Kick Your Productivity Up a Notch – The Pomodoro Technique

I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve my time-management skills and increase my productivity. In the past I’ve written about how to work smarter, not harder and explored the difference between busyness and productivity. In more than a few blog posts, I have stressed the importance of taking frequent breaks to allow your mind to recharge and improve motivation.

There have been many studies and articles written on the benefits of taking breaks throughout the workday. It's a common misconception that long hours and busy days add up to more productivity. In fact, one study showed that the most productive employees don’t work more hours than their counterparts, they just take more breaks. For those who are uncomfortable building breaks into their workday (How can working less actually help me accomplish more?), I wanted to share the details of The Pomodoro Technique, a time-management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The Pomodoro Technique is one of the simplest productivity hacks to implement. The only tool you need is a timer.

With the Pomodoro method, you break your work down into short, timed intervals - setting a timer for 25 minutes, working on a single task and giving it your full focus during that 25-minute time, then taking a 5-minute break to get up and move around. After that, you repeat the cycle. The timer instills a sense of urgency to get as much done in that 25 minutes as possible, and the promise of frequent breaks allows you to stay motivated.

The cyclical nature of the Pomodoro technique can help you train your brain to hyper-focus on the task at hand, and get quite a lot accomplished in short bursts of time, while taking frequent breaks to rest, relax and recharge.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Choose a task you want to accomplish.
  • Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the “Pomodoro” is the timer and is the Italian word for tomato. Cirillo name the system “Pomodoro” after the tomato-shaped timer he used to time his work as a university student.)
  • Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings.
  • Take a short 5-minute break. Numerous studies suggest that sitting at your desk for a long time can be detrimental to your health, so get up and move around!
  • After every 4 Pomodoros, take a longer break (plan on about 15-20 minutes).

During your longer break, do whatever it takes to make you feel recharged, motivated, and ready to start another Pomodoro session. Repeat the entire process a couple of times during your workday, and you will see that you can get quite a lot accomplished!

The Pomodoro Technique is helpful in that it gives you structure and puts you in control of your work day. If interruptions happen, you have the choice of ending your Pomodoro at that point and restarting later or telling the interrupting party that you are in the middle of something and will get back to them at a designated time.  It’s also important to remember that Pomodoro is a productivity system—not a concrete set of rules. If you are experiencing a productive session and the timer goes off, it's okay to pause the timer, finish what you're doing, and then take a break. Or if you have meetings or conference calls scheduled in the middle of a Pomodoro session; just work around those.

Since a timer is the only essential Pomodoro tool, you can get started with a timer on your phone, a clock with countdown feature, or an egg timer. It’s said that Cirillo himself prefers a manual timer, as the process of winding one up "confirms your determination to work." There are also many Pomodoro apps available, search and uncover which ones might have features that are important to you. Below is just a sampling of a few that I found:

Remember, the focus of the Pomodoro Technique is on the work, not on which timer you use. It’s an effective technique in that it creates a habit of improving your focus, while also building in important breaks to come up for air. The cycle keeps users motivated – we can do almost anything for 25 minutes, right? And for multi-taskers like myself? It forces me to focus only on the work in front of me; and insanely improves my productivity!

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