The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed in the late 1980s by a man named Francesco Cirillo.
The method is simple, you take a 25-minute timer (or anything capable of timing 25 minutes) and work uninterrupted until that time is up. Then you take a 5 minute break, then you repeat. At the end of every fourth working interval, take a longer break – say 15-20 minutes. Sounds easy.
The technique has gained a kind of quasi-cult status online, heralded as one of the most effective modern lifehacks – productivity tricks devised to cut through information overload, frequently adopted by programmers.
So what’s the big deal? Skeptically, you may ask – why do you need to employ this or any technique? Why can’t you just work normally? Particularly of one so straightforward.
Whilst the method is simple, such tricks can be hugely effective. The very process of planning, recording and reflecting on progress and work completed creates a sense of motivation and adds to your feelings of accomplishment. The ‘Pomodoro Timer’, a tomato-shaped kitchen timer (pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato) produces an audible ticking during the working interval, triggering some subconscious drive to get things done.
Cirillo’s view adds that the physical act of winding up the timer confirms the user’s determination to start the task, the kick we need to get going. To overcome the all-too-familiar deadline anxiety.
So over the past month I’ve been working with the Pomodoro Technique. Adopted at the beginning of a new one-month contact, in a new office at a new desk, a clean opportunity to try it out.
Firstly I should say I am usually somewhat skeptical to any kind of technique promising some revolutionary effect, on any level be it relating to money, work or health. I guess I already consider to days to be pretty productive, thanks. I probably only considered the Pomodoro Technique because of the amount of positive testimonials I’ve heard, from a wealth of online sources and more recently from a few people whose opinions I respect.
But I don’t particularly suffer from deadline anxiety, motivation isn’t a problem for me when I’m given a heap of work – in fact I’m the opposite, irritably frustrated when I have nothing to do.
I hoped this would improve my time management, rather than boost my productivity. Too often I’m distracted by checking emails, chat clients or Twitter. By “distracted”, I don’t particularly mean going off-task and browsing intermittently, so much as perhaps in a lull of attention, wonder whether an email response has arrived or message been returned, so I’ll switch windows hit refresh.
For me the technique structured my breaks. It offered the reassurance that I will have the chance to check for that email or tweet in no longer than 25 minutes time. It meant that there was no possibility that I could get caught up in a task that might stretch an hour and therefore cause me to fall behind in anything else.
Ultimately, that I could devote my full attention to the current task and I’ll be reminded of when it’s time for a break, when my timer tells me so.
An essential aim of the technique is to cut down on interruptions, both internal and external. If asked “Do you have time for a quick chat?”, I could confidently say “Yes, in 5 minutes”, or however much time I had left on the clock. I knew that if that ‘quick chat’ became a 10 minute meeting, my work wouldn’t be any more interrupted.
The timer offers an impartial and impersonal structure, an obedience to which relieves the distraction of continual desktop beeps and alerts whilst sharpening your focus on the task in hand.
There are a number of free unofficial Pomodoro applications for desktop and mobile platforms to save you ordering a tomato timer or testing your colleagues patience with a bell ringing every half hour.
I used the Pomodoro Lite iPhone app, which is very straightforward (it’s just a preset interval timer after all), though eats up the battery for use of a whole day.
ChromoDoro is an extension for Google Chrome, adding a tomato timer to your toolbar with pop-ups to alert you when you’re done.
Whether I’ll continue to use the technique, I’m not sure. I think as a method of concentrating your focus, or retraining your attention span even, it’s very effective. I didn’t find any revelation, but it didn’t disrupt my normal working day either.
Getting into the hang of it, completing tasks within a 25 minute cycles does result a great sense of accomplishment, feeding a higher level of motivation. It might also surprise you how much you can achieve in 25 uninterrupted minutes. I found myself attempting tasks I would usually estimate taking longer. Perhaps that’s the competitive part of me, but it felt great beating the clock.
The most positive outcome as I say, put a stop to my tendency to allow distractions to creep into working time. Though it would be nice to think that I could achieve that with just a bit more self-discipline instead.