What’s round and red and productive all over? A little tomato timer task master that is the heart of popular productivity booster, the “Pomodoro Technique.”
Yep, that Italian tomato that makes delicious marinara is also making people more productive — 25 minutes at a time.
The Pomodoro Technique developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s relies on the most simple of premises: set a timer for 25 minutes (you can buy that cute tomato timer but any timer will work!) and focus on your task — and only your task — for that entire time.
That means no remembering that you were going to make a quick phone call; no responding in a Pavlovian style to the seductive ding of the email; no remembering you were going to celebrate Fran in accounting’s birthday (if you work in an office); and no deciding to toss in laundry or thaw dinner if you work at home.
Once your “Pomodoro” (that’s what devotees call each 25-minute segment) is over, you can take a break and focus on something else and then start with your next Pomodoro. How long is a break? About 5 minutes which makes sense if you are doing two Pomodoros in an hour. And then after four Pomodoros, you can take a longer break…and I think a whole Pomodoro sounds about right!
Now this is harder than it sounds. I decided to put the method to the test by breaking this assignment into three “Pomodoros.” The first one was to do research (I had already started). The second was to write as much as I could in 25 minutes and the third was to refine.
How did I do?
Well since the first Pomodoro was devoted to Internet research, you can guess where that went. Right, to social networks. Man, I love them! I turned my attention back but one of the most fascinating articles was from the Wall Street Journal which reminded me that I had meant to send an article to a client last week that I thought would interest her. So, the timer rang. Dang. Not done.
Second segment: Writing. That was easier. But I was typing away when my son came over and needed help with algebra. Well that’s not going to happen, but I dutifully looked at the paper, said I didn’t get it and handed it back and resumed typing. As he watched me type he noticed all the red squiggly lines and asked why my spelling was so bad. I told him that part of writing everything in your head is just typing as fast as you can and using your Pomodoro to its full advantage.
After the writing part, I will move onto the third 25-minute Pomodoro where l go back and spell check, then edit, then print and do a hard copy proofreading. And then one final edit before I post. That will likely take more than 25 minutes but it’s one of those tasks that once I’ve started, I am going to finish even if it takes longer than the allotted 25 minutes. And I know that I won’t have trouble focusing on that Pomodoro, just like I wouldn’t have had trouble focusing on the second one, the writing, if there hadn’t been that little algebra emergency.
And I think that’s one of the keys to the Pomodoro Technique and productivity in general….figure out the things that make it hard for you to focus and eliminate them. If surfing for research makes it hard for you not to surf on over to social networks or other websites, then turn them off. Close out your email browser till the timer rings and then use your break to do something rewarding, which in my case is checking your email.
I found the Pomodoro Technique was very helpful not only for work tasks, but onerous chores as well. For some reason, knowing that I only had 25 minutes to clean the kitchen and mop my floors seemed to make me work faster. And even though I used to use a modified version of this by keeping my eyes on the clock there’s something about a timer counting down that is far more useful than a clock.
When I was working on the kitchen/floor project, I was so tempted to be distracted by a stack of mail and then some produce that I wanted to have ready in the fridge. But I didn’t. I stuck with the kitchen/floors, kept my eye on the timer and even though I ended up needing 15 extra minutes I felt SO accomplished when I was done.
In the past I have struggled with the concept of doing one task start to finish. The old me, the one without the timer clicking in my face, would have tackled the mail under the premise that I might as well just get it done. But it would have led to me needing to pay a bill, or schedule an appointment and would have totally derailed the kitchen task. And I never would have wanted to return to it. So, by forcing myself to power through I got an amazing sense of accomplishment by actually finishing it rather than halfing it and having it hanging over my head all morning.
I was pleasantly surprised at how productive the Pomodoro Technique made me. It also helped me realistically divide my day into bite-sized tasks. I am pretty good at this already, because I bill lots of my clients by time, much like a lawyer would. But I can see how people who are not used to estimating the time that a project takes could be challenged by that. The key, I think, is to do your 25 minutes and then you get to think to yourself, “Do I want to invest another Pomodoro and get this done?” or take your break. Sometimes you’ll do one, sometimes the other. But you will get better at estimating how long a task will take.
Do you REALLY want to push the productivity envelope? I think combining the Pomodoro Technique with the batching method would let you take on the world. Or, if combining the words “batching” and “pomodoro” make you want to make a whole bunch of spaghetti sauce like it does me, well, your freezer — and your family and friends — will thank you!
by Cathie Ericson