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Productivity Tips: The Pomodoro Technique

people being productive using the pomodoro technique

Do you ever put off a large task because it’s just too daunting? 

Maybe the task is going to take a long time, and you just KNOW you will get burnt out at some point, you feel a little burnt out even thinking about it!

What if there was a way to get that task done without any burnout at all? 

Well, there’s a special time management technique out there that may very well keep your energy high while you complete your tasks, it’s called the pomodoro technique! 

What is The Pomodoro Technique?

woman working from home and being productive

The pomodoro technique works by alternating your time between focused work and short breaks. That way when you look at the task you train yourself to look at it in terms of small intervals instead of a long gruelling day/week/etc.  

In other words

A big task or many tasks is broken down into short timed intervals (about 25 minutes), these intervals are called “pomodoros”

Between each pomodoro is a short, timed break (about 5 minutes).

Why the short break? Because many of us have short attention spans, and if we take many short breaks we re-energize our brain, and we are able to focus for longer amounts of time more often. 

How is it Done?

Materials

all you need is a timer! You can use an app on your device or a classic timer, such as a kitchen timer or stopwatch. There are many websites and apps out there for this technique, for websites I personally use Pomofocus 

The Technique

The pomodoro technique is simple, here is the classic way to do it

  1. Write down a to-do list 
  2. Pick one task from your list and set a timer for 25 minutes 
  3. Work on that task until the timer goes off 
  4. When the timer goes off, take note that you have just completed 1 pomodoro and then take a 5-minute break
  5. After 4 pomodoros take a longer break, 20-30 minutes is the suggested amount. 
  6. Repeat until the workday is done or all of the tasks are completed

Remember, a pomodoro is a completed time interval, not a completed task!

Variations

The 25-minute work and 5-minute break interval is a template that works for many, but not all.

Please add variations that fit your work-style, want each pomodoro to be 40 minutes? Go for it! Want the longer break to be after 3 pomodoros? You can do that. Just make sure to challenge yourself. 

Many people like a 50-minute focus and a 10-minute break. 

Variations are great if you find that you are still getting distracted with the classic pomodoro times. Tweak it until it works for you. 

Origin of the Technique

classic tomato pomodoro timer

The technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo, a software developer, consultant, and entrepreneur in the late 1980s, early 1990s, when he used his kitchen timer to break down his work while in university.  

Pomodoro is italian for tomato, and the pomodoro technique is named after one of those classic tomato shaped kitchen timers.

The pomodoro technique was originally made for students working on school tasks. But you can use it for any task, whether it’s for work or for at-home chores.

Distractions!

Oh no you got distracted, what do you do now? 

If you accidentally got distracted during your focus time, no problem, note the distraction and keep working until the focus time is up. This is the exact same technique used when meditating. Think a thought while meditating? Note the distraction and keep meditating. Being mindful of the slip up is what will eventually help us keep on track in the future. 

At the end of the day (or during your break if you want) go back to what distracted you and brainstorm on how you might fix that. Was it your phone? Try putting your phone on Do Not Disturb mode, maybe even put it out of reach and out of site ( I put my phone in a drawer!). If you are using a pomodoro app on your phone, just keep your phone within earshot. 

What Makes This Technique Effective?

By breaking down a task into small intervals, we are simplifying the task. When work is simplified, it’s easier to get started, once we are started it’s easier to keep going. Generally we don’t avoid tasks because we are lazy, we avoid them because they are daunting and difficult. If we simplify them, they are less difficult and easier to face. 

The pomodoro technique also gamifies work, by giving yourself a simple challenge to complete and rewards with each successfully completed challenge you are creating a little game for yourself. I wouldn’t say it makes work fun, but it certainly makes it more interesting! 

So is Pomodoro Right For You?

