The Pomodoro Technique

Whether you’re big into business, fitness, or gritness, you’ve probably come up against one of the main roadblocks in achieving the impossible: procrastination.

Procrastination crops up everywhere:

But if you let yourself get distracted and procrastinate, you never get to doing the things that matter, You never cross anything off your impossible list.

Most people think it’s a case of getting motivated. They wait until they’re in the right mood. Or they’ve got the right tools. Or the weather’s right.

That’s a load of BS.

Really, they just need to get disciplined. They just need to sit down, get a system, and get on with it.

I’ve already covered a few systems you can use to help get over this:

Today I’m going to introduce another one: the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method which was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. Cirillo was frustrated at how much time he wasted while he was “studying”, so he used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato (a pomodoro) to boost his productivity.

The idea behind the technique is that frequent breaks help the brain to focus. At its simplest, the Pomodoro Technique involves working in 25 minute chunks with a 3-5 minute break between each chunk. After four pomodori (a set), there’s a longer 15-30 minute break. The idea is that frequent breaks in work increases mental agility & efficiency.

tomatoes

What You’ll Need For The Pomodoro Technique

The best way is to do this old school. If you do it this way, you don’t need much more than the following:

  • Pen
  • Paper
  • Timer/clock/watch/phone

If you decide you want to get all high-tech, you can use an app of some sort (we’ll cover this later in the post).

  • Web app
  • Desktop app
  • Phone app

Experiment with a few different methods and tools to work out which works best for you, but I strongly suggest you try going no-tech on this.

How To Do This Yourself

As you get started, you’ll find the greatness of this technique lies in it’s simplicity:

  1. Pick a task to complete – To start with, pick a task that you think you’ll be able to complete during one pomodoro. Once you’ve got used to the method, experiment with working on longer tasks over several pomodori.
  2. Set your timer to 25 minutes
  3. Work on your task until the timer goes off – Whenever you think of something unrelated to the task at hand, jot it down, and forget about it. If you’re interrupted, record the interruption, and postpone it. You can answer that e-mail or call your customer back later.
  4. Mark your pomodoro with an X – This will allow you to both log your work and feel a sense of accomplishment.
  5. Mark down how many times you got distracted during the pomodoro
  6. Take a 3-5 minute break – Get a drink, go for a walk, do pushups, or whatever your brain needs to do to stop thinking about your work.
  7. After every forth pomodoro, take a 15-30 minute break

Why The Pomodoro Technique Works

It Improves Your Focus

This technique gives you permission to push aside interruptions and to focus on the task in hand. The frequent breaks also give you a chance to recharge, so that, each time you sit down to work, you’re ready to go. And because you’re only working in 25 minute bursts, there’s no chance of burning out.

It’s Appealing

Sitting down to eight hours of solid work is pretty daunting. But sitting down to 25 minutes of work is much more approachable & less intimidating. This way, you’re going to be much more motivated to start work and to keep going.

Likewise, sitting down to work on one specific task is way nicer than sitting down to do “work”. If you know you’ve just got to write and schedule one newsletter, you’re much more likely to get started than if you’re staring at a whole to-do list.

It Helps You Work Faster

There’s nothing like a deadline to make you work faster. Hearing the ticking or watching the countdown spurs you on to get your task done on time.

Recording your work like this also makes you more aware of how long you’re spending on individual tasks, so you’re less likely to let one single blog post take three hours than if you didn’t time yourself. There’s less time for procrastination.

It Teaches You How To Work

This technique is not just about getting things done. It’s also about recording and analysing your performance, so that you can adjust your approach, and work more effectively in the future. By recording how many times you get distracted, as well as the number of pomodori you complete, you can spot patterns in your productivity, and manipulate them to get more done in the future.

Things To Watch Out For With Pomodoro

No technique is perfect & like anything, there are some drawbacks to this:

It Might Not Suit Your Working Style

As with any hack, whether or not the Pomodoro Technique works for you depends on what sort of person you are and how you work best. It could go either way – a structured approach like this one might be great for keeping you focused or it might feel too restrictive and get annoyed by the rigidity.

Like anything, the best thing to do is to try it out and see for yourself whether or not it’s for you.

It’s All Or Nothing

If, for whatever reason, you don’t make it all the way to the end of a pomodoro, you don’t get to cross off that interval. You have to start again.

If you’ve only got twenty minutes until your next meeting, it can be hard to motivate yourself to get anything done in that time because you know you won’t get to put down an X.

To avoid wasting smaller chunks of time, plan your day in advance or play around with shorter pomodoros. This is one thing that will help you be more productive in general anyways.

