Suppose you have to write an important report for your work or you will soon have a big exam. The deadline is approaching and you feel like you don’t have enough time. Nevertheless, you are always checking your social media on your smartphone or getting distracted by colleagues. For many people, this is a recognizable image. The myriad of distractions of everyday life disrupt our concentration and reduce productivity at work and during our study. Time management methods such as the Pomodoro technique can offer a solution.
The Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro technique (Pomodoro is Italian for tomato) is a time management method named after an egg timer in the form of a tomato. This egg timer was used in the late 1980s by creator Francesco Cirillo in the development of his technique. The aim of the method is to increase productivity by consciously dealing with time and distraction.
The basis of the technique consists of dividing your working day into so-called Pomodori (several Pomodoros). A Pomodoro is a period of 25 minutes, which you set on an timer. During this period you work continuously on a predetermined task. When the timer goes off after 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break. After four Pomodori you take a break of 15-30 minutes. Then you repeat this cycle.
The 25-minute period was chosen because, according to Cirillo, this is short enough to resist most distractions, but long enough to progress with your task. Meanwhile, there are many variations on the original 25-minute Pomodoro. Depending on your personal preference, you can change the duration of the time block. The most important thing is that you work continuously on a task during a pre-determined time block.
Plan, monitor, record, and visualize
The Pomodoro is used in a daily structure of four phases: planning, monitoring, storing and visualizing. You start the day by making a schedule. For this you need an activity list and a today-to-do list. The activity list contains all the activities that you want to get done in the coming period (for example this week). You select some activities from this list and put them on the today-to-do list. On this list you also note the date, a start time and an end time. At first, it’s hard to determine how many activities you can do in a day. Exceeding the end time to finish your work is tempting. Nevertheless, it is important that you keep the planning. Cirillo’s method assumes that you take control of your time. But if you exceed the end time you set a priori, you sort of let time take control of you. This will negatively affect your productivity according to the method.
After making the planning, you go to work. During your work, keep track of how many Pomodori you needed for a task on the today-to-do list. For example, the “Summarize Chapter 5” task is on your today-to-do list. It took you three 25-minute periods to complete the task (three Pomodori). Then you put three crosses behind this task. Mind you, only for continuous Pomodori a cross may be placed.
In addition, you write down how often and what distracted you. You can write this information on the today’s list or activity list.
At the end of the day, you collect the information you wrote down (number of Pomodori per task, how often you are distracted and what, and other things that did or did not go well that day). You write all this down in a logbook.
Finally, consider this information. The idea is that this consideration can help you to continue to improve your time management. This way you can see if the number of Pomodori you have needed to complete a certain task corresponds to the estimate you made in advance. This is useful when creating your next day schedule. In addition, you can see what distracted you the most. Based on this, you can come up with adjustments for your work situation. For example, if you find that you were always distracted by the tendency to grab your phone, you may decide to put your phone out of your sight next time.
Dealing with distractions
An important part of the Pomodoro technique is dealing with distractions. If you are distracted during a Pomodoro, you first consider whether this distraction should be dealt with today or can be dealt with at a later time. Based on this, you write down the reason for distraction on the today’s-to-do list or on the activity list. For example, you think during a Pomodoro that you have to call a colleague back. This need feels urgent and you therefore write this on your ‘to do today’ list. Then you continue with your work until the egg timer goes off.
At the end of the Pomodoro you can read back the noted distraction. You can now decide to schedule your colleague’s callback today on your today-to-do list, or postpone it until another time. In the latter case, you can write this down on your activity list, possibly with a deadline. The important thing is that you are not carried away by distractions during a Pomodoro. On the other hand, do not ignore the distraction, but register it to treat at a later time.
The basis of the Pomodoro technique is in theory simple. You work on a task for a defined period and you deal with the distractions you encounter in a structured way. In practice, it is less simple and requires practice to master the technique. Yet there are millions of professionals worldwide who benefit from this time management method. So it is worth trying out the Pomodoro technique if you want to increase your daily productivity. All you need is a timer and pen and paper. There are even mobile applications now that you can use to make your plan.