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If you’re like most people, time management can be a challenge. Odds are you’re bombarded with work tasks, personal projects or family obligations, lengthy to-do lists and constant emails flooding your inbox.
So, how do you get it all done in the most efficient manner… without anything falling through the cracks?
It can be a great disappointment to let anyone down, or drop the ball on an important task. Thus it is our human nature to self-loathe when this happens, seeking asylum in the land of “consolation prizes and mediocrity”.
You will often hear people make excuses for failure, chalking it up to “being human” or “having only so many hours in a day”.
But what if I told you that it was possible to use your time in such a way that you can get all you need and want done… without stressing too much or feeling overwhelmed.
One possible solution is to use a popular time blocking system called The Pomodoro Technique.
In this article, I’ll talk about how the 25-minute Pomodoro Technique can help you laser-focus on important tasks, while avoiding the distractions that are common with the modern work experience.
Let's get to it…
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management technique where you break down all of your tasks into 25 minute blocks of focused time. Between each time block, there is a five minute break. And after completing four Pomodoros, you allow yourself a longer break – usually 15 to 30 minutes.
As an example, here’s how this process would break down:
And here’s a pretty little chart for you to visualize what we’re saying:
Francesco Cirillo came up with the Pomodoro System in the late 1980's. The technique got its name from the Italian word for “tomato”, because Cirillo utilized a tomato-shaped egg timer when managing his time. Clever no?
The idea behind this strategy is for you to completely focus on one task at a time (writing, for instance)… without shifting focus or multitasking whatsoever. You set a timer to help with this and simply ignore the urge to stray. That means no checking email, hopping on social media, answering texts or engaging in any kind of distracting activity.
You’re in the zone and completely focused.
I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical at first when a colleague recommended The Pomodoro Technique. Up until that point, I used to work on tasks whenever I felt like it… and it worked for me. Or so I thought. Sometimes that meant two hours of uninterrupted work and other times it was for a few minutes while watching television.
However, after using this technique for over three years now, I can honestly say it’s been a “game-changer” when it comes to improving my personal productivity. It doesn’t matter what task I’m doing – writing, answering email, social media or marketing – the ticking clock in the background keeps me focused on the task at hand.
Should you decide to implement this system, you’ll be able to:
That is just a taste of what your life could be like by using the Pomodoro Technique. Interested? I thought so. So now it’s time to talk about how to develop this time-blocking habit.
A few years back, I discovered a simple truth called Parkinson’s Law. It states:
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
Put succinctly, this rule means that the more time you “give” a project, the longer you’ll take to complete it.
Have a deadline a week from now? Odds are you’ll take the full week to do it. This was time management at its worst!
The best way to combat Parkinson’s Law is to manufacture strict deadlines with yourself and to literally have a ticking clock in the background as you work on each task. Not only will you become more productive, but you’ll also “get more time” that can be spent doing the fun things in life.
It’s basically a battle royale clash between The Pomodoro Technique and Parkinson’s Law. You need Cirillo’s method in order to not get lost in a vicious cycle of wasted time and energy.
Think of it this way:
There are only 675,450 hours in the average human life. Every hour that’s wasted is an hour you won’t get back. If you’re working hard every day, but not getting measurable results, then you’re wasting your life… one hour at a time.
But there is a solution. And it’s rather simple: Stop randomly working on projects.
Instead, create a plan for the important tasks and work on each with a completely focused mindset. The best tool for doing this is through the Pomodoro Technique. Its simplistic formula gives you small, manageable and measurable tasks that are easy to track… with breaks in between so you don’t burn out, or find the need to wander off course.
You’ll be surprised at how you are able to get more done… in less time. Which means family dinner is back on the table (pun intended), and you may even be able to catch your daughter’s softball game after all.
As a bonus, your energy levels will soar. You’ll feel less mental fatigue and be able to utilize your short breaks to clear your head, relax and get back into it. Maybe that means having a cup of tea on the porch or going for a short walk. Whatever you need to recharge and refocus.
Okay, now that you know why this time management method is effective, let’s go over the 5-step process for implementing The Pomodoro Technique.
Sit down with your planner and spend at least 5-10 minutes organizing the tasks you plan to complete in a day, a week, a month. Ideally, you should be working on a task with a viable deadline. The Pomodoro Technique is not ideal for someone who saves things for the last minute.
