.

Everyone of us, at our regular ‘day’ jobs or in our on-line endeavors is making exactly as much money as we choose to make. There is no other real reason. Most of us spend at least as much time watching TV, fiddling about with FarmVille or other Facebook time wasters, or — you name it.

Some other absolutely no-cost things _everyone_ can do, if the wish:

Turn off email except for a couple, pre-planned intervals per day. It’s really, really productive for me if I don’t check email in the am until I have produced something .. you can easily lose and hour or two with distractions if you don’t.

Turn off IM or Twitter. Are you working, or playing? One pays you, one costs you.

Give up a couple hours of TV. Most people spend more time on TV that anything else in their lives … and truth be told, how much of it is really worth anything?

Get up early. You don’t need that much sleep, if you do, go to bed earlier to make up for it. Late night hours are about 30% as productive as early morning hours in my personal experience.

Avoid videos if there is a written word substitute .. your favorite guru wrote a book on a technique you want to learn, and also put it in a video? It will waste tons more time watching the same thing you can read … and the temptation to also watch other time wasters is powerful … if you aren’t there, you can’t get yourself in trouble.

Think of time literally as money. Suppose you allocate yourself $20 a day for eating lunch at work and incidentals. If you found on Tuesday am that all but $20 was gone, you’d be upset, to be sure. So why squander your weekly time allocation as if it were free … it’s the only thing you can never buy more of, even if you become rich.

All the best in 2010, everyone.

Thanks Dave – some very good tips there – it looks like we are going to be TV-free for a couple of months – no great loss from what I can see is available in NZ. Though I must say I need my 8 hours + a day I am slowly getting around to working earlier than later. And yes I totally agree with videos and also podcasts – painfully slow compared to reading!

Yes, I should have been more clear there. Don’t deprive yourself of sleep on a regular basis … that’s a productivity killer as well as a poor heath practice … but time shift it. I’ve been bad lately but I’m working back on track .. you get up at 0400 or 0500, just you and your cup of coffee and wow, what can get accomplished before normal ‘breakfast time’.

A few month ago I ran into a nice young guy here in the Philippines who asked me if I could help him find web design work. I don’t do employment agency work, but I surely knew some people who might have a need, so I asked this fellow … 26 year old … a bit about his history. He even had a nice on-line portfolio … something about 90% of the people seeking such work never bother with. Well educated at a good school, good English skills, personable … looked like a real find for a business.

Then it came, during a call I made to check his English skills personally … “That last place you were working, why did you leave?”

“Well, actually, they let me go … because they start work at 0900 and I can’t get up that early.”

“Huh? Sorry, you’re breaking up … I’ll call you back” _not_!

If you’re already in your 20’s and you can’t get out of bed in the am, especially for a conventional 9 to 5 job, fine, that’s your choice … but that’s why I made my earlier comment. We are all doing just as well (or as poorly) as we truly “want” to.

When I had a job I struggled to get to work by 9am as well – for years because I had no motivation to get out of bed (I am one of those people who sleep more, not less, with stress) and partly, more recently, because I was working online in the morning because I would wake up and be instantly alert (something I’d never experienced before) . Over the few months in Perth – I have routinely been waking at 5:30am with the sun – very early for me and working from 6am – at least 1.5 hours earlier than I have ever got out of bed except for planes. Now I have returned to NZ – only a week ago so I am not sure yet (between jetlag and alchol consumption) – but I am again struggling to get out of bed. Obviously its a lot colder here – but its not just that – instead of waking up and instantly having my brain full of useful thoughts and therefore getting out of be anyways- now I roll over and go back to sleep – for another 1.5 hours or so. As I said I am still not sure I am very clear of jetlag and the drinking has been more than I’ve done recently – but I find it very curious that return to my home town – and dozing is back – weird!

I have never been an early riser, until i moved to Bali. The morning’s are best for work, because it is nice and cool. By the afternoon it is just too hot.

I hope you are enjoying being back in NZ.

Funny that the issue of “wake-up” time comes up…
Still working my 6am – 4pm job, I get up at 3:30am to work on my sites, write articles, etc. I usually average 5-6 hours sleep, and that seems to work pretty good for me. But most of the people I know think I’m nuts for getting up that early simply to be on the computer. Mornings are my “zone” time when I can write with ease, and I usually come up with some good ideas early in the day as well. As for sleeping past 9am? I have not slept that late in years — even if I’m up later at night.
As for time management of my limited AM hours, I usually dedicate the first 1/2 hour to emails — during which time I am also brainstorming and taking notes of this or that. Then from 4-5:30 I write or post content.
I really like what Dave said:
“So why squander your weekly time allocation as if it were free … it’s the only thing you can never buy more of, even if you become rich.”

