We’ve all been there — the phone rings in the middle of an important task, or maybe an email alert pops up on your desktop — and then it takes you forever to get back on track (26 minutes on average, according to a study by IBM). Welcome to the modern world. If you’re looking to escape this for a minute, try this: the Pomodoro Technique thrives on the electronic-less. No distractions, no multi-tasking, one task (and only one task) for each pomodoro. So if you’re looking for a structured plan to get more done each day, this may be the answer.
As you should know by now, I’m not a technophobe, rather “guardedly optimistic” about using technology to enhance our lives. Of course, there are many benefits to our daily lives — but it comes at a cost. Marketing has never been more efficient. Facebook can tell how often you drink coffee or when you’re slacking off at work, Google knows the peak hours to get your attention (or be distracted). They both know your friends, interests, and habits. And all of this is information is being sold to marketers. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself — it has wreaked havoc on the average person’s productivity. Yes, twenty years ago you it’d be difficult to figure out what “mindfulness practice” is or “learn how to be an effective public speaker” without visiting a library. No question that today is different. Technology is essential; but it’s also the great distractor. You may not know a time without TV or even the Internet, but it existed through most of human history. Technology is clearly advancing quicker than our evolution or psychology. To combat this, we need to implement definitive plans to regain our focus — whatever it may be. The Pomodoro Technique is an easy and essentially free technique to be more productive. No technology is required — though, it works great with apps too. Experiment with it for a week, you have nothing to lose (not even time).
WHAT IS THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE?
The Pomodoro Technique (or, The Pomodoro Method) is a simple time management and productivity method whereby tasks are broken into 25-minute sessions (“pomodoros”), followed by a short break. After four pomodoros, you can take a longer break. While in a pomodoro, you must keep complete focus on the task at hand – no multitasking, no checking email, answering the phone, etc. All of those activities can be done in between pomodoros. And these breaks are essential, as they allow the mind to rest.
The Pomodoro Technique was created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. He developed the Pomodoro Technique as a way to increase his productivity while studying in school – that’s why you might hear it called, The Pomodoro Study Method. The name of the Technique comes from the fact that the original timer Cirillo used was shaped like a tomato (in Italian, pomodoro)
WHY SHOULD I CONSIDER THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE FOR PRODUCTIVITY?
There are many productivity hacks and time management techniques out there, but the Pomodoro shines in its simplicity. The only essential items are a timer that rings (be it a phone, clock, or egg timer), a piece of paper and a writing instrument. Since most people have their phone on them at all times, you can likely employ the Pomodoro Technique at any time and in any place (save for the Theater).
The main goal of the Pomodoro Technique is to limit the impact of disruptions to your focus and flow. A pomodoro is considered indivisible – that means when a distraction arises, you either record it and get back to your task at hand, or you abandon the pomodoro to start again at another time. Focusing on a single task for 25 minutes is very helpful for completing a To Do with varied tasks, lest we recite Parkinson’s Law here.
HOW DO I USE THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE FOR PRODUCTIVITY?
According to Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique has six critical components:
- Decide on a task you’d like to complete
- Set the pomodoro timer for 25 minutes
- Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings. Should a distraction crop up, write it down on a separate piece of paper and get back to focusing on the task at hand.
- When the pomodoro timer rings, put a checkmark on your pomodoro tracking paper (which helps give you a sense of accomplishment.
- Take a short break – five minutes will do
- Every four pomodoros, take a longer break – not more than 30 minutes.
Each day (or even the night before), you should plan your To Do Today list, in order of priority. Next to each task, you keep an estimate of the number of pomodoros it will take to complete. As you improve your skills with this Technique, you’ll get better at estimating the duration your tasks will take to complete.
When distractions arise – as they are want to do – Cirillo suggests the “Inform, Negotiate, Schedule, and Call Back” Strategy: (1) Inform the person distracting you that you are busy; (2) Negotiate a time to re-raise the matter at a later time; (3) Schedule that follow-up call, meeting, etc. immediately; and (4) call back the person back when you’re ready.
Remember that in each pomodoro, only one task will be attempted. Should you complete a task in the middle of a 25-minute session, you continue with that same task by reflecting and processing the tasks you just performed.
WHERE CAN I FIND MORE INFORMATION ON THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE?
The best resource on the Pomodoro Technique is the book written by Cirillo himself, aptly called, The Pomodoro Technique: Do More and Have Fun with Time Management. Develop Good Habits has a great, in-depth article. And finally, the reddit community has an entire channel on the Pomodoro Method, which is also worth taking a look at.
WHAT TOOLS WILL HELP ME IMPLEMENT THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE?
As discussed, one of the major benefits of the Technique is that only a timer, a piece of paper, and a writing instrument are strictly required. Cirillo’s Book, mentioned above, is definitely worth picking up if you are serious about implementing it.
There are, of course, many Pomodoro Technique applications out there, but they are not essential for all but the most serious of Pomodoro enthusiasts. Marinara Timer – billing itself as “Like the Pomodoro Technique only more fluid” — is a popular web application for implementing the Pomodoro Technique. Marinara Timer has some useful features (like having a link to your specific timer) – and it’s free, so there’s definitely no harm in checking it out. There’s also Tomighty, which is a free desktop timer for both Mac and PC. I haven’t tried Tomighty out yet, but it looks pretty good. If you will be using the Technique offline, you’ll want to check it out.
CRITICISMS OF THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE
If the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t work for you, don’t be alarmed. There are several deficiencies that others have pointed out.