Managing conflicting tasks and priorities is a daily struggle. We are constantly pulled between things that are screaming for our attention and tasks we know we need to get done. Even with the best of intentions we often get to the end of the day wondering where it went, and still with a pile of work to do.
The internet is full of time management tips and tricks, but I generally find most of them way too complicated and tedious, and they have a tendency to involve scheduling the day within an inch of its life. This is not only very unappealing, but also impractical if you have a job that has things come up during the day that need to be dealt with urgently.
Then I found the Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique basically involves breaking tasks down into 25 minute periods – or pomodoros – where you work uninterrupted on whatever task you need to do for 25 minutes and when the timer goes you have a five minute break to do what you like. Sounds simple right? It is and that is the beauty of it.
You just set your timer then get stuck into whatever your task is for 25 minutes without any distractions. If a thought comes into your mind while you are working on your pomodoro task you simply write it down and come back to it later. By writing the thought or idea down it stops it bouncing around in your head and allows you to return to your focus. Sometimes it can feel like I am juggling a million things around in my head, so the clarity I get from doing this is remarkable.
I am pleasantly surprised how much I get done in those 25 minutes. Knowing that I just need to keep going until the timer goes off also means I am not constantly checking the time, which itself can be a distraction and often an added stress.
I don’t fill my day solidly with pomodoro blocks as there are some parts that require more of a free fall approach (and some parts of me too…). Each day when I write my to do list I work out what tasks will work best with pomodoros and where I need flexibility. It might only be 3 or 4 pomodoros sometimes, but so much is done in those blocks.
If you are going to work your whole day in pomodoros, it is recommended that once you have done 4 in a row you should take a longer break – at least half an hour – to fully recharge.
Something to remember however, is that this technique is simply a productivity system and not something you are locked into. So if you are going great guns it is ok to pause the timer, finish what you are doing and then have a break.
Other than just getting stuff done, I find this technique useful when I need to move to and from tasks that involve a different headspace. Switching from something like reporting and spreadsheets to more creative tasks is not always easy, so I find using the Pomodoro Technique to break things up really helpful. The structure also helps with creativity as I am more able to let things flow without other distractions getting in the way.
I have to say it doesn’t always work for me when I am in super procrastination mode – although I am not sure anything other than a burning building would work on that somedays. But there is definitely an improvement when I say to myself, ‘just do this for 25 minutes’. It seems less daunting than thinking about the mammoth task that is in front of me and feeling like I need to get this whole thing done.
So how did the Italian word for tomato get involved with time management? A young Francesco Cirillo was finding it difficult to concentrate while studying economics – understandably – so he started timing himself for 25 minue bursts and found he was getting so much done. He just happened to be using a tomato shaped kitchen timer and so the Pomodoro Technique was born. You can actually buy a “pomodoro” shaped timer if you desire, although I find the timer on my iPhone works just as well.
Of course time management, as with most other things, works differently for many people. Some just have a natural tendency to stay focused on something for hours on end. Most I suspect don’t, so for those people I really encourage you to give this method a go. I don’t imagine I will ever be one of the totally focused folk, but using the Pomodoro Technique is a definite improvement on my output and peace of mind.