What if you could get an extra hour in a day – wouldn’t that be awesome?
Unfortunately, we don’t have the knowledge (yet) to share any successful time-warping methods, however there is a widely used technique that allows you to hack your time management to its full potential.
It’s the Pomodoro technique. This popular method for executing tasks can help you power through distractions, focus better, and simply get things done in short bursts, while also taking frequent breaks to rewind, overall improving productivity. Best of all, it’s easy.
What is the Pomodoro Technique, really?
The Pomodoro – you’ve heard of it. Invented by an Italian entrepreneur, 25 minutes… Ehm, something about tomatoes, right? The Pomodoro technique is widely known of dividing any task into blocks of 25 minute work and 5 minute rest. However, if you know just that, and you think you couldn’t get much done in just 25 minutes, you might as well conclude that this method is simply not for you. But it is.
Turns out, Francesco Cirillo developed the method for studying, and came up with the average and optimal length: 25 minutes of focus. Pomodoro technique is simply a cyclical system, where you work in (relatively) short sprints, which makes sure you’re consistently productive. You have to take in mind that the length of the sprints depends on the individual and the type of the task. Some people prefer 15-minute sessions, especially if they have learning difficulties or concentration issues. Alternatively, some people prefer 50-minute sessions with a 10-minute break. And while his invention is nothing extraordinary, it is genius in its simplicity, and what most people don’t know, versatility.
How to use the technique?
The Pomodoro methodology is fairly simple. When faced with any large task or series of tasks, break the work down into short, timed intervals (called “Pomodoros”) that are spaced out by short breaks. Then after every 4 (or so) Pomodoros take a longer break of 15-30 minutes, whatever it takes to make you feel recharged and ready to start another work session.
The typical workflow via the Pomodoro technique looks like this:
- Choose a task you want to work on.
- Set the timer to 25 minutes, the standard pomodoro duration.
- Work on the task until the timer rings, then check off your task in your to-do list.
- Take a short break of 5 minutes to do something not related to work like stretching, doodling, or making a call.
- After every 4 pomodoros, take a longer break of 20-30 minutes. This will help you clear your head, recollect your thoughts and rest before the next batch of Pomodoro-style work.
This trains your brain to focus for short periods and helps you stay on top of deadlines or constantly-refilling inboxes. With time it can even help improve your attention span and concentration.
What do I need to start?
Luckily, you don’t need much to start executing your tasks the Pomodoro way. You’ll need:
1. A timer.
While a regular timer might be too much trouble to be manually set up for interchanged intervals of 25 and 5 minutes, there’s plenty of Pomodoro timers out there that will help you manage your time. Check out our 11 top picks on best free Pomodoro timers.
2. A website blocker (or very strong willpower).
If you struggle with social media addiction, then a website blocker is a must. Our top pick – StayFocusd allows you to set limitations on how much time you spend on certain sites, so you can browse social media for only, let’s say, 15 minutes per day. Spent all of your longer break on Facebook? No more Facebook for you then. Or you might simply (just a suggestion)… not go on social media while working on something?
3. A physical reminder.
Our team at Luxafor has been trying out Pomodoro for quite a time, and here’s what we discovered: after a while, that countdown in your browser can become just a bunch of moving, meaningless numbers. You can sort of become immune to the significance of Pomodoro.
That’s why we’ve come to realize that nothing quite does the trick as an outer, physical reminder of the Pomodoro technique. You can do with a simple post-it reminder, or maybe put it down in your to-do list to complete, for example, six Pomodoros. Or you can invest in an actual Pomodoro timer that you can set up and configure just the way you want via software.
This lightweight gadget really comes in handy, when you want to have a physical reminder that reminds you to give your undivided attention to the task at hand. You can set up custom intervals and custom light patterns for notifications – without any annoying ticking and ringing sounds.
What if I get distracted?
Ok, say, you’ve blocked your websites and set the timer off. But it’s likely a coworker will pass by with a question or from time to time you’ll have to take that urgent call. What then?
It’s worth noting that a Pomodoro is an inseparable unit of work, meaning that if you do get distracted mid-session, you’ll either have to end the Pomodoro there (starting a new one later), or you’ll have to postpone the distraction until the Pomodoro session is over. Yes, partial Pomodoro don’t count. And there is science behind that, as according to one study, it takes around 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption – almost a whole Pomodoro! So if you let a distraction take your focus away from your current task, it is an unproductive session. Harsh? Maybe. But that really pushes you to get things done.
Interruptions are only uncontrollable by interpretation, but we can take control and deal with them in ways that best encourage us to remain productive. After all, cannot that “urgent” thing wait around 25 minutes or less? Emails, questions and phone calls can almost certainly be postponed until a break or a session that can deal specifically with them.
Essentially, what the Pomodoro technique teaches you is managing distractions in a way that boosts productivity and enables to take control of your time. To deal with unwanted distractions beforehand and effectively manage your priorities, F. Cirillo suggests the “inform, negotiate and call back” strategy:
- Inform the other (distracting) party that you’re working on something right now.
- Negotiate a time when you can get back to them about the distracting issue in a timely manner.
- Schedule that follow-up immediately.
- Call back the other party when your pomodoro is complete and you’re ready to tackle their issue.
If you struggle communicating to everyone that you’re busy, then an awesome do-not-disturb solution is Luxafor Flag – a beloved LED availability indicator that is also able to be integrated with your Pomodoro timer.