This technique may work for you if you
  • Have a task or tasks you have trouble getting started on or trouble getting motivated to do 
  • Find you are easily distracted in your work day 
  • Get mental fatigue and burnout while doing tasks
  • Want to improve your time management skills
  • Like to gamify work 
  • Are a procrastinator 
  • Have a short attention span
Still unsure if it’s right for you? Here are some more items to consider

This technique is not for everyone! I have a friend that does not like using a pomodoro timer, why? Because sometimes she’s in “the zone” and when the timer goes off she loses her train of thought completely, which she finds very frustrating. So if you are working through a complex problem, and you think a sudden noise will ruin your process, then this technique is not for you. At least not for this particular task.

This technique is for people who find they have a short attention span, if you find you can work for 8 hours straight with no burnout, then this technique might not be of use to you. It might actually be very annoying! 

Now, If you have a task or tasks you have trouble getting started on or trouble getting motivated to do, and you feel the task won’t be disrupted by the timer going off, then this is a great technique for you. And remember, depending on which timer you use, the timer sound might not be too bad. Some apps allow you to use a nice soothing noise.  

Tips and Tricks

  • Many people use their computer or an app for the pomodoro technique, this works! However, if you are the type of person that gets easily distracted on your devices (social media, notifications, favourite websites etc) then you might want to use a classic pomodoro timer, one that does not attach you to your device. 
  • Do you have tasks that will take less than one pomodoro interval to complete? Bunch those tasks together into one pomodoro, for example  “feed cat”, “make doctor appointment”, “pay hydro bill” could fit into one pomodoro.
  • Break down that big task: If a task takes longer than 4-6 pomodoros it still may appear too daunting, break that task down into multiple tasks, for example: instead of “write essay” as one task, try “research essay topics” “brainstorm/ outline essay thoughts and ideas” “draft a thesis statement, and introduction”, “draft essay body and conclusion” etc. Even if you don’t use the pomodoro technique, it’s always good to break down any big task! 
  • Do not check the timer: if you are constantly checking the timer, you are being distracted by the very thing that was supposed to eliminate distraction! Move the timer out of reach and out of view, but within ear shot if you have to. Can’t stop thinking about the timer? This technique may not be for you. 
  • Having trouble getting started? You may still be looking at all the tasks (or one big task) as a whole. Tell yourself to just do ONE 25 minute interval, that’s it! There’s a chance you are not getting started because you are looking at the entire problem. So break it down and do one 25 minute piece of it. Breaking it down will make it easier to start, and once you are started that momentum might keep you going to other pomodoros. You got this! 
  • For your 5-minute break, move away from the area you were working in. Get up, move around, move to a different room. This will help reset your focus. 
  • Sometimes you may find that you suddenly have a lot of focus and momentum and don’t really want a break. For these cases, you can turn that break timer off. If you are in the work groove, then it’s best to not break that focus and attention. The break timer is only effective if you are feeling distracted, unmotivated, and experiencing fatigue. 
  • For desk-job tasks: are you sitting at a computer for most of your tasks? Consider getting up and moving your body for your breaks, maybe add some stretches or workouts. Sitting at a desk all day is hard on the body, and adds stress to your back and neck. Some movement and stretches will help re-energize your body and mind, and it can help maintain a good posture.

Conclusion

man working using the pomodoro timer

The Pomodoro technique is an effective way to break up your work day between focused work and short breaks. This technique:

  • Simplifies and breaks down your tasks
  • Discourages distractions 
  • Promotes you to be mindful of how you spend your day
  • Creates an easy-to-follow challenge for yourself

Distractions are not always avoidable, but  each distraction is just a little problem to solve, every time you are distracted, note it, and find a way to eliminate it, then get back to work.

When you think about it, 25 minutes of work is really not that daunting. Get started right now! 

Having trouble with burnout? The pomodoro technique is one of many strategies you can do to give yourself a healthy work/life balance. Learn more about how to achieve YOUR perfect balance by taking our Self-Care For Professionals course. 

Need some extra help and direction? At Vancouver Island Works Project, we specialize in business consultation. Give us a call, let’s chat about your future goals and business needs. 

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