The Power of the Pomodoro
What if I told you that you can get more done in 25 minutes than an hour? Sounds counterintuitive but I swear it’s true. The secret? Stop thinking in hours and start thinking in tomatoes.
I finally kicked my procrastination habit thanks to the Pomodoro Technique and it’s honestly been life changing. So this post is for all those fellow procrastinators out there! I’ll be explaining what the Pomodoro Technique is and why it’s the solution to your time-management woes.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The pomodoro technique was invented in the late 1980s by a frazzled university student, Francisco Cirillo. He was struggling to focus on his studies, and feeling overwhelmed by how much he had to do (sound familiar?), so he challenged himself to read without distraction for just two minutes to see if could do it. He reached for his kitchen timer – shaped like a tomato – set it to two minutes, and started reading.
It worked! He spent those two minutes reading without a single distraction. He then started experimenting with the amount of time he could maintain his concentration for and discovered 25 minutes was perfect. And so the pomodoro technique was born!
How can you measure time in tomatoes?!
Each 25 minute block is called a pomodoro, after Francisco’s tomato shaped timer (pomodoro is Italian for tomato).
To use the Pomodoro Technique follow these simple steps:
- Pick a task from your to do list
- Set a timer for 25 minutes (one pomodoro)
- Work on your task until the timer goes off
- Reward yourself with a 5 minute break
- Start the process again! Then after 4 pomodoros have a longer 15 – 30 minute break
It really is that simple. And the best bit is, it makes even the most mammoth of tasks feel doable. Suddenly that huge piece of work feels a lot less intimidating when you start breaking it down into 25 minute chunks.
When we’re feeling stressed it can feel like we can’t even afford to give ourselves a 30 second break. The only way to get all the work done is to just sit and work solidly until it’s completed. But by doing this we’re just setting ourselves up for failure.
We need breaks to be productive. In fact studies have shown that spending a prolonged amount of time on one task actually hinders performance. So by taking regular breaks, you can get more done than if you didn’t take any breaks at all. What you lose in time, you gain in productivity. It’s a sort of time machine for getting things done!
My Pomodoro top tips
I’m relatively new to the pomodoro game, so I’m still learning the best ways to use it – here’s some tips I’ve discovered along the way:
1. Focus on your task until the timer goes off
No replying to an email that pops up, or quickly researching that thing you’ve got to do later. For the pomodoro technique to work, you have to treat the 25 minute rule as sacred.
Top tip: Put your phone on ‘do not disturb’. It’s amazing how much of a difference this makes to your focus. And if you still find yourself reaching for your phone, move it to the other side of the room. I found that to be an absolute game changer.
2. Take breaks
You’ve earned them! You deserve a break, you’ve just worked solidly for 25 minutes. Without distraction! You’re a productivity champion! No matter how urgent the task is, you can still afford to take 5 minutes out. And remember, those little breaks are the key to being productive. So no skipping your break time!
Top tip: It’s ok to keep going if you’re in flow. This one I struggled with at first. When you’re writing, sometimes you just get into the flow of an idea so it’s hard to stop when the timer goes off. So if I find myself mid-flow when the timer pings, I just keep going and then add that extra bit of work time to my break time – so I’ll take a 15 minute break, instead of a 5 minute break.
3. Find a timer that works for you
There’s a long-running joke with my friends that I was born in the wrong era. Technology is really not my thing. So, not surprisingly, I started off with the essence of the pomodoro technique and used a kitchen timer. Then quickly stopped – my timer made a very loud ticking-whirring noise which was incredibly distracting. Instead, I now use the timer on my phone. It’s similarly low-tech and does the trick.
I appreciate my approach is very old-school. So if you’re not totally tech-inept like me, thankfully there’s some great apps out there which my friends swear are so much easier than my DIY approach.
Top tip: Use a clever app instead of a timer, like Toggl or Forest. Toggl is a timer, but it also keeps a log of how much time you spend on each task. Which is ideal if you need to keep track for invoicing, or just want to make sure you’re splitting your time evenly across multiple projects.
And Forest is possibly the cutest timer out there. You plant a little seed at the start of your timer, and as you work your little seed grows into a tree. But if you break your concentration, and pick up your phone, the tree withers and dies. Plus, you get points every time you successfully stay focussed which can then be used to plant actual real trees. Pretty cool.
4. Do something active during your breaks
I’ve found physically getting up from my desk when the timer goes off really helps me to feel more refreshed when I sit back down to work again. So I’d really recommend doing something that involves walking away from your laptop during your break time. You could walk to the kitchen and make a cup of tea, or do a quick lap of the office, a few stretches, or you could even go all out and do some star jumps. Just do something which involves walking away from where you were working and I promise you’ll feel more refreshed when your break’s over.
I used to be a top-tier procrastinator
In fact I would say it was my number one talent. There is no task too big or too small to procrastinate over. A prime example being writing this post – this is how old me would have done it: Before I started I would have to put a wash on because then as I’m writing my washing will be getting done, efficient! And of course everyone knows before you can start work you have to make a cup of tea. While I’m making my cup of tea I might as well rustle up a few snacks so I don’t have to get up later when I’m working… Suddenly 20 minutes would have passed and I wouldn’t have written a single word. Cue the ensuing guilt and pledging that I’ll have to sit at my desk and work solidly for an hour minimum to make up for my slow start.
But not the pomodoro me! My procrastinating days are over. After all, how much prep do you really need to do to sit down and work for 25 minutes? It’s no time at all! Plus, there’s a real feeling of accomplishment when that little timer goes off and I realise I’ve just spent a solid amount of time working away, totally focused.
Maybe you’re a pro procrastinator too? Maybe you’ve tried loads of productivity and time-management hacks and none have stuck? Well then I reckon pomodoro is for you. If it can help even the worst time-waster like me, then I’m pretty sure it can help you too. Why not give it a go? After all, if it doesn’t work then all you’ve wasted is 25 minutes of your time. And if it does work, you’ve just unlocked a whole new super productive you! Sounds like a no-brainer to me.
Want to delve into this further? Here’s some of our training courses which could help you unlock your more productive self: