Writers here at TFD have mentioned it on here before — a time-saving method known as the Pomodoro Technique. But what is it? How does it help you take control of your life and make time spent on work better? I wasn’t sure, but I set off to find out.
You see, I’m not great at finishing things. Not at work, home, on my side projects… I start a lot of things, but when I don’t get results, I get discouraged and burnt out. Neither of those makes the next stages of work go quickly! Instead, I find myself in cycles of procrastination and flurries of activity that leave me, once again, exhausted.
Enter the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a silly name that sounds fancy, because when it was created by Francesco Cirillo, at the time only a student, he used a tomato-shaped egg timer to time out the day into “pomodoros” (tomatoes) of time. Between each 25-minute interval of working on a project or task, there is a short break. After four work “pomodoros,” you take a slightly longer break, and restart the process. The breaks give you a chance to refocus, choose what the next task is, and then start again, all while laser-focused!
The technique allows a person to avoid being distracted, to avoid being overwhelmed by tasks, and to prioritize only one thing at once, with a sense of accomplishment at the end. I was a perfect candidate, especially at work: I would know 10 different mini-tasks that needed to be done, but in my confusion over my priorities, I end up wasting time talking to people or doing an inefficient job on many different tasks.
The Pomodoro Technique requires you to shut out the world a bit, but if you have even just a few hours when you can do this, the productive output is astounding. Planning is essential — having a list of things that must be done, and decisively picking the one that is to be accomplished in this 25-minute interval, is what makes the effort so rewarding — so much so that you end up fully completing tasks that might drag on if you were constantly multitasking.
Just to make sure I wasn’t missing out on anything, I tried two other time management methods: the principles from The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss, and Getting Things Done by David Allen. What I found was that any system is better than my floundering, but each system helps me in discrete ways.
Pomodoro at Work: This technique made me realize just how many minutes a day are stolen away by chatty coworkers! No disrespect, and no one was being wasteful, just friendly, but when you are on the 25-minute clock, you really see how these minutes add up. My timer of choice is an app called ClearFocus, and with the free version I cannot pause a Pomodoro: I had to either let the minutes go by or restart altogether. The first day, in which I could have done 16 pomodoros if I took no distractions, I only accomplished seven, due to tasks that required me to not work within the rigid structure and meetings. However, those were such productive intervals that the whole day was incredibly productive: I got through some tasks I had been dreading and rolling over for days!
Pomodoro at Home: I really don’t like cleaning and housework (like many of us), and I found that picking one or two small things to do and devoting 25 minutes did so much for me. First, I didn’t arrive at the weekend with a totally wrecked house that needed hours of clean up, and second, I felt so useful that the 25 minutes of cleaning were well worth the shiny-happy feeling of accomplishment that extended over the whole evening after work. I recommend a pomodoro of cleaning or home maintenance after a work day, even when you are tired, just because it makes the rest of your downtime feel so well-earned.
Pomodoro in Side Hustle Mode: Much like housework, I find myself putting off my side freelance writing, possibly because it overwhelms me and also because it tends to only be possible during times when I would also like to be relaxing… Clearly, since it isn’t done during work hours. With 25-minute pomodoros, I can generally write articles in just a few steps: a pomodoro for research, one for freewriting, and one for tweaking the article down to be precise and strong. For longer articles, pomodoros ensure that I take regular breaks and don’t get so burnt out that I stop writing after only an hour or two.
I also looked at Tim Ferriss’ method, and David Allen’s — I think they both look great, in the sense that Ferriss looks for tasks we don’t have to do at all and ways to automate aspects of our money-earning potential, and Allen convinced me to finally use alphabetized files at work and a much more thoroughly maintained central to-do list. I’d recommend seeking them out for bigger-picture shifting of your work priorities (Ferriss) and totally systematizing tasks and paperwork (Allen), but the Pomodoro Technique is definitely what I needed when it comes to a simple, clear way to break through the dread and procrastination cycle.
If you only try one thing, I’d recommend a timer and a pencil to note when to take those breaks — see if it changes your experience of work, like it has changed mine!
Laura Marie is a writer and teacher in Ohio. She blogs about the stories behind family recipes at Recipe In A Bottle.
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