As working from home becomes more standard, some people are trying to find ways to balance the distractions of being at home with getting enough work done. That's something I've struggled with for sure. As the day goes on, I get distracted by the laundry, the dirty dishes, or my cat Peanut. I needed a way to take care of chores around the house while also maintaining focus on my work.
That's where the Pomodoro Technique comes in. The Pomodoro Technique has greatly increase my productivity while also allowing me to get distracted. You might be thinking "How is that possible?". Well, the Pomodoro Technique by design creates pockets of time for focused, intentional work, balanced with time to be distracted.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique was created in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo as a way for him to study more effectively. I could see this technique being incredible for studying, but I discovered it during my working life so have only applied it there. At the core, it's a simple technique where you grab a timer, set it for 25 minutes and once the bell dings, take a 5 minute break. That's one Pomodoro. After 4 Pomodoros, take a longer break like 15-30 minutes. I do love how simple this productivity technique is and how it can be widely applied to many different industries or job types.
The most common uses that people utilize the Pomodoro Technique for are things that could potentially have an infinite amount of time spent on them. Things like writing, coding, design, studying, research, and other tasks that take long amounts of time. By putting the Pomodoro Technique into use, you're not only boosting your productivity in these areas, but also tracking how much time it takes you to complete certain tasks - creating a more accurate way of estimating how long it takes to complete a task.
In addition to the principle of setting the timer and taking breaks, there are a few of other rules that help the Pomodoro Technique become a major productivity hack.
The 3 Rules of the Pomodoro Technique
- Break down large projects into bite sized chunks. I've heard this bit of advice elsewhere many times too. When you have a task or project that is so big and daunting that you don't even want to start it, you'll never do it. But if that thing is starting your own businesses, or tackling that code for the new feature that will take your app to the next level, you're putting off the most important work. So, by breaking it down into bite sized chunks it makes it a lot easier to tackle the task and feel your progress on the task as you work through each Pomodoro.
- Combine smaller tasks together so that they fill up a full chunk of Pomodoro time. This was something that I learned later in using the technique. Things like checking your email, responding to messages, calling the doctor to set up that appoint, etc should all be clumped together and knocked out in one Pomodoro chunk.
- Hold the 25 focused minutes sacred, don't let the distractions in. A major reason why the Pomodoro Technique works so well for me is that I cut out all distractions for those 25 minutes so that I can really make progress on my work. If anything pops up in my head, I'll write it down in my Notion dashboard to come back to later. This ensures that I’m making progress on the most important tasks and that nothing slips through the cracks by notating everything in Notion.
Why is it good for productivity?
For one thing, the Pomodoro Technique is designed to alleviate your brain from trying to multitask, allowing you to get into a state of flow and really work on the things that matter. This relief provides clarity in the tasks that you're working on, permitting you to work more effectively on the things that matter. Additionally, the gamification of work makes the undertaking more fun. For example, trying to get as much of that chapter for the new book completed in the 25 minutes as you can is much more fun than staring at a blank screen.
From a more cognitive rewards perspective, having the shortest amount of time between rewards makes doing a task more pleasurable. Dr. Gazzaley & Dr. Rosen discuss this in their book The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World. They say, "From decades of research on learning and behavior, we know that the shorter the time between reinforcements (rewards), the stronger the drive to complete that behavior and gain the reward."
By having such a simple time management system in place, the Pomodoro Technique also helps with beating Parkinson's law and getting stressed about deadlines. With deadlines, you're often thinking about how much time you have left before the deadlines hits, inducing stress since the task is looming and the deadline is ever approaching. By breaking down the task and tackling it in Pomodoros, you're able to focus less on when the deadline is and more on how much time it will actually take you to complete the task. Parkison's law at its core is saying that your work will fill the time you have. So if you only have 25 minutes to cram, you're going to work much faster since you're filling 25 minutes at a time rather than the 8 hour work day.
It's also really important to take a true break between Pomodoros. The 5 minutes you get after the intensely focused 25 minutes is crucial to step away from what you're pushing through and let the brain settle. It's been shown that taking breaks decreases cognitive and decision fatigue, as well as boredom.
This break really allows you to stay focused on a single task for much longer while also maintaining the fresh feeling of working on that task. I know before the Pomodoro Technique, I would push myself to work on code for a couple hours at a time and make a lot of mistakes after the first hour because my mind wasn't fresh. I would reach cognitive fatigue and boredom much more quickly without the Pomodoro Technique.
Discussion on Time Splits
Many people stick to the traditional 25 / 5 time split for their Pomodoro techniques. However, some people really like to work for longer on a given task without distractions. These folks have tweaked the traditional take on the Pomodoro Technique to cater to their needs.
Some other common splits for people are:
- 52 minutes on with a 17 minute break
- 50 minutes on with a 10 minute break
- 35 minutes on with a 5 minute break
- 55 minutes on with a 5 minute break
- the traditional 25 / 5 minute split but 3 instead of 4 Pomodoros.
I've tried varying my splits with 35 / 5, 50 / 10, and 45 / 5, but have found the original 25 / 5 split is the most effective for me in terms of maintaining focus.
How I Use the Pomodoro Technique
I usually break up my day a bit differently than the standard way of doing the Pomodoro Technique. Since I do intermittent fasting, I usually do 2 Pomodoros in the morning; one where I plan my day, check my messages and email, and then another where I start working on something like new code, testing software, or fixing an easy problem brought up from the day before. After those two Pomodoros, I usually take a longer 15 minute break to make some breakfast. Then I do the standard 4 chunks of 25/5 with a 20 minute break after the fourth. With this 20 minute break, I make lunch and read a little. After that, it's standard Pomodoros the rest of the day, where in the longer breaks I will do house chores, read, or go for a walk (weather permitting). The shorter breaks I generally fill up my water bottle, meditate, use the restroom, play with Peanut, or do a small chore.
I find that using my Notion setup in addition to the Pomodoro technique is really beneficial for my workflow. I'm able to keep track of all the notes or changes for a task in Notion while also being able to get a birds eye view of all the tasks I need to complete in a given day. It comes in handy when your task spills over into multiple Pomodoros since I’m able to notate where I left off on a task and where I need to go next.
After implementing the Pomodoro Technique in my daily life, I've found that I'm much more focused, productive, and happy throughout my work day. Given that it helps you both focus but also give your brain a rest, I find this productivity tool particularly useful over other alternatives. If you'd like to read more about the topic, I highly recommend reading through the articles below. If you end up giving the Pomodoro Technique a shot, I'd love to hear your thoughts!