Is Pomodoro technique for me?
The technique is great for office workers as they can use the structured format to work through their to-do lists. It can also help managing distractions during the work day. The technique is easy to implement into the typical working day. Chris Winfield claims that it is even possible to fit a 40-hour workweek into 16,7 hours.
It is used widely by students to maintain focus while studying. As students are known for their habit of procrastination, the technique can train the discipline and help stay on top of studies. The Pomodoro technique makes you pick a focus point for each session by setting a goal and working solely on that. This focus helps driving tasks through to completion.
The Pomodoro technique is also very popular with freelancers as it helps to ensure they deliver quality on time and at a profit. It encourages you to take a real break from what you are doing and move around. This helps you to remain fresh throughout the day, encouraging creativity and quick thinking. Often writers use the technique to track their progress and to maintain focus.
Pomodoro technique will be well suited for day dreamers and the ones who are easily distracted. It can also benefit people with many small things to do or on the contrary people who have to do a lengthy task as it allows to concentrate on one task at a time and to divide a big project into manageable chunks of work. The system is remarkably adaptable to different kinds of work.
Mastering the Pomodoro technique for specific tasks
The Pomodoro technique is very versatile and adaptable to the specific needs of your task, personality, and profession. It’s very remember that the length of sessions and breaks are not set in stone. While trying out Pomodoro, you’ll probably notice that you’d like to use different length sessions for different activities. However, remember that Pomodoro is only a technique on how you focus for a task at hand, not how you organize or prioritize your work.
There are two ways how you can decide on your task management:
- Do a larger task over several Pomodoros.
- Group up smaller tasks of similar nature in one session.
Smaller tasks are easier to understand and estimate. However, for bigger tasks, you should try breaking them down into smaller components, and then apply Pomodoro. Any task that will take more than 5 or 6 pomodoros to complete should be broken down into component parts.
For example, replying to emails may be less intensive, and depending on volume you might count it as a 10-minute or 15-minute Pomodoro session. Or you could group it up with other administrative and communication work for a full 25-minute interval. A large task like creating an analysis report should be divided in smaller tasks like getting data, interpreting data and putting it together in a report. And each of it will require their own Pomodoros.
You can even change the duration of a session to fit into the time you have available. In some cases, people will assess that they only have 20 minutes before they need to leave. But that shouldn’t be an obstacle, as you could just do a 15-minute session instead!
Also, you have to really tune into yourself and consider which time of the day is the most productive for certain tasks. Are you more energetic in the morning or in the afternoon? Use that to help you determine a session length that suit you and the task. Don’t forget that it can change for different tasks or because of other factors.
How long should the sessions for different tasks be?
While you could stick to the classic intervals of 25-minute work and 5-minute break just because it’s easier, you might reconsider it to suit your specific needs.
How to understand how many minutes you need for each task? Experiment with the Pomodoro. Take up one day where you do all your tasks via the Pomodoro. Our suggestion is to:
- Group up tasks or break them down in smaller ones.
- At first try the classic Pomodoro technique workflow throughout the whole day.
- See how the session fits to different tasks.
Make note of these things: Did you finish the task before the timer had ended? Or did you feel like you needed a couple of more minutes into the focus state? These are some serious questions to consider if you want to tailor the Pomodoro technique to fit any type of work you do.
However, to make it easier for you, we’ve put together some recommended Pomodoro intervals for different activities.
- Emails, calls, communication
10-15 minute Pomodoro, 3 minute break
Depending on the volume.
- Studying, analyzing
25 minute Pomodoro, 5 minute break
- Writing and other in-focus creative tasks
25-30 minute Pomodoro, 5 minute break
Depends on your individual flow state.
- Creative work like designing, editing
45-50 minute Pomodoro, 10-15 min break
Depends on your individual flow state.
- Meetings, brainstorming
25-30 minute Pomodoro, 5 minute break (repeated until you’ve reached the goal of the meeting)
These recommended time intervals for Pomodoro will merely give you an idea on how much time you could spend on such tasks, and it’s possible that the optimal length of your individual focus time will vary. Some settle for 50 minute work/10 minute break, others find 35/7 to be just perfect, and one study suggested the ratio of 52 minutes on, 17 minutes off. However, according to several studies, one session of work shouldn’t exceed 52-60 minutes, as it’s only natural we lose focus after that.
Some final words
So, to sum it up, the key to mastering the Pomodoro technique is understanding the fluctuations in your own flow states and tailoring the Pomodoro intervals to that. However, when you want to start using the Pomodoro, it makes it so much easier if you just stick to the classic 25/5 system and see how that works out.
Also, it’s important to note that Pomodoro is a technique that aids your productivity, not a set of rigid rules. If you’re really into that flow, and the timer goes off, it’s OK to round up your work and then take a break. Ultimately, the goal of executing tasks the Pomodoro way is to help you effectively get into the zone, while also taking breaks to recharge.
The more habitually you use it, the better it is for your productivity but by no means the technique needs to be used at all times to be effective. If you can’t apply the technique all day, that is no reason to completely give up on it. Just look at your to-do list, and determine the tasks and the most convenient times of the day when you can use the Pomodoro technique efficiently. After that you should have no obstacles to Pomodoro your way out of procrastination and into productivity!