Scott – your’re mad for getting up so early 🙂 I am really struggling this week to get up at 7:30pm and having my partner around not working is not helping either!

Hi Lis, let me put my $0.02 … in the parking meter.

I’ve been using a similar time management method for years using an old refurbished parking meter that gives you twelve minutes per pence. I’ll allocate an hour for the task and stop when the red violation flag pops up.

Now I’ll have to put in 2c to get 24 minutes and then take a 6 minute break. The time allocation is really close to a unit of Pomodeiro, plus I won’t have to work as long!

The good thing is that at the end of the week I can open up the parking meter and count how much time was spent on the tasks.


Howard – that sounds like the most innovative time management system – what do do with the money – is it ou beer money fund?

Anticipating the buzzer going off when time was up would probably be the most distracting thing of all for me. My idea of passive income is not working by the clock- might as well punch in.

Time management is just another name for office discipline (and who wants that at home?) Sticky notes all over the laptop works for me. One for each task- when the task is done, the note gets peeled off and discarded. (You know you’re doing good when you can see most of the screen.)

@Katharine – the point is this is nothing to do with “office” discipline – because the time I am wasting is my own – not some employers ! Actually I thought anticipating the buzzer would do my head in – but it doesn’t – not sure why! The sticky notes would annoy me if I could see them when I was working on something else – it would be “oh no I have so much to do!” Guess we all have different approaches to this – what’s important is that you do have a system

The Pomodoro method sounds interesting. Although it seems like it would take a lot of time to just get it setup. Especially if you are doing it weekly or monthly. I can’t imagine making a weeks worth of to-do lists…

One of the key point of Pomodoro Technique is its simplicity. A simple method, easy to adopt, you quickly start using it and soon notice how many distractions you have and how the method can really help you to manage interruptions. And definitely improve your productivity. I think that is the reason that is spreading this technique all over the world.
The theory is simple, you read it in half an hour, what you need is just a couple of sheets and a mechanical timer. I use instead my Windows app ‘PomoTime’ (you can get a free copy at

Hiya LIs, Chris from KWA here. The pomodoro technique (now I want to eat some pasta thanks!) sounds a lot like time boxing which also uses timers but maybe a little more refined with set 25 minute periods and scheduled breaks. I use a cheesy little program called action enforcer which isn’t free (cheap though $25?) but lets you set up tons of timers and tons of lists of things to do. It’s a windows only app but you can run it under parallels. With time boxing, you try to estimate the amount of time it takes to complete a task and then set a timer and focus only on that task until the timer finishes. If the timer goes off before your done, you move on to the next task and reschedule the unfinished task for another time. What I’ve noticed since time boxing is that by concentrating on one task at a time, the time it takes to do any particular task decreases a lot. I think I’ll give the pomodoro technique a try. mmmmm paaaasta!

Hmm yes – I am going to be making pasta real soon – Italian at that 🙂 Yes it definitly sounds like time boxing to me to – I like the technique of if you think of something that HAS to be done NOW (like making pasta) – you write it down on an unscheduled list and keep on going with the task at hand! You got an affliate link for that product?

I downloaded the ebook for the pomodoro technique and he mentions that it does build up on time boxing. As far as an affiliate link, I’m not going to give you one but I think their website is like or something along those lines. As far as making pasta, here’s one of my favorites

Sadly no tomatoes in this one.

Anyways thanks for the time management tip!

Nice, I like the slimtimer and am definitely going to try it out. As long as you have it open you should be pretty good to go. I agree that the GTD model is quite a big bite to chew overnight. I read it a while ago and have still used some things I’ve learned but haven’t ever made the full jump for all of the things he talks about.

Yeah I have just graduated to a 2 screen setup so its easy to have a skinny window for slimtimer in the 2nd window – I should look at GTD again sometime – when I have a week or 2 free – I thik its probably a good system which has developed to a bit of a monster

I must admit that I get a little sidetracked sometimes with Twitter, Facebook, etc when I should be getting work done, but don’t we all?

Thanks for the tips.

I do the same thing every year. A good evaluation of your life is never a bad thing. It’s also great to do it with someone else! Have you ever sat down and talked through it with a partner? It helps me to think and not justify so that I can set real goals…

I had never heard of the Pomodoro Technique, but I already use a less stringent system on my own for accomplishing various tasks throughout the day without getting bogged down, overwhelmed, or obsessed with just one thing. It definitely makes sense. Thanks for all this inspiration!

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