Employers rate their workers in a variety of factors, but success or failure is almost always judged by one’s overall productivity.
Knowing how to be more efficient at work can dramatically increase your personal productivity and help you stand out.
Whether it’s for a promotion, personal satisfaction, or to make sure your job gets saved if your employer wants to become “lean and mean,” the Pomodoro Technique can help unlock the energy you need to make things happen.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
It is a specific structure people use to accomplish one task at a time.
It was developed in 1992 by Francesco Cirillo and changes the way we think about professional multitasking.
The problem with multitasking is that 98% of people require time to mentally shift gears in their focus. This shifting process can take up to 15 minutes.
Imagine the distractions you have in the average work day that can shift your focus from the task at hand.
Your email notifications may ring. You might get a phone call. Someone might send you an IM over Facebook. There’s a knock at your office door and it’s the HR Director, coffee mug in hand, and she wants to speak with you about a favorite show the two of you happen to share.
Each distraction could rob you of up to 15 minutes of maximum productivity.
Using the examples above, you’ve already lost 1 hour of time.
The Pomodoro Technique changes how you manage your focus.
Instead of operating from a project-based perspective that may require large chunks of time, you break-up your working day into manageable time chunks that harness your focusing power.
How Does the Pomodoro Technique Work?
People are naturally “deadline orientated.” In other words, the amount of time a project takes to complete is based on the amount of time people give to it.
If you have a project that would take you 1 day to complete, for example, but you give yourself 3 days to complete it, then the average person will take 3 days to get the job done.
This is called Parkinson’s Law.
It is a habit which everyone develops over time. Because it is a habit, people have the power to change their perspective.
Humans will always be deadline orientated. If we can’t change how we are, then we must change how we approach our natural habits.
This is how the Pomodoro Technique works.
It moves personal deadlines forward so a maximum level of focus can be obtained for every working period.
Here are the steps involved in implementing this technique so you can give it a try today.
Step #1: Gather your materials. There is no time limit to this process, but you should have most of the items you need for working available to you right away. This is where having a to-do list with priorities can be very helpful to get each time period started.
Step #2: Eliminate the distractions. You must consciously eliminate every distraction that could potentially interrupt your work. Turn off email notifications. Turn off your phone. Place a Do Not Disturb on your work landline. Lock your office door. Put on some white noise, brainwave entrainment products, or other brain tuning or noise canceling products to eliminate background noise distractions. Put a reserved time block on your shared Outlook calender. This will allow you to put 100% of your focus onto the work about to be completed.
Step #3: Set a deadline. The Pomodoro Technique has working periods of 25 minutes. You will set a timer for this deadline and then begin to get to work. You will be working this entire 25 minute period of time on the task at hand. Each block of time is called a Pomodoro, hence why the technique has this name.
Step #4: Take a break. After you’ve worked for 25 minutes with all of your focus on the task at hand, you’re allowed to give yourself a break. Take 5 minutes to do all of the other things that would typically distract you while you are working. Check on Facebook. Read emails. Respond to a voicemail. Chat with your HR Director about your favorite show. The choice is up to you.
Step #5: Repeat these steps once again. Now you’re ready to complete another Pomodoro. You will continue this 25/5 habit of working 4 times in a row. At the completion of the 4th Pomodoro, take a longer break of 15-20 minutes instead of just 5 minutes.
You would then just complete this process throughout your entire working day.
It doesn’t matter if you’re at work for 4 hours, 8 hours, or 12+ hours. The Pomodoro Technique will keep your focus on the task at hand, give you time to deal with other issues that fall outside of the project at-hand, and satisfy your natural deadline requirements.
Why Is It Called the Pomodoro Technique?
Sometimes you’ll find the Pomodoro Technique is referred to as “Tomato Time.”
This is because Cirillo developed this technique by using a kitchen timer which was shaped like a tomato. You don’t need to use an egg timer to keep track of your time, especially if the ticking winds up being a distraction. There are multiple options available to you today.
Stopwatch apps, countdown timers online, or even a repetitive alarm on your smartphone can help you to keep your 25 minute focus periods on track.
Don’t forget to set timers for your break periods as well.
This is where the Pomodoro Technique tends to break down in its initial days. It’s easy to set timers for working time, but without a break timer, 5 minutes can quickly become 30 minutes after your first Pomodoro.
Developing a new habit requires consistency. Have timers for focus time and break time and you’ll discover how to be more efficient at work thanks to Tomato Time.
Rules To Follow For Successful Pomodoros
Have you ever groaned when your morning alarm woke you up because your day is filled with numerous stressful tasks that must be completed?
Lots of stressful tasks create a temptation to procrastinate because the distress can feel overwhelming.
If you can break up your day into a specific number of Pomodors, however, the tasks don’t seem as difficult to complete.
