Key learning outcomes:

  • Understand how the pomodoro technique can increase your ability to focus and your productivity.
  • Learn about the benefits of breaking down large tasks into smaller portions.
  • Conclude that grouping your outstanding tasks will maximise the output for each “pomodoro”.
  • Develop strategies for managing distractions so as to improve your workflow.

Article:

Time is the one constant in life, and our ability to manage it effectively can make the difference between success and failure. You will find a number of tips and tools in this section of the website, and we suggest you explore and identify those that work the most effectively for you. In this article we explore the pomodoro technique, which is a simple yet effective tool that can help to boost your ability to focus and your productivity.

Francesco Cirillo published the pomodoro technique in the 1980s after using it effectively during his academic studies. Pomodoro is Italian for “tomato” – the technique was named after the tomato-shaped timer he used when developing the tool at university.[wlm_ismember]

How it works

The pomodoro technique breaks your work down into 25-minute chunks – these are called “pomodoros”. You work solidly for one pomodoro and then take a five-minute break. You repeat this routine until you have completed four pomodoros, or 100 minutes of working time and 15 minutes of rest time. The technique concludes with a longer break of 20 minutes or more to rest and recharge. It is much less complicated than it sounds. The diagram below illustrates one pomodoro cycle – the work time is in red and the rest time in green.

Pomodoro

Why it works

It might seem that taking frequent breaks would be counterproductive; however, research shows that we are actually much more effective when we take regular breaks. The pomodoro technique requires you to take frequent breaks, which ensures your energy levels and productivity remain high throughout the day. One of the keys to the technique is to focus on just one task during one or more pomodoros so you complete more work during these bursts of high activity. The technique does take some getting used to, but once you use it regularly, you will find it improves both your ability to focus and your overall productivity. Below we provide you with a step-by-step guide to using the technique.

Step one – Preparation

Before commencing your first pomodoro cycle, you need to do some preparation. Firstly, obtain a timer so you can measure your pomodoros. We use an app on our smartphone, but you can also use a kitchen timer or a stopwatch. You just need something that gives you an audible reminder, but is not going to distract those around you.

Next, look at what you need to achieve during the day. Go through your “to-do” list and identify what you most need to focus on and think about how long it is likely to take. If you have a number of short tasks, group them into similar activities so you stay focused during the 25-minute pomodoro. If you have a large project, try breaking it down into smaller tasks which can be completed in a single pomodoro cycle.

Ensure you have everything you need prior to setting your timer. The idea is to focus on being productive for 25 minutes – you do not want to waste time looking for information or tools to complete the task. Additionally, you want to minimise distractions, so make sure you turn off your email alerts, turn off your phone or switch it to silent, and if possible close your door. If you work in an open plan office, place a sign in a prominent place to let people know you are focused and do not want to be disturbed.

Step two – Start working

Once you start the timer, you need to start working! You need to focus 100% on the task at hand for the full 25 minutes. Try not to let your mind wander or allow yourself to get distracted. If something pops into your head, make a note of it and then get back to the task at hand. We like to keep a notebook and pen next to us at all times for this purpose. If you finish your work before the 25 minutes is up, use the remaining time for something else on your list. It is worth keeping track of how long things take so that over time you will be able to plan your pomodoros more effectively.

Step three – Take a break

The key to success when using the pomodoro technique is to take a five-minute break from your work every 25 minutes. When the timer goes off you need to put down your tools and mentally switch off for five minutes. This time is best spent physically moving around, which has the added benefits of moving your larger muscles and getting the blood flowing through your veins. It is well documented that sitting at a desk for long periods can have adverse health effects. So getting up and moving around will do more than just boost your productivity.

Try to resist the urge to use these five minutes to check emails, Facebook or your Twitter account as these activities serve as distractions and will not allow your brain to switch off. It is also tempting to simply work through the break, especially when you are on a creative roll or really feeling in the zone. However, the basis of the technique is to take regular short breaks to boost your productivity.

Once you get into the swing of using the technique, you will use the five-minute breaks effectively for tasks such as tidying your desk, grabbing a snack or having a quick conversation with a colleague or friend. People that are experts at the technique use the time to meditate, allowing them to start the next pomodoro fully refreshed.

Step four – Repeat the cycle

Once your five minutes is up, reset your timer and get back to work. Continue this until you have completed your four pomodoro sessions. Once you have completed the cycle, take a longer break. For many people this might be a lunch break, a meeting or even an exercise session. The most important thing is that you get up from your workstation and stop working on the task. Remember that everyone is different and some people may find four pomodoros is too many. While you are getting used to the technique, you may prefer to work in blocks of two or three pomodoros building up to the four pomodoro cycle over time.

Using the technique

As we suggested in the introduction to this article, being able to manage your time is one of the keys to success in business and it is important to find a technique that works for you. The pomodoro technique is one that many find very effective, particularly when working on tasks such as writing, planning or studying. There is no reason why you cannot use a combination of time management techniques throughout your week depending on your needs at the time. For example, if you spend one day working on the business you might find the pomodoro technique is a perfect way to keep you focused and on track, but an “ideal week” structure is appropriate for the remainder of your time.

We find one of the advantages of the pomodoro technique is that it forces you to break down larger tasks into more bite-sized chunks, so you are less likely to put off starting tasks that might seem too time consuming. Additionally, we find that each pomodoro creates a deadline which in turn increases productivity.

Like anything, the technique does not suit every situation. We find that in environments where it is hard to predict workflow and where there are a lot of people distractions, the pomodoro technique can be hard to manage. Also, if people do not have a full 25 minutes available, they may think there is no point starting work.

Overall we believe the benefits outweigh any criticisms and it is worthwhile applying this technique. We use it every day in the Absolute Best office when we are writing content for the website, and have found it to be one of the most effective tools we have used. We strongly recommend that you give it a try in conjunction with the other tools and techniques in the “Time Management” section of the website.[/wlm_ismember]

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