If you are in meetings more than 8 hours per week, this daily time management tool improves your ability to focus the limited time you have to yourself, and focused work is some of the happiest times of your life.
As a first-level manager at a large insurance company, Melissa spends her days in a tornado of activity. Melissa's days are often consumed by meetings in which she 'multi-tasks' to keep up with email. Melissa rarely has a list of things to do because she is entirely driven by interruptions. Melissa mentioned once, "I used to be really good at keeping a list of things to do, but once I became a manager, the list slowly disappeared, and now I focus on whatever is in front of me at the moment."
In one study entitled, "I'd be Overwhelmed, but It's Just One More Thing to Do" , the authors reported how interruptions affect managers. They found that managers tend to let interruption be their guide; they have learned to rely on serendipitous encounters and interruptions as primary sources of information. One manager reported, "I have come to rely on interrupts. If I'm not being interrupted, I don't know what to do. I have to generate an internal interrupt of some sort to get me going."
Surprisingly, this report's findings suggest that managers experience internal tension in their attitude toward interruption. On the one hand, an interruption can be disruptive to the task at hand, but an interruption might bring news related to something meaningful. Managers need uninterrupted time to accomplish some tasks, but view the interruptions as essential to achieving specific goals. Happier and more productive managers set aside uninterrupted time to focus on a task and provide time for the team to interrupt.
Take a minute to consider those moments that you are completely engaged in an activity. In his book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly explains that these experiences of complete engagement (being in the state of flow) are among the happiest moments in a person's life. 
Csikszentmihaly outlines three conditions needed for a person to be wholly engaged in a task: a goal, clear and immediate feedback of progress toward the goal, and a balance between challenge and skill (meaning our skill matches the demand of the challenge). Wouldn't it be nice to have a tool that helps create the environment for these happiest moments to occur more often?
A daily planning and time management technique called the Pomodoro Technique does this and has become popular among high performers over the last few years. The primary goal of the method is to improve productivity and focus. It is a practical tool to help get into the flow, even when motivation may lag. 
A basic implementation of the technique only requires a simple timer, a prioritized list of things to do, and a place to record unplanned or urgent activities. For managers, it is essential to plan the meetings for the day as well. This provides clear expectations for time to focus and time for interruptions. The figure below presents an example of a form you can use for daily planning and recording the prioritized list of things to do. [Download PDF]
This To-Do List is made up of two primary sections: one for meetings and the other for tasks that you expect to complete in a 30-minute to 90-minute time span. This is not the to-do list for simple tasks that only take a few minutes. It is best suited for focused tasks, such as clearing out email, thinking, studying, writing, and designing. Yet the tasks should be small enough that you can expect to complete them in the time allotted.
There are plenty of times that you have a task that will take longer than 90 minutes or a task that you do not know how to accomplish at all. The Pomodoro Technique is excellent for this situation as it encourages you to plan out a method of attack. Rather than planning to perform the entire task, break the task into smaller subtasks that can be completed within the 90-minute window. Some of those subtasks may include a list of topics to learn about in order to accomplish the primary task at hand.
For example, imagine that you have to write a report at the end of a project. This massive task is made up of many smaller subtasks. One task may be to calculate the time and resources spent on the project. Other tasks include writing the project summary, facts on the project's progress, target vs. actual accomplishments, risks and issues, and a description of the resources spent on the project. Each of these subtasks could require more than 30 minutes to complete, and be completed in less than 90 minutes. So, write out each task on the To-Do List.
As you begin to work on the first task, set the timer for 25 minutes, and focus on that task. Assuming that you could focus for the entire 25 minutes on the task, place an X next to the task, and set the timer again for 5 minutes. Take a 5-minute break in which you get a drink, use the restroom, or sit quietly. Do not open your email or check your phone, or engage with any other activity during the break. You may not even want to leave your office to minimize the opportunity for distraction. At the end of the break, set the timer for another 25 minutes, and continue working on the task. Repeat this 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break for three repetitions (90 minutes total).
Continue this process until the task is complete. Once you have completed the task, move to the next one. Sometimes you will wrap up a task in the middle of a 25-minute session. Some people use the remaining time to calmly recheck their work, but many Pomodoro users move on to the next task.
The best part of the Pomodoro Technique is its ability to help you manage interruptions. There are typically two types of interruptions: external and internal. External interruptions come from other people or events outside of your control. An internal distraction may occur when you remember to do something that you had forgotten, or a tangential thought pops into your head as you are working.
During a 25-minute increment of work, a Pomodoro, you may get interrupted by coworkers or phone calls. When someone interrupts you, ask them if they can wait until the end of the 25-minute work time. Then, on your To-Do list, make a note to get back to that person.
An internal interruption occurs when your mind wanders a bit during that 25 minutes. Say you remember that you forgot to pay a bill or follow up with your boss. As those things come to mind, write them down on your To-Do list and then get back to them at another time. This way, your brain isn't focused on remembering things and can relax to focus on the task at hand.
Similar to Personal Kanban, the Pomodoro Technique provides an environment in which you can get into the flow state. At the beginning of each day, plan your meetings, and make a list of goals for the day. As you work through that list and mark the tasks with Xs, you can use this feedback as an indicator of progress toward the goal. As you make the To-Do list, be sure to make sure that you can complete all of the tasks that day. If you are not sure how to complete a task, add tasks to your list that will help you increase your skill and prepare you to meet the challenge.
With a little practice, the Pomodoro Technique may become one of your best tools to keep you focused and increase your ability to experience flow. And flow experiences, times of complete engagement in a task, are some of the happiest moments of your life.
 Hudson, J.M., Christensen, J., Kellogg, W.A. and Erickson, T., 2002. " I'd be overwhelmed, but it's just one more thing to do" Availability and Interruption in Research Management. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 97-104).
 Csikszentmihalyi, M. 2008. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. [Available at Amazon]