One of the hottest topics on the internet is time management. It seems like we all need a way to manage our time for greater focus so we can stop procrastinating and get more done in less time.
While getting more done in less time might seem punishing, it’s actually freeing. We’re not talking about doing more work, necessarily. We’re talking about doing focused work with no distractions so we can get our tasks finished in less time.
It turns out, distractions are one of the major things that stop us from being as productive as we can in a day. Research at the University of California, Irvine shows that when we get distracted, it takes about 25 minutes for us to get back to the level of focus and productivity we were at before the interruption.
Now imagine being interrupted multiple times a day. The interruption doesn’t have to be big. Even little things like checking your social media, email, or answering a call count.
Realizations about the impact of interruptions have caused intrepid thinkers to come up with solutions for eliminating distractions and maximizing focused work time.
And just like people, each method is unique. What works for one may not work for another, so it’s a good idea to learn about a few and build on the method that works best for you.
One of the most popular productivity methods is called the Pomodoro Technique.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique was invented in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo when he was a university student. He was having a hard time assimilating what he was learning and staying caught up on his work. “It seemed like I had no way to defend myself against time,” he said.
Fracesco soon determined that his problems came from a high number of distractions and interruptions, combined with low concentration and motivation. He decided to challenge himself to study uninterrupted for 10 minutes. Looking around, he saw a tomato-shaped timer (pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato) which he used to time himself. It worked so well, he gradually developed it into the pomodoro method people use today.
How do you use the Pomodoro Technique?
To use the Pomodoro Technique, you need:
- A timer. (It doesn’t have to look like a tomato. Any timer will do.)
- A notebook and pen to track how many pomodoro cycles you complete. (Or, you can just keep track in your head.)
The steps are fairly simple.
- You choose the task you want to focus on.
- Set your timer for 25 minutes. (Some call these 25-minute chunks a pomodoro.)
- Work on your task for 25 minutes without stopping.
- When the timer goes off, put a checkmark down in your notebook.
- Take a 5-minute break to stretch or get a drink.
- Every time you complete 4 pomodoros, take a longer 20-30 minute break.
The aim isn’t to get one task completed for each pomodoro cycle. The aim is to work for 25 minutes straight without stopping. It may take you several pomodoros to finish your task.
Some people like to try and determine how many cycles their task will take, so they can plan their day with more accuracy. After using the technique a few times, you’ll start to get a feel for how many pomodoros a task will take.
Protect your pomodoro
This is one of the keys to success for this method to work. You have to protect your pomodoro!
Protect it from what? From interruptions, distractions, daydreams, notifications—anything that could break your focus, including yourself! When you set that timer, nothing interrupts your work. (Unless it’s an emergency, of course.)
Does it have to be 25 minutes?
The beauty of the Pomodoro Technique is in its simplicity. Because it isn’t hard to learn, track, or execute, it is very flexible.
Some people have found that 25 minutes is just the amount of time it takes for them to get really immersed in their work—so when the timer goes off it is actually an interruption!
This isn’t a hard problem to solve.
A popular variation of the technique is to set the timer for 90 minutes and then take a 5-15 minute break, depending on how you’re feeling.
This method follows what is known as the ultradian rhythm. The ultradian rhythm was discovered in the 1950s by a sleep researcher named Nathaniel Kleitman. He discovered that our bodies tend to move through set cycles. One common cycle falls within a 90-120 minute window.
Many people have found that they can find their ultradian rhythm by noticing when they feel energetic, and when they feel the need for rest throughout the day. They then use this insight to plan their pomodoro sessions.
One thing is for sure, we’re all different. The right amount of time will depend on what feels right to you, so experiment to find out what your ideal pomodoro is.
And don’t just assume that because you’re used to working in marathon sessions for hours at a time, that means shorter intervals won’t work for you. Give it a try to see if your brain is refreshed with shorter work sprints and short breaks.
Add a recap and review to the beginning and end of your sessions.
For those who really want to take this method to the next level, you can add designated time to recap the work you’ve done before you took your break to reassess and adjust, or just to get back into the flow.
Then, you can add time near the end of your session to review how you’ve done. Did you stay focused? Were you energized and involved, or drowsy? These reviews will help you get a bigger picture of how to adjust your pomodoro to best fit your unique needs.
If you want to use this technique to get deep into analyzing your performance and making improvements in your time management and life beyond this basic description, you can find a copy of Francesco Cirillo’s book called The Pomodoro Technique. In the book, he gives more ideas for using the technique and provides tracking sheets.
Is there an app for that?
Of course, I can’t end this guide without talking about what apps you can use for this technique. Using an app would eliminate the need for a timer and even pen and paper.
If you do a search of the term “pomodoro app” and you’ll be surprised at the choices.
I easily came up with 15 apps. There are free and paid apps, some with many features and some with basic features. If you decide to look for an app to time your pomodoros, read about each app’s extra features and decide which you must have and which will go unused.
Some apps change colors and styles, some have tracking or activity logs, and some even block your phone (or monitor) from working while you’re in a pomodoro.
There are also apps that integrate with your favorite task management apps like Evernote and Asana, for example, and apps made specifically to work with one platform. For example, the app, Pomello, is made to integrate with Trello.
I hope you get the chance to give the Pomodoro Technique a try to see if it helps you get more work done in less time. And if you have a favorite pomodoro app, or want to discuss pomodoro apps, leave a comment below or start a conversation in our Paperless Movement Forum.
One of the biggest distractions for many of us is the relentless alert of yet another email; this kills any type of productivity and focus. Make sure to read my blog, How to Get to Inbox Zero Every Day, to help you to break the cycle of stopping every 5 minutes to look at your email.
Want to find more ways to boost your time management? Find out why so many people are so busy but are not being productive. Check out my recent productivity guide ‘Busy vs Productive: There is a Difference & How to Make the Shift’