It’s Not Suited To All Kinds Of Work

If you’re a brain surgeon, it might not be the best idea to put down your scalpel 25 minutes into an operation. Similarly, your co-workers might not appreciate your alarm going off every few minutes. Some work is better for this than others.

Obviously this method is best suited to those of us who work from home or on their computer but, again, it can just be a case of adapting the method to suit your working environment. If you work in an office, try using headphones or a web app which flashes up on your screen instead of sounding an alarm. See what works.

How To Make It Work For You

Be Patient

It’ll probably take a day or two before you notice any big changes in your productivity. And it’ll be a couple of weeks at least until you really get into the swing of things. But, once you have, you’ll free up a lot of head space from no longer having to worry about getting things done.

Stick To The Timer

Don’t be tempted to sign off early or work into your break. This success of this technique depends on your trust that you will follow through. If you’re supposed to be working, work. If you’re supposed to be having a break, take a break. Don’t cheat yourself.

Don’t Forget To Prioritize

It’s not enough to just manage your time. You also need to prioritize. It’s no good blasting through your emails and practising next month’s presentation if you haven’t finished the report that’s due tomorrow. Prioritize and then set the timer.

Play With It

You might find that your attention gets up and leaves after fifteen minutes. Or maybe you feel like you have a good few minutes left in you when your alarm goes off. That’s fine. Experiment with timings, breaks, tools, and whatever else you can think of. Make the system work for you.

A Pomodoro App To Suit You

You can use the Pomodoro Technique with just a clock, watch, or timer, and a piece of paper and a pencil, or you can use an app.

There are absolutely tons of pomodoro apps out there for your phone, desktop, or browser. Depending on your tastes, you can pick a simple app that just acts as a timer, or you can go for a premium one that tracks a load of data for you to analyse later. It’s up to you.

A simple search in Google Play or iTunes will come up with loads of apps for you to choose from. Here are some of the best.

Pomodoro Timer

This is a paid app with a clean interface and a lot of functionality. Features include a choice of alarm sounds, customizable pomodoro lengths, an optional ticking sound, and target setting.

Pomodairo

Pomodairo is a free app which works on Adobe Air and which is pretty good if you’re interested in keeping a detailed log of your pomodoros. It allows you to create a task list with descriptions and the estimated number of pomodoros for each task, and to check tasks off as completed.

Tomato Timer and Pomodoro.me

These two are really simple (and free) web apps which don’t let you record specific tasks or keep a log. They’re ideal if you want to stick to the basics.

Focus Booster

Focus Booster is a free web and desktop app which uses color to show how much time you’ve got left in your pomodoro. This one’s got a pretty sleek design.

Pomodroido

If you’re a gamer, this Android app might be the one for you because it uses the concept of levelling up to make productivity into a game.

TimeBox

TimeBox is a pretty neat app which lets the user play around with the lengths and ratios of pomodoros. This one’s great if 25 minute chunks aren’t quite working for you.

Online Stopwatch

If you need the sound of ticking to motivate you, try this really simple web-based stopwatch.

FocusTime

If gold stars were your thing at school, you’ll want to get this paid app. It’s got a clean interface and uses stars to show how many pomodoros have been completed each day.

The Takeaway

The Pomodoro Technique: Focus in small chunks to keep procrastination at bay. Plan your work out in advance, break it down into small chunks and stick to your plan.

Further Reading On The Pomodoro Technique

Have you tried the Pomodoro Technique? Which time chunks work for you?

Photo credit: epSos.d

Comments

  1. Zack Southwell says

    I work in sales, making cold calls daily when I’m not working on established business. One, I feel like I’m running out of places to visit (My territory is in northeastern Louisiana.) Two, I feel inclined to jot down that I visited a place, rather than actually stopping.

    Also, I am finding it hard to stay motivated to do the job at 100% because I could be hired for a new job in a completely different career field come June. So I have a hard time convincing myself to give myself over to my current job when another one (that I am 98% sure I will be getting) is around the corner.

  2. says

    I tried the Pomodoro technique while in college and it definitely helped me to score good marks in my test with relatively little time studying.

    This is because learning in chunks is sustainable and it gives your body some time to recuperate after doing work. I definitely recommend the technique for anyone who wants to work for long hours and avoiding being burnt-out at the same time.

  3. Michelle says

    I’ve been so burnt out for the past two weeks after spring break, literally just unable to force myself to do work, and this is literally exactly what I needed to wake up to this morning. Between track practice and all of the things that go on during the spring in a college student’s life, it’s hard to find time to get things done efficiently, so hopefully this can propel me to finish out the year strong.

  4. Jeff says

    Thanks Joel. The list of Pomodoro tools in this post was very helpful.

    I find that this technique works well when I am writing. It forces me to walk away and breath for a few minutes which ultimately extends the amount of time I am able to write.

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