I am not usually a big fan of systems, or “life hacks” as some call them, that claim to dramatically increase things like your productivity, your ability to learn, or your happiness seemingly overnight. That said, I did come across something this week that I wanted to share. It is called the Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method created by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980’s. It is named for the small tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Mr. Cirillo used as a student.
The concept is simple. Once you identify your task, you use a timer set for 25 minutes to break your work down into intervals. These intervals are known as pomodoros. Each time you complete a pomodoro you mark it with a checkmark on a piece of paper. If you have fewer than four checkmarks you take a short 3-5 minute break. Be sure to use your timer for this as well to avoid wasted time. After the break, reset the timer for 25 minutes and complete another pomodoro and mark it with a check mark. Repeat this process until you have four checkmarks, at which point you take a 15-30 minute break. After that longer break, you once again reset your timer for another 25-minute pomodoro and reset your checkmark total to zero. This process is incredibly simple, but I found it quite helpful.
Before I tried this system I would block out my time for the day and assign certain tasks to certain blocks of time. I would also build in a couple of 15 minute breaks and a half hour lunch break throughout the day. Since I would go several hours between official breaks I would also occasionally get up from my desk for a few minutes to stretch my legs and give my eyes a break from the screen. These mini-breaks might come after a half hour, an hour, or maybe not for two hours. It depended on when I felt like I was losing concentration or needed to move around a bit. While this system worked fine, there were definitely times where I could feel it if I went too long without a break.
After trying the Pomodoro Technique, I not only felt more productive but I also felt more refreshed. My wife even said one night after she got home from work that it seemed like I had more energy. Everyone is different, so this may not work for some people, but it didn’t take me long to realize that taking shorter breaks more often is better than taking longer breaks less often.
Now there are a couple things to keep in mind when using this system.
The first is that you have to be very rigid in what you do during your pomodoros. You should have a clear task and you should spend the whole 25 minutes focused on it. You can’t work in 25 minute blocks and take a few minutes out of the middle to reply to a text or send a quick email. Doing so is going to quickly turn your 25 minutes of productivity into 15 minutes and then 10 minutes.
Along those same lines, you can’t have any interruptions during a pomodoro. If you get a call in the middle of a pomodoro that you just have to take then you have to start over with a new pomodoro when you are done. You don’t get a checkmark for the one you didn’t complete. This is very important as staying on task is the whole point of this exercise.
To help with this, keep a paper and pen nearby. You should already have one handy for tracking your checkmarks. You can also use it to jot down a short note if you think of something unrelated to your current task that you need to follow up on later.
Staying on task and avoiding distractions is the key to increasing your productivity. Once you start consciously trying to cut distractions you will be amazed to realize how often you find yourself reaching for your phone or opening up a new tab to look something up. That was one of the biggest eye openers for me.
I would have thought that I did a pretty good job of staying on task before, but I was wrong. So much of the behavior is ingrained in us now that we don’t even realize how much we flitter from one task to another. I hate to call it multitasking because often it is not productive, but we have become so accustomed to doing multiple things at once that we don’t even realize we are doing it. As a result, the act of focusing on a single task almost seems unnatural but there no denying the benefits.
I have found the Pomodoro Technique great for keeping me more focused on the task at hand and for keeping me refreshed. If you find that you have trouble staying on task or that your mind wanders, you might give the Pomodoro Technique a try.
To learn more about the Pomodoro Technique visit the Cirillo company’s website. If you really want to embrace the pomodoro mindset for time management you can even buy your very own tomato timer from Amazon.
My timer just went off, time for a break!