I am pazzo for The Pomodoro Technique®. In a nutshell, it’s a time management tool that involves working in a focused way on a single task for 25-minute increments (with a 5-minute break in between) until you’re done. You get a longer break every four segments.
At first, The Pomodoro Technique® seems like just a glorified use for a kitchen timer. You’d think there’s nothing original here. But the system has some subtleties that make it work for me where other kitchen timer strategies have been a lot less sexy.
1. No interruptions allowed. You have to stay focused for the whole 25 minutes until the timer goes off or it doesn’t “count” as a “Pomodoro”. Not only can you not permit a “real” interruption, like a phone call or a trip to the fridge, you’re not even allowed internal distractions for more than a moment (there’s a way of capturing ideas and tasks that “come up” so they don’t derail you). So you have both a carrot (credit for time put in) and a stick (no credit for 20 minute’s work if you decide to check email) to keep you on task.
2. Your timer can be seen and heard — by everybody. Using The Pomodoro Technique® properly, it’s imperative that the timer be front and center at all times, not just noticed when it rings. The ticking reminds me to stay on task. I notice that I glance at the timer to see if I’m going to “beat the clock” with what I’m doing, so it’s almost like a game, and I feel myself hurrying myself along. And as a bonus, my husband now knows that when the timer is ticking he’d better not disturb me or risk getting his head bitten off. I used to think I needed an office with a door. No more.
3. You only have to work for 25 minutes at a time. It’s very liberating, especially when faced with a daunting or tedious task, to know that you only have to do it for the next 25 minutes. This baby-step approach is fantastic for writers.
4. You’re only ALLOWED to work for the next 25 minutes. That’s right. You MUST stop. You’re not permitted NOT to take a 5-minute break after every 25-minute period, and a 15 or 20 minute break after every four segments. It actually makes you work faster, to squeeze in all you can before the next break. And by leaving something off in the middle, almost disappointed when you have to stop, you have a natural starting point for your next segment. Hemingway used to use this technique for his writing his novels. It works!
5. You know a break is coming soon. So you’re not tempted (as much) to go on Facebook, because you know you can do that if you want to during the upcoming 5 minute or 20 minute break. But by then you realize you’d be much better off going outside taking a quick stroll in the sunshine, or doing some yoga stretches or making a quick call to a friend. Which begs the question — if it’s not even “break-worthy”, why are you spending so much time on Facebook now?
Since starting to use The Pomodoro Technique®, I have been finding myself much more efficient and cheerful concentrating on one thing at a time for short periods. And if you think nothing meaningful could get done in 25 minutes, that’s what I thought, until I tried this. It’s similar to The Unschedule from The Now Habit by Dr. Neil Fiore — his system counts work time in 30 minute units. It’s amazing what you can get done when you are uninterrupted and you refrain from multi-tasking. Lay enough of these little bricks and you get a good solid wall. And you won’t end the day feeling like you did nothing but spin your wheels.
Try it! You don’t even need a tomato-shaped timer…but it is very cute.
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