The Pomodoro Technique is a way to teach yourself to be more productive. It’s great for work or study. It breaks tasks into 25minute chunks, which encourages less multitasking which is the enemy of productivity. In my experience, the Pomodoro Technique is the only thing that consistently works at helping me focus on a task. Mind you, I only use it when I need help focusing.
In my work as a software engineer, I’ve found it fits in really well with Agile development. Work is broken up into 25 minute “sprints” that are called Pomodoros. The Pomodoro Technique also teaches you how to handle distractions rather then just believing they will just magically disappear if you try harder. Depending on what you’re trying to overcome, I discovered the Pomodoro Technique may help you overcome many problems listed below.
Enemies of productivity
If you have a motivational problem, I recommend writing your task list in a diary or notebook that you use for both work and personal use. When your failures/”lack of work” are recorded for all eternity in a personal notebook, motivation to complete tasks seems to increase. In order to make this work, it might mean buying a nice diary/notebook to make those notes feel that much more important. Additionally, since each Pomodoro is counted against a task it’s motivating to see how hard you worked in a given day (even if you didn’t complete many tasks).
External distractions may be a problem. This is especially true in a workplace where people come to talk to you while you are trying to complete your tasks. The Pomodoro Technique encourages you to complete your Pomodoros within 25 minute sprints. More often than not people can be told to go away for a few minutes while you finish off your current Pomodoro. Having someone interrupt you doesn’t have to be a bad distraction. If you simply ask them to come back later and write down “answer XY’s question” to your tasks list you can quickly postpone the distraction until your ready. After you’ve been using this technique for a few days people will hopefully respond to your new method of work and not distract you as much during your Pomodoros.
If you have internal distractions due to other factors (e.g. more interesting work) the Pomodoro Technique encourages you to complete your current Pomodoro. If 10 minutes into a task you think “wouldn’t it be easier to script this work?” you have to make an instant decision. You can either:
- Document the extra task and continue working on your current task.
- For the next Pomodoro you can decide whether or not to continue trying to complete the current task or migrate to the new one.
- Forfeit your current Pomodoro and start a new scripting task. You will lose any credit for work complete in the Pomodoro you forfeit.
- Tell yourself your an idiot and just distracting yourself and complete the task.
Where do I start?
To start the Pomodoro technique all you need is a task list, and a 25minute countdown timer (can be a watch, iPhone or other timing device).
Proactively prevent distractions
25minutes is a relatively short timeframe to be uncontactable. Turn any chat/messaging programs off or change your status. I’ve found that setting my status to “Pomodoro Time!!!/away” is enough to prevent any significant distractions. To start with people might not know what this means but as time goes by they will most probably understand and no longer distract you. I have also found headphones and music as a good way to prevent people/noises/talking around me from becoming a distraction.
Starting a Pomodoro
Choose a task to Pomodoro. It might sound silly but this is one of my biggest struggles. It’s hard for me to stay on task for 25minutes without committing myself to a single task. For me this means choosing what I’m going to work on and setting my computer up with the required windows. This might mean opening up the file/folder I’m going to need to start working on the task. From there I have no excuse for not following through and completing a Pomodoro on any given task. Now it’s time to start that timer!
Managing a Pomodoro
While a Pomodoro is active, you may face some distractions. Make sure all distractions are managed in an effective manner. This might mean quickly writing down a new task, getting back to someone at a later time, or taking notes of anything that is distracting you or interfering with your current focus. Using a task list or a notebook to write down any distractions is often the quickest method for offloading anything for the moment so I can deal with it at a later time. If you find yourself getting off task remind yourself how much time you have left and consider that you may not be able to claim a complete Pomodoro.
Completing a Pomodoro
When a Pomodoro is complete, you can mark a complete Pomodoro against the task. It may take a few Pomodoros to complete a task but this is okay.
Completing a task
Completing a task acknowledges that you’ve completed everything to your knowledge on that task and are ready to move onto another task. Lately my tasks are usually between 3 to 8 Pomodoros. When I practice the Pomordoro technique I usually get between 6 to 8 Pomodoros done in a day, which usually is enough to complete 1 or 2 tasks. Even though I may only complete 1 task per day, the satisfaction of seeing that task (or tasks!) completed helps me stay motivated and on track with my work.
Own your Pomodoro Technique
I’ve found most of the Pomodoro Technique to be accurate and beneficial to maintaining my workflow. I’ve attempted to adjust the Pomodoro timer to be longer and shorter, and also restructured the way in which I set out my task lists. Most of the time this ends up mirroring what the Pomodoro Technique encourages. It is important to note that not all workplaces and people are the same, so play around a little to see what suits you. When I first started the Pomodoro technique, I shortened Pomodoros to 20minutes as I generally have to switch between tasks a lot more. As my role has adjusted slightly in the last year, I now tend to do 2 25minute Pomodoros back-to-back.
My biggest suggestion is to make your task list important. Write it down in a diary or your personal notebook. I don’t use my notebook everyday but having it handy when I need to write something important down leads to less distractions, which is my personal primary evil to productivity. Let me know how you go by leaving any comments/suggestions in the comments .