It’s been over two months now since I bought a countdown timer from Amazon to use for the Pomodoro Technique which aims to increase productivity. I already felt that I got plenty done each day but I loved the idea of breaking down work into intervals, having regular breaks and knowing how long I’d been hard at it for. I’ve been consistently using the time management method, apart from a week off for Christmas and I thought I’d share what it is and how I feel it’s helping me.
Those of you who have never heard of this technique may be wondering if it is named after a particular person, but you might be surprised to know that pomodoro is actually Italian for tomato. What does a tomato have to do with productivity? Read on and you’ll find out!
What is The Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method which was developed by Italian Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. At this time, Cirillo was a university student and was struggling to stay focused on his studies. He challenged himself and posed the question ‘Can you stay focused for two minutes without distraction?’. To check if he could, he grabbed his countdown timer from the kitchen which was red and shaped like a pomodoro, or, in English, a tomato. He set the timer, and after two minutes of focused activity, the timer rang and he had achieved his mission. After this, he considered why the use of a timer had worked and he experimented with gradually upping the time and reducing it when it became too much. In the end, he decided that 25 minutes was perfect and that a short break (5 minutes) was required before continuing.
Cirillo carried on experimenting and came up with some basic principles. The timer was an important part but only one element of the method. He suggests the following:
- Pick one task you want to work on.
- Set your timer for 25 minutes and place it somewhere highly visible (so you can see how much time remains).
- When the buzzer goes off, have a 5 minute break.
- Repeat this with 3 more periods of 25 minutes and 5 minute breaks.
- Mark each pomodoro with an X when you’ve completed it (this could be on a mini whiteboard, a post-it note or in your planner.
- After 4 ‘pomodoros’ (work periods of 25 minutes and 5 minute breaks), take a longer break of 20-30 minutes.
- Once your longer break is finished, go back to step 1.
But what if I have a really long project or lots of short tasks to do?
For complex projects, you should break things down into smaller actionable steps. This will help you avoid overwhelm and ensure you make good progress towards your end goal.
Any tasks which will take less than one pomodoro should be combined with other quick tasks. This might include a range of admin such as book a hairdressers appointment, reply to an email, making a shopping list for the supermarket and reviewing your bank statement.
If you finish your chosen task before the pomodoro timer rings, you should continue to use the rest of your time in a productive manner e.g. by going over what you’ve just learned, making a list of next steps, reading up on a related topic etc.
What should I do during my 5 minute breaks?
When the timer goes off, it’s sometimes tempting to continue working, especially if you’re in a flow state. However, taking breaks is really important if you want to stay productive. What you do during your short breaks is up to you but here are some suggestions that you might find helpful. For me, taking time away from screens such as my computer or my phone is super important and gives my eyes a good rest.
- Do a short guided meditation
- Get out in the garden and reap the benefits of fresh air
- Do some stretches
- Put on an upbeat track and dance about your kitchen / living room or anywhere with some space to move
- Take a quick walk for a serotonin hit
- Drink some water, squash or a flavoured tea
- Sit in a comfy chair and read a good book
- Do a mindful activity such as a spot of doodling, a word puzzle, jigsaw or some colouring in.
- Listen to some music – trying closing your eyes so you really tune in.
- Watch birds in your garden.
How is the Pomodoro Technique working for me so far?
So far, I’ve found the method to be incredibly effective. I bought my timer hoping that it might help in some small way but I didn’t realise how beneficial it would be as it’s such a simple idea. Here are some of the advantages I’ve experienced so far:
- Makes it easy for me to get started. When you have a big project to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by its size and this can often lead to procrastination AKA putting things off. Contrary to popular belief, for most people, procrastinating is less about laziness and lack of self control, and more about fears of failure or feelings of self doubt. Knowing that I can do things in baby steps where I only have to do 25 minutes before being allowed a break is all the encouragement I need to get started.
- Increasing my awareness of time. Using the timer makes you really aware of time going by and this encourages you to really focus in on your chosen tasks.
- One thing at a time. The method encourages you to work on one specific task or a group of related tasks at one time and this helps to prevent the urge to multitask or context switching (where you jump from one task to another) which studies show is detrimental to productivity.
- Great for avoiding distractions. In some ways, 25 minutes feels like plenty of time but if you don’t use it wisely, it can soon be gone. Because of this, I’ve taken steps to avoid anything which might interrupt my work flow. Depending on the type of work I’m doing, this might include putting my mobile phone in another room, adopting pen and paper methods for recording, switching off notifications and playing background music to block out other sounds.
- Encourages me to plan my day. Before you start work, you’re encouraged to plan your tasks in advance. This helps you to decide what you want to get done, at what time and how long you think an activity is likely to take. At the end of your working day, you can evaluate your progress and consider if you overestimated or underestimated how much time tasks took. This can then inform your future planning.
- Ensures I take regular breaks. Taking regular mental breaks from your work helps you to stay focused and remain efficient and productive during your 25 minute time blocks. If you’re working at a desk, it’s really beneficial to get up and move around as this improves your circulation and helps to combat fatigue.
- Helps me maintain motivation. Seeing the time counting down on the timer in front of you is great for ensuring you work at a good pace. Also, after each session, I mark my progress in my bullet journal and this in itself makes me feel good and gives me the encouragement I need to keep going.
- Encourages me to be self-evaluative. On days when I feel like I haven’t been super productive, despite using the Pomodoro Technique, I always question why. Common culprits include distractions from notifications or social media (especially if I’m researching something online), working in an untidy environment (meaning I can’t find things I needed) not taking my 5 minute break (or unconsciously extending them), deviating from my plan when I get back to work (because I found something else much more appealing, or when taking a break, engaging in something which didn’t allow me to relax and recharge (e.g. reading news articles online). When I’ve established what the issues are, I can develop strategies to combat them.
I hope you have found today’s blog post useful, especially if you are looking for ways to beat procrastination, become more time savvy, and generally work more productively each day. If you want to know even more about the Pomodoro Technique you will find Francesco Cirillo’s book available in e-book format or paperback on Amazon. Also, feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments and if you already use the Pomodoro Technique, let me know how it’s working out for you.