To make sure you are maximizing the potential of the Pomodoro Technique, there are some specific rules which are important to follow as you begin to develop this habit.
Rule #1: Always take a break. When you’re in “the zone,” it can be tempting to extend your work time beyond 25 minutes. Don’t fall for this trap. Your mind needs the break from your high level of focus. Kick back and have a cup of coffee, stretch out your legs, or just do some deep breathing exercises if you don’t want to check on your social networks.
Rule #2: Use your to-do list. The toughest tasks you have should still be completed when you have the most energy. Using the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t eliminate the need to create a list of priorities for your working day. The first Pomodoros should be used to complete your toughest tasks. Reserve the easiest jobs that need to get done for the final Pomodoros of the day.
Rule #3: Give yourself credit. If you follow the Pomodoro Technique strictly, then an interrupted Pomodoro is one that doesn’t count. If your HR Director uses the overhead intercom to page you to her office so the two of you can discuss your favorite TV show over coffee at the 20 minute mark, the Pomodoro Technique says you don’t get to count your work as a full Pomodoro and you’d have to start over. Give yourself credit for this time worked even if it isn’t a full Pomodoro and make up the time somewhere else. If you take a 20 minute break after 4 Pomodoros, make it a 15 minute break this time instead.
Rule #4: Group it together. Although your focus is on one task, you can group together multiple tasks under one “Pomodoro heading.” Here’s the idea: if your task is to respond to all messages received in 1 Pomodoro, then include email responses, voicemail callbacks, instant messaging, texts, Facebook comments, Twitter retweets, and all other correspondence into this category. You’ll find this allows you to accomplish much more during each specific focus period.
Can You Change the Structure of the Pomodoro Technique?
Yes. The Pomodoro Technique is adaptable to your personal needs.
You can set your focus periods for any amount of time and your break periods for a shorter amount of time.
The break you take on the fourth Pomodoro should be longer than your typical break, but still be shorter than your focus period.
For example: if the 25/5/20 minute structure doesn’t work for you [Pomodoro time/Break time/Extended break time], consider making it 30/10/25.
You’ll find some articles online which recommend having your Pomodoro blocks be flexible so that you can adjust to changing needs throughout the day.
Although you can change some break times here or there, adding flexibility is just a way for the distractions to destroy your focus structure.
You can’t eliminate emergencies that come up, of course, but you can wait to respond to the page from your HR Director until you reach the end of your Pomodoro.
The Pomodoro Technique is about self-control and developing new positive habits. Flexibility within this technique limits your ability to actually focus.
This is because distractions aren’t always external.
That’s right. Internal distractions can rob you of your productivity just as much as an external distraction.
You must have self-control in place to be able to limit these internal distractions if you want to know how to increase your efficiency.
How do you limit the internal distractions? By creating a distraction for your internal triggers.
We each have specific things that make us upset.
Sometimes these triggers are so severe that they can cause panic attacks.
Although you might not feel like you have internal distractions, if you’ve ever caught yourself daydreaming about something at work, then you’ve been triggered by something.
Distracting the mind means placing yourself within a comfort zone – but one that isn’t too comfortable.
Music can be a good distraction. If you like to sing along with your favorite songs, then music can be a focus-robbing distraction.
There are no set rules in place with the Pomodoro Technique as to how you limit these internal distractions. I know of a writer who listens to dubstep and electronic dance music during his writing blocks.
I’ve seen people use brainwave entrainment successfully. Short meditation periods during break times can be very effective.
I even know a guy who plays Futurama episodes on repeat as he works.
The goal is to find something that works for you. Don’t be afraid to find multiple distractions that can be utilized to help minimize the internal distractions so you can change up what is being used if one distraction isn’t reducing your triggers as much as it usually does.
Resources For the Pomodoro Technique
Something as simple as a $5 egg timer you can take to work can be an effective timekeeping tool to help you begin your first Pomodoro.
If you don’t like that idea, then here are some resources from which you can choose one that works best for you.
Tomato Timer: This broswer-based app automatically has a timer set to 25 minutes for you. It offers desktop notifications and different alert sounds so you know when each working period is over. You also have a 5 minute short break period and a 10 minute long break period timer that starts with just one click.
Stopwatch and Timer: This free Google app allows you to set specific timers if you prefer a different Pomodoro structure. The stopwatch is useful for keeping track of extra time for those interruptions or emergencies that fall outside of your control so your Pomodoro structures can be as consistent as possible.
Stopwatch Widget: This free widget works for Mac OS X 10.4 or later. It installs directly to your desktop so you can start your time when you’re ready to begin a new Pomodoro or break. There’s no timer function, so you’ll need to keep track of your time manually, so it may not be right for those who find themselves distracted by the clock.
Flat Tomato: This Apple app is designed on Pomodoro Technique principles. It’s pretty simple and straightforward, but there is one advantage: it syncs with your calendar so you have a better idea of how to structure your day. It’s free to download, but there are in-app purchases.
