The Pomodoro Technique – Time Management
Time is considered to be one of the most important (and scarce) resources in business. As such, people have been looking for ways to manage it more efficiently and effectively. Over time, many time management techniques and methodologies have been developed and introduced. Some worked; others didn’t, and there were those methods that needed more tweaking before they got the job done. Out of these many methods, there is one that has gained more acceptance in various industries, particularly software design and development: it is called the Pomodoro Technique.
In this article, you’ll learn about 1) what the Pomodoro Technique is and 2) how the Pomodoro Technique works.
WHAT IS THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE?
“So many things to do, but very little time to do them all.”
“I can’t focus on my work because there are simply too many distractions.”
“I’ve been on this task for hours on end and I’m getting sick and tired of it.”
These are only a few of the many scenarios that people at work often go through. Some have difficulty maintaining their focus, while others find it hard to stay on top of their workload, which seems to become higher and higher. It seems that, no matter how hard they work, the amount of their load does not ease up.
This is where the Pomodoro technique becomes an effective tool to increase your productivity.
The Pomodoro technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo when he was still a university student in the late 1980s. It was named after the kitchen timer that he used, which just happened to be shaped like a tomato, or Pomodoro in Italian.
Fundamentals of the Pomodoro Technique
Cirillo developed this method around the following ideas:
- Productivity and creativity is increased when work is performed in sprints or sessions.
- Frequent or regular and well-spaced breaks result to the improvement of one’s mental agility and maintain the freshness of his creativity.
- Management of distractions is a key to maintaining focus.
This technique involves the use of a timer and breaking down work into intervals or sprints – called Pomodoros – with short breaks in between. Each interval of time that is spent working usually lasts 25 minutes, and the breaks can last anywhere between 3 to 5 minutes.This is not a hard and fast rule, though, because the length of each Pomodoro will depend on the nature of the work to be done, and your personal preference, of course.
Benefits of Using the Pomodoro Technique
The ultimate goal of the Pomodoro Technique is to “reduce the impact of external and internal interruptions on work flow and focus”. When it comes to any workplace or any job, interruptions come with the territory. You cannot entirely do away with them. You could, however, take steps to make sure that they do not have drastic or major adverse effects on how you perform your current work.
This time management hack is ideal for large jobs, or jobs that involve a series of tasks. That makes them easier to break down or divide into Pomodoros. For example, you can finish one task in one Pomodoro, then proceed to the next step or task in the series in the next Pomodoro.
The Pomodoro technique has been known to provide the following benefits:
This is, after all, the primary reason why this technique was developed. There are two time-related “issues” that workers find themselves burdened with: they need more time to do their work, and they need to finish their work on time.
With the Pomodoro technique, they will be able to find more time to accomplish their tasks, and they will also be aided in ensuring that they finish those tasks within the time allotted. There will be no room for procrastination, since you will actually be motivated to do more within the time allotted, before the timer rings.
Reduce Stress and Eliminate Burnout
Doing too much of one thing for prolonged periods will take its toll on your mind and body. It becomes monotonous, so you will feel exhaustion set in faster and heavier. On the other hand, if you have too limited time to finish a specific task, you will find yourself rushing through it, and the panic involved is likely to tire you out and even increase the probabilities of committing mistakes in your work.
With the strategic timing of working and taking breaks, you are giving yourself time to breathe in between some serious work, so you can keep stress at bay. The breaks will also be a good way to deal with the burnout that monotony in your work processes can bring.
Increased Productivity and Creativity
The breaks that are taken between work intervals will keep the mind focused, fresh and invigorated. You may have noticed that you can think clearer and come up with better ideas if you have these breaks that will refresh your mind. Your concentration is improved, and you can even think deeply when required.
If you are exhausted, this results to uninspired ideas. It is no different from just going through the motions and doing the minimum that is required of you, when you can do so much better, above and beyond what is expected of you.
Distractions are good in keeping things from becoming too tiresome or monotonous. However, if handled incorrectly, they also have the tendency of becoming your excuse to slow down in your work or to stop and abandon it completely when it is not yet finished or completed.
By training your mind to focus using the Pomodoro technique, you will be able to masterfully deal with the distractions if and when they do pop up. There are people who have naturally short attention spans. This technique actually works very well even with them. By keeping the intervals short, there is minimal risk of their attention veering away from the task at hand. By the time their attention span reached its limit, the timer rings, signaling a break. They can use the break to refresh themselves, and return to the task when the timer starts all over again.
If you are one of those people with short attention spans, you can customize the technique according to the average length of time of your attention span. If you notice that you cannot concentrate on your job for more than 20 minutes, you can choose to set each Pomodoro for 20 minutes.
Balance of Life and Work
Think of your goals, both in your personal and professional life. Chances are that these two are interrelated or have a connection. One would affect the other, and vice versa. Therefore, balance must be struck between the two. But how can you have that balance when you have a tired mind and body?
With the time management hack known as the Pomodoro technique, you will be able to create that balance. You will be setting realistic targets, and you will go about your work in a systematic manner in order to achieve those targets. You will be satisfied with your work and still have time for your personal development. Balance is also achieved even with just a small measure of organization, which is really what the Pomodoro technique promotes: organizing your work.
Balance can also be achieved through pacing. Sometimes, a fast-paced work environment can be detrimental to one’s personal health and development, as well as his job or work performance. With this technique, you can pace yourself through your tasks, and be assured that you are actually making progress in your work.
