Pomodoro means tomato in Italian. But what do tomatoes have to do with being more productive?
Brain research indicates that the average human attention span is decreasing while the expectations of work productivity are increasing. Many arrive at work without a clear plan of action; days get hijacked by interruptions, productivity is sapped by time-wasters, and we don’t really know where to begin or how long it will take to get everything done - if we can even conceive of getting everything done…. Enter the Pomodoro Technique. A super easy method to help you organize your time, be more productive, and leave work secure in the knowledge you are accomplishing your goals.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management method invented by Francesco Cirillo. At University, he found he was having difficulty focusing and getting work done on time. After locating a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato, he learned he could set it to maintain short sprints of focus which yielded great results; the Pomodoro Technique was born.
Why use the Pomodoro Technique?
Help focus on the task at hand
Break down a larger project into bite-sized chunks
Train your brain to avoid interruptions
Finish each day with a sense of accomplishment
How to use the Pomodoro Technique
The technique is simple. You set tasks and work in uninterrupted 25-minute sprints of intense focus to accomplish your goals.
Set your priorities for the day.
Break tasks into the anticipated minutes it will take to complete; each 25-minute sprint =1 Pomodoro.
Find a timer, any timer will do, and set it for 25 minutes.
Take a moment to focus your mind and then hit start.
For 25 minutes, work solely on the task at hand.
When the timer goes off, CELEBRATE! You did it!
Take a 5 minute stretch break, select the next item, set the timer, and begin again.
After 4 sprints, take a longer brain break.
Next Level: Planning your day with the Pomodoro Technique
Assuming an 8-hour work day, you may have up to 16 Pomodoros. (Remember, however, you probably need to eat or use the restroom at some point too!)
Take a look at your to-do list for the day.
Select 3 items that are imperative to your success today and prioritize them. These items may be time-bound, critical first steps, or garden variety check-boxes.
Assign the number of Pomodoros you think it will take to complete the task. Items requiring more than 4 Pomodoros should be broken down into smaller tasks.
Each Pomodoro is worth 25 minutes plus a 5-minute stretch break. So, if you think a task will take 30 minutes to complete, it is worth 1 Pomodoro.
Using a Productivity Planner, (I use this one*), or creating your own, write the task name and draw the number of Pomodoros to the side. After each sprint, mark off the number of tomatoes it actually took to complete. This will help you get better at knowing how long you need to complete certain items.
Despite your best plans, sometimes you may get interrupted or lose focus. If this happens, don’t beat yourself up. Once the interruption passes, start a new Pomodoro; do not pick up with the remaining minutes in the one that was interrupted.
Look at item 1, Complete annual report. This is a large item that is likely going to take many hours to complete, therefore you will need to break this down into smaller tasks. An example might be to gather the data you need which may only take 2-4 Pomodoros.
Now, look at the second item, 1:1 with manager. This is easier because you already have a pretty good idea about how long this will take. You have slotted 30 minutes on your calendar, but you already know your 1:1s usually last at least 45 minutes. So, on your planner, draw 2 Pomodoros.
Another must-do task is to research trends. This one is dangerous because you may need to use your computer to search, and the temptation to go down the rabbit hole or get off task may be strong.
You know that each day it is likely you will need to respond to emails, texts, and calls. Go ahead and select the number of Pomodoros you anticipate it will take.
You may also have other task-oriented items like meeting agendas or reports. If they are critical to your work today, include those items.
At the end of the day, take 15 minutes to review your accomplishments, note when you were correct in your time assumptions and where you over or under-estimated the time. The more often you do this, the better you will get at estimating the time things will take to complete.
To get yourself ready for the next work day, set aside 15-25 minutes to pre-plan the items that will be important to complete. Your ‘next morning self’ will thank you for the planning.
My life is not designed to fit into 25-minute blocks. Can I still use this technique?
The short answer is YES! This technique is flexible and can be shaped to fit your work style.
What if I just can’t maintain focus for 25 minutes?
Part of what makes this technique so effective is working in sustained, predictable chunks of time. When you begin, 25 minutes might be a LONG time to sustain focus. It is OK to start with 10-15 minute sprints and build up to 25.
What if I prefer to work on tasks for a longer time?
If you already have great focus skills, feel free to extend your time to 50 minute blocks followed by a 10-minute stretch break. Being successful is not about strict adherence to the 25 minutes; it is more about figuring out how to sustain your focus and accurately predict how much time you need to successfully complete a project.
My work is unpredictable, how can I use this when things always seem to take more time to complete?
To avoid overscheduling, plan 1-2 extra Pomodoros into your day. These surplus Pomodoros can be used if items take longer than you anticipated. If you routinely need to use the surplus, this could indicate you underestimate the amount of time needed to complete projects. (Conversely, if you always have time left at the end of the day, you may overestimate the amount of time needed.) If you still have the surplus left at the end of your day, allocate the time to complete lower priority items and get them off your list.
One of the things I like most about this technique is at the end of the day I have a visual reference of what I accomplished - and that makes me feel better. Over time, I also learned that I overestimate how much time I think it takes to complete certain tasks and I learned how much time routine tasks normally take. Getting better at these predictions has helped me better plan my days and weeks.
The Pomodoro Technique may help focus your time and attention on the things that matter most. If you use this technique, I would like to know about your experience. Please comment below.
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