You’re likely aware of the basics of the Pomodoro Technique, but are you making the most of it?
The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity hack where you choose a task, then focus on it for 25m, followed by a 5m break. After four of these Pomodoros, take a longer break of between 15 to 30m.
EFFECTIVE FOCUS AND REAL BREAKS.
Many people are happy with the basics of the Pomodoro Technique — after all, getting stuff done with tomatoes, what’s not to like? However, there’s more to this simple approach than meets the eye. The Pomodoro Technique is in fact a practical application of Focused and Diffused Thinking and Deep Work which have been shown to increase productivity, creativity and learning.
To make the most of the approach, be sure that your focused time remains uninterrupted, this involves:
Turning off notifications and digital distractions;
Signalling to people that you’re in a focused period and not to be disturbed;
Redirecting any interruptions with the aim of returning to focused work within a few seconds;
Capturing any distracting thoughts or unrelated tasks on a separate piece of paper or list before refocusing;
Avoiding toilet breaks and getting snacks during the 25m.
Sticking with your focus until the 25m is complete, even if you finish the task spend time reviewing the work or reflecting on how you might improve it.
Using a timer, don’t just rely on your impression of time.
When you are interrupted and unable to return to focus within a minute, consider that Pomodoro as void. Note down what happened with the view of avoiding the interuption in the future, then reset your time and try again. It might sound a bit over the top to be so strict but as well as completing a 25m chunk of work, you’re also trying to train yourself to work in these periods of focused time as a habit.
Just as you take focusing seriously, consider how you might take real breaks to encourage diffuse thinking and a ‘cognitive reset’ between each Pomodoro. Ideally, this will mean unplugging from screens and even moving your body. Stepping outside is a perfect example.
THINK IN TOMATOES.
More than a productivity hack, the Pomodoro Technique can become your way of viewing time and tasks. In the morning, when thinking about your day, consider how many Pomodoros — or uninterrupted periods of 25m — the day holds for you. Some days will be engulfed by meetings or other distractions, so you might only have a handful in the morning. Other days might have half a dozen or more.
Likewise, use Pomodoros as your currency for estimation. Have to write that report? Based on the last time that’s probably going to take you around four Pomodoros. Have to make sense of survey data? Probably two Pomodoros. And what about those never-ending emails? Maybe timebox your responses for a single Pomodoro every couple of days. Break down any task that will take more than 5 Pomodoros into more manageable activities, and chunk small tasks that can be themed together into a single Pomodoro.
GAMIFY AND MIX TOMATOES.
Gamify the Pomodoro Technique by establishing goals for how many you want to achieve per day or week. Track each completed Pomodoro you achieve but remember that any interruption that you fail to quickly redirect will make it void.
We suggest applying the Pomodoro Technique as recommended for a few weeks, then experiment to discover what works best for you. Consider extending the time either consistently or for certain times in the day. Play with having a Pomodoro filled morning, then having unstructured afternoons. Consider longer breaks or smaller sets of Pomodoros, or anything that works best for you.
IN YOUR LATTICEWORK.
We’ve already discussed the clear link this approach has to Focused and Diffused Thinking and the power of Deep Work, which serves as a reminder of the myth of multitasking. In addition, consider combining the Pomodoro Technique with the Domino Effect, specifically the ‘Don’t Break The Chain’ method for creating unbroken streaks of Pomodoros to build momentum and consistency. The method is also a practical application of Parkinson’s Law and Timeboxing.
What you’re really trying to embed with the Pomodoro Technique is a Habit of consistent focused work. The technique also encourages a System rather than Goal approach to productivity — thinking in terms of ‘buckets’ of 25m focused periods that you can organise your priorities around. On that point, consider combining this technique with prioritisation models such as Kanban and/or Eisenhower Matrix.
- Choose a task to focus on.
Consider using a Kanban and/or Eisenhower Matrix to help identify your next most valuable task to work on. Ensure that it is not ‘too big’, and that it could be completed in around four Pomodoros (4 x 25m of focus).
- Start a Pomodoro.
Commit to a 25m timed period of focus where you avoid emails, notifications and other distractions. If you are significantly interrupted, consider the Pomodoros void and try again later.
- Take a 5m break.
Take an actual break after each Pomodoros. It will be tempting to keep working if you’re in the flow of things, but taking a break is part of the process of ‘resetting’ and clearing your mind.
- Take a longer break every four cycles.
After every four cycles of Pomodoros, take a longer break for 15m to 30m. Ideally, remove yourself from the screen and go for a short walk or do something physical.
- Practice thinking and planning in Pomodoros.
Start using 25m Pomodoros to estimate tasks and plan your day. Think about your week and consider how many Pomodoros will you be able to fit in — and therefore what are the most valuable tasks to use them for.
The main criticism of the Pomodoro Techniqe is its rigidity. What if a task takes 35m? What if you’re really in the flow of concentration when your timer tells you it's time for a break? What if your work on something reveals a potentially more important task that you should be working on?
Some have suggested a bigger bucket, or period of focused time, for your main priority in a day that will require Deep Work, rather than breaking it into 25m sessions.
There are countless tools to help you apply this technique, but you really don’t need any besides a timer. That said, you might want to experiment with 25m sand timers as indicators for your kids or others, Chrome extensions that can track your Pomodoros, and even apps to help gamify them.
The Pomodoro Technique was created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s and was named after tomato-shaped kitchen timers. Cirillo published a book entitled the Pomodoro Technique in 2006, which has since been updated and republished in 2013. Cirillo also runs his own consulting firm to improve the productivity of people and individuals.
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