Now you are probably wondering where the concept of multitasking fits in all these. It’s simple, really: the Pomodoro technique actually makes no room for multitasking. It’s about focus and flow, so you have to pick one task and do it before moving on to another task.
HOW THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE WORKS
Surprisingly, the Pomodoro Technique is not all that difficult to understand and implement. Experts may give varying steps and stages, but the sequence is pretty much the same. The only differences would be mainly brought about by variations in workers’ styles and preferences when it comes to carrying out their tasks.
Stages of the Pomodoro Technique
1. Get rid of all existing and potential distractions.
Take a look at your workspace or your workplace as a whole. Identify the distractions that are currently wreaking havoc with your concentration when you are working. Next, you should also be more forward-looking and anticipate the distractions that can potentially arise when you are in the middle of work.
Some of the distractions that people usually deal with at work include phone calls and interruptions by colleagues and clients. Those who do their work using the computer also identify email alerts and private message notifications as work distractions. Turn them all off, and close all unnecessary tabs on your browser, as these may distract you while working.
2. Decide on a task that you will focus on.
You may have a list of tasks that have to be done. Choose one that you will focus on. You may choose based on the level of difficulty or bulk of work, but most workers choose their focus task based on earlier prioritization standards or if they have deadlines to meet for certain tasks.
Individual workers usually have their own “to-do” lists. These are very useful when it comes to choosing which tasks to prioritize, as well as consider the length of time for each interval.
3. Decide on the length of time of intervals and breaks.
Early on, you have to decide how long each Pomodoro will be, as well as the length of break time that you will spend in between these Pomodoros. Traditionally, one interval will last for 25 minutes, but you can make this shorter or longer, depending on what you will be working on. You can also decide on making your break as short as 3 minutes, or make it as long as 5 minutes. It’s all up to you.
You may also decide to take a longer break after several Pomodoros. For example, after 4 25-minute sessions, you can take a break that will last for 15 to 20 minutes.This technique promotes keeping the sprints short, so going beyond 25 minutes for each sprint is not really advisable, as it may be deemed too long by most people’s standards. Setting each sprint at one hour is even longer and may be counter-productive.
For purposes of this discussion, let us decide on a 25-minute Pomodoro and a 3-minute break, with the longer break lasting 15 minutes.
4. Set the timer for the work session.
Keep a piece of paper and pencil close. You will see why in the next step. Set up the timer in a spot that is close to you so you can hear it when it rings, but not too close that you will find yourself repeatedly looking at it and checking how much time has lapsed and how many minutes you have left.
5. Work on the focus task until the timer rings the end of the sprint.
Get to work. Forget the timer and just focus on the work at hand. It is natural to have sudden thoughts or distractions pop up in your head. Do not dismiss them completely, because some of them may be useful for other tasks on your list. This is where you will use the piece of paper and pen. Write down the distractions for future references.
Once the timer rings, signaling the end of the Pomodoro, stop what you are doing and place a checkmark (or an X, whichever you want) on another piece of paper. To avoid confusion, it should be a piece of paper separate from where you wrote down the distractions or ideas that popped up in your head during the interval.
6. Take a break.
Do anything that is not related to the focus task. Get up, walk around, put some distance between you and your work desk or workspace. You can even stretch a bit, do some exercises or get a brief hand or neck massage. Grab a glass of water or some chips. You can do anything, really, but it would be a good idea to keep them simple. Not too taxing or require too much brain power from you.
At the end of the break, go back to the first step.
Once the checkmark sheet has four checkmarks (or X marks, depending on what you chose to use), you can enjoy that 15-minute break decided upon earlier. After 15 minutes, reset the checkmark count so you’re back to zero, and start from Step 1 all over again.
7. Maintain a record of all the tasks performed as the Pomodoros are completed.
This is for purposes of monitoring your progress and evaluating the effectiveness of the application of this time management technique.
Once a Pomodoro has been decided on, it should prevail. This means that it cannot be divided into smaller intervals. So you have decided on each Pomodoro lasting 25 minutes? Stick to that.
What if another task or activity crops up while you are in the middle of a Pomodoro? You have two options: record the other activity and get back to the Pomodoro immediately, or you can stop the Pomodoro entirely to focus on that other activity, especially if it something that is so important that it cannot wait. Of course, the former option is the ideal choice, if you want to maintain your focus and flow.
Tools in the Pomodoro Technique
When Cirillo first developed this technique, it was pretty simple. All that was needed was a mechanical timer (he used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato), a piece of paper, and a pencil. This simplicity made this method favored by many. Gradually, other users turned to using digital and more advanced timers to make the process much easier. Over the years, however, several app developers came up with apps that perform the Pomodoro technique.
The earlier users of the Pomodoro technique may argue against the use of digital timers or Pomodoro apps, since it goes against the principle of removing all distractions, which also includes those that are digital in nature. However, as the nature of work is increasingly veering towards the use of digital technology, there is no doing away with them completely. Most of the work today is now done using and through computers, so it would be best to adapt the Pomodoro technique to these technological changes.
The Pomodoro technique can be used by practically anyone, from students getting their study timetable together to professionals and business people. Granted, it may not be a fit for all types of people or professions, so you have to assess its applicability first in your particular case before you can use it.
Here’s another great thing about the Pomodoro technique: unless you make use of those apps or purchased those advanced or digital tools, then you can use it without spending a single cent! Yes, time management does not have to cost you anything!