As a graduate business student and a voracious reader of articles, I have come across the term Pomodoro Technique a lot over the last few months. It is a time management and productivity theory developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. When I first saw it mentioned I had two questions: “Why on earth is it called the Pomodoro Technique?” and “Why does this work?”
The answer to the first question is simple. Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer when developing this theory, and pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato! The second question is a little more complicated but equally as engaging!
Here are a few reasons why you should give this technique a try. First, it gives you the ability to manage and control your time. Secondly, it increases accountability. Lastly, the frequent breaks also help with body aches and mental fatigue.
Why does the Pomodoro Technique work?
The thing about this technique is that it changes the way we use our time and increases the focus that we apply to work. The premise of the method involves a few easy steps:
- Decide on the first task you want to do. (I would suggest starting with the job you least want to do)
- Set your timer to 25 minutes
- Devote that 25 minutes solely to the situation and limit distractions
- When your timer stops, place a checkmark on a piece of paper
- Take a short break, no longer than 5 minutes until you draw the fourth checkmark, and then go back and repeat step 2
- After four checkmarks (or four pomodoros) take a more extended break, usually 15-30 minutes
The act of setting a timer and working against it naturally causes the person to accomplish as much as they can during that period. It also gives the person the ability to manage their distractions.
Having a way to manage distractions is a beneficial skill for those of us who work from home. There are any number of distractions happening when I am trying to write. It could be the phone dinging with some notification or the dog whining because he sees me doing something and needs to be fed right now or the child whining for precisely the same reason.
My children are 16 and 11, so they are capable of helping themselves, but of course, they need my undivided attention when I am in the middle of something else.
Children aside, I distract myself quite regularly, so when I stumbled across this technique, I was dying to try it out! According to Emily Christensen, if the distraction is internal, you should “write them down on a piece of paper and push through to the end of your pomodoro.”
If you are trying this out in an office setting and someone else interrupts you, inform them that you are in the middle of a pomodoro and schedule a time when you can visit with them.
Do you feel like you are working all day, and are so busy you can’t get anything done? Do you find yourself wishing that you had more time in the day because there doesn’t seem to be enough time to finish your list?
This technique will help with that by forcing you to spend 25 minutes at a time being productive. It isn’t very comfortable to think about much time I spend doing things that are not a priority.
The Pomodoro technique will help hold you accountable for the work that gets done in a day, as well as illuminate how your time is spent. At the end of each session, use a minute from your break and write down everything you have finished in a daily productivity journal.
Being able to go back and review the work you were able to finish in a day will help you plan the rest of your week and improve the way you structure your daily tasks because you will know how long something will take you to do. I know I set goals frequently, but either overestimate or underestimate the time commitment.
Reduces body aches and mental fatigue
When I get in the zone and the words are flowing onto the screen, it can be hard to stop. I end up sitting here for hours without moving and just typing away. Then I try to get up and grab a drink of water, only to be in a lot of pain, muttering how I sat for too long. And I am more thirsty than I realized. If that happens to you, then you will love the Pomodoro technique.
Use these breaks to do a few quick stretches and hydrate. Do a quick mindfulness session and then return to your work. These breaks will help you fight burnout and keep your ideas fresh! It’s just a short five minutes, but your back and your brain will thank you!
How did it work out?
My first attempt at doing this did not go well. First off, I decided to use the regular timer on my cell phone. This method was problematic for two reasons. There was no ticking, and curiosity compelled me to look at the phone (and get distracted).
First, the sound of the timer “ticking” drives people just mad enough to push themselves to do more before the thing goes off. My cell phone does not tick. I learned that there are several apps out there that will work much better than the regular timer on your phone. The top five, according to Kenneth Franks at JotForm, are:
- Focus Booster
- Focus Keeper
- Focus To-Do
I downloaded Focus-To-Do and will be giving that a try from now on!
Looking at your cell phone to check what time it is defeats the whole purpose of managing your distractions. After being less than impressed with the Pomodoro technique, and doing a little more research, (this is a flaw of mine, jump right in and read more later…) I discovered that experts recommend remaining low tech: tomato timer, paper, and pencil.
I do not have a tomato timer, so I am hoping the app will help. If you do not want to get an app or go old school and choose to use the timer on your phone, then at least put your do not disturb setting on!
The second thing I struggled with was adjusting to this idea that I had to stop when I felt I was productive. That seemed counterintuitive. I did get the hang of it a little more toward the end of today and started to realize that my periods of productivity were producing better work. With a bit of practice and patience, I think the results of this technique will be apparent.
The third and final observation I have from my attempt at my phone is way more of a distraction than I like to believe. The three to five-minute breaks are not for scrolling on Facebook to read the 25 minutes worth of notifications.
The purpose of those breaks is to get up and stretch, hydrate, maybe practice a little mindfulness and breathing, not extending the break to 8 minutes because you had to watch a coronavirus parody video (THERE ARE SO MANY!). I knew that, and yet, I found myself not moving from my spot and not using my break time efficiently.
I will give the Pomodoro technique another try this week
I may not have quite mastered the Pomodoro technique or achieved boss level status, but I can see the potential in this method. I now have an app, which has lots of cool extra features, and it does tick! I have it going now, and there is something about that sound that has me trying to think faster.
My first pomodoro and break of the day just ended! I feel like I accomplished so much over the last thirty minutes. The Focus-To-Do- app also has a setting where you can assign how many pomodoros you think it will take to finish a task.
I attached two pomodoros to finishing this article, and now I find myself trying to type and brainstorm as fast as I can because I need to edit and turn it in before the ticking stops! This might just be my new favorite thing, because it brings out my competitive nature, and I want to beat the time. I know I am weird, but I can’t be the only one.
Have you tried the Pomodoro Technique before? Which app do you use or do you use an actual tomato timer? Did it help you be more productive and stay focused on the task at hand? Were you surprised or pleased with the amount of time tasks took you? Was there a downside that you discovered? We would love to hear your thoughts on this, so please share them in the comment section below!