Marinara Timer: If you want a web-based timer with flexibility, then this is a great option to consider. You can set custom timers or follow the traditional Pomodoro Technique. It also has a standard kitchen timer for a basic countdown if you prefer. No account signup is necessary.
PomoDone: If you are already pretty efficient with your time management and you’re just looking to perfect it, then this is the app for you. It integrates with several other apps, including Wunderlist, Trello, Evernote, and Basecamp so you can actually label the tasks being completed in each Pomodoro.
Is the Pomodoro Technique Right For You?
If you want to know how to increase your efficiency, then the Pomodoro Technique is a habit that is definitely worth a second look.
Because humanity offers so much individual variability, however, there is the possibility that this technique may not be right for you.
People are motivated by success just as much as they are motivated by deadlines.
When using the Pomodoro Technique, you may find yourself wanting to complete tasks that can be completed within each time block.
If you find yourself counting completed blocks instead of counting completed tasks, then the Pomodoro Technique might not be right for you.
This is why some people have tried being flexible with their Pomodoro time blocks. This allows them to track more successes and change the structure of time blocks to suit their needs.
The time worked winds up being the same, but one Pomodoro might be 20 minutes and another might be 40 minutes.
Others find that having a timer in place is ineffective for their job tasks.
Some projects require more focus time than others in certain career fields. If you’re a bus driver, for example, you can’t just pull over to take a 5 minute break for every 25 minutes you spend driving.
Think about what your job requirements happen to be to see if the Pomodoro Technique can integrate into them before attempting this productivity habit.
Other Ways to Defeat Procrastination
The Pomodoro Technique is just one habit to implement that can really help to defeat procrastination.
There are several other ways that can also help you improve your productivity that compliment the blocks of time the Pomodoro Technique requires you to follow.
If you find that your mind is wandering away from its focus despite your dedication to the Pomodoro Technique, then consider adding in these other ways to defeat procrastination for some additional help.
#1. Add different colors to your environment. Place specifically colored items in your working environment based on what your procrastination struggles happen to be. If you’re struggling with creativity, then add blue colors to your environment. Problems with detail orientation can be helped with red colors. Stress-related distractions can be lessened with additional green colors.
#2. Create focus points for your breaks. If your break periods are unstructured while using the Pomodoro Technique, then procrastination can appear after your first completed Pomodoro. Consider adding specific tasks to complete during your break periods. It doesn’t have to be work-related. Your first break might involve deep breathing. Your second break might mean getting some coffee.
#3. Go outside your comfort zone. Sometimes the office chair can be too comfortable. If you work from home, the temptation to not get out of bed can be strong. Maybe your favorite TV show is running an all-day marathon and you’d rather watch that than work. If your procrastination is strong in your current environment, then go somewhere outside your typical comfort zone. Work in a park. Go to the coffee shop. Have a portable desk you can take to the beach.
#4. Find an accountability partner. This can be especially beneficial in the first days of implementing tomato time management. Check-in with your accountability partner to discuss your successes and failures. Make sure your partner is someone you trust, but is also someone who will offer you practical advice – even if you don’t want to hear it.
#5. Eliminate your gadgets. The average person with a smartphone will check on their phones 150 or more times in an 8 hour period. Some people are so tied to their technology that it’s the last thing they check before going to bed and the first thing they check when they wake up in the morning. If technology distractions are particularly strong, then leave the gadgets at home, block internet access at work, and take any other steps which can help you to maintain your focus.
#6. Exercise or meditate for 10-20 minutes in the morning. Stop relying on a caffeine boost to get you started. Caffeine can create an initial rush, but it will also cause you to eventually crash. That lack of energy can make it difficult to fulfill Pomodoros after 2pm. Consider meditation or exercise instead of coffee to get your mind energized for the day instead.
#7. Keep snacks available. One of the most common reasons for people to daydream at their desk is because they get hungry. This hunger makes them think about snacks. Then daydreams hit which have them eating snacks. Stock your desk with some favorites so you can grab something during a 5 minute break period to keep your focus on point.
What is the Pomodoro Technique? It could be the answer to your productivity problems. If you want to know how to work more efficiently, then you must change the structure of how you’re working to achieve results.
Attempting to do the same thing, but with the expectation that different results will happen, is simply a waste of time.
The Pomodoro Technique might not be right for everyone, but it could be right for you. Consider adding these tools, enhancements, and structures to your work routines if your job allows it to see how this new habit could influence your productivity.
Some have reported a productivity increase of 80% or more within 2-3 weeks of starting the Pomodoro Technique.
There is a lot of potential in this structure.
Does the Pomodoro Technique work?
There’s only one way to find out. Implement this structure today and you’ll find out if it is right for you.