Once you’ve figured out your schedule, you can prioritize your Pomodoros (as we showed you in the chart above).
Pro Tip: Tasks that take less than 25 minutes should be grouped together, instead of being done separately.
For instance, I have a task that’s labeled “social media communication,” which includes talking to people through email, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and Facebook. Each site might only take five minutes of my time, so I’ve developed a system where I run a few back-to-back Pomodoros and go through all of them at once.
One of the great things about the Pomodoro method is you don’t need fancy tools or guides to get started. Really, the only “requirement” is to use an app or a simple egg-timer… unless you’re more of an app guy (or gal).
So let’s go over the benefits of both.
Why an egg-timer?
There are two reasons why an egg timer works well for a Pomodoro. First, the physical act of winding a timer gives you that mental commitment to start working on the task. Second, the “tick-tick-tick” sound of the egg-timer creates a sense of urgency and keeps you on point.
(Also, some get into the spirit of the Pomodoro Technique by using a tomato-shaped timer.)
If you like the sound of trying out an egg-timer, here are 3 we recommend:
Why an app?
Egg timers can be a bit “old school” for some, so an alternative solution is to use apps that are designed for your computer and/or smart device. There are lots of good ones out there – some even have an audible ticking feature that’s great for Pomodoros. Here are a few of my favorite:
If you want to learn more, read our review of the latest and best pomodoro apps to help you increase your productivity!
Pro Tip: Test out and experiment with a few different Pomodoro apps before settling on one. It took me a few months before I settled on the simple ticking clock app that I now use on a daily asis.
As we mentioned earlier, and it’s a point we cannot stress enough, The Pomodoro Technique only works if you avoid distractions and the appeal of multitasking. This method requires you to be 100% focused on one item at a time. If you veer off course, it will not work.
Now that I’ve repeated the urgency to stay on task for The Pomodoro Technique to be effective, I’m going to go off script for a moment and address the rotten tomato in the room. Yes, I went there.
Francesco Cirillo is adamant that half-completed Pomodoros don’t count.
Essentially, if you get interrupted 10 minutes into a task (and it will happen, such is life)… then that means you get “no credit” for the task and have to start over.
I completely disagree with this statement!
In my opinion, 10 minutes of work is still work. If you get interrupted, all you have to do is record your time and then add it to the next Pomodoro. Once you’ve completed that Pomodoro, you’ll get credit for doing two Pomodoros.
Here’s how this works:
I’ll admit this process would probably piss off many “hard-line Pomodoro fanatics,” but I feel it’s important to develop the mindset that you can do quality work in small blocks of time (like 5- to 10-minutes).
Pro Tip: When you give yourself “credit” for making an effort -even in a minuscule amount of time – you’ll be more likely to maximize those small blocks of time that you get throughout the day.
Breaks are not merely suggestions, nor are they optional, when working The Pomodoro Technique. On the contrary, they are vital to its success.
Breaks help you avoid mental and physical fatigue when working on a task. Mentallly, walking away from something for a few minutes is the perfect opportunity to focus on something else… something fun, even. Physically, breaks give your eyes, neck and back a rest from staring at something far too long.
Just stepping outside and breathing in fresh air for a few minutes can give you the energy boost you need to keep going. Or maybe working on today’s Wordle is just what the doctor ordered to switch gears for a few. You could also use this time for:
It really doesn’t matter what you do, just as long as you’re taking a break.
So when that buzzer rings, stop work immediately or “put your pencils down”, as the test moderators used to tell us in school. Don’t think about it, just do it. Get up and take a break… and remember to repeat it 4 times!
They say we like to save the best for last. Well, it’s true. After your 4th Pomodoro session, you get to treat yourself to an extended break of at least 15 minutes, up to 30 minutes.
Use this time wisely, it’s more than you think and will go a long way in gearing you up for the next set of tasks. Here are some of my favorite extended break activities:
On a nice day:
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the suggested amount of Pomodoros you should aim to complete in a single day. You see, it will differ slightly for everyone… as a few factors come into play. Things such as:
Also, if you’re just starting out using the technique, you may not want to take on too much until you’re gotten more comfortable with it. Trust me, though, it shouldn’t take long if you follow the rules… work, break, work, break, work, break, work, longer break. Repeat.
In a typical 8-hour work day, most technique enthusiasts and experts would say that 8-10 sessions is a good starting point. Conversely, others believe you could take on as many as 16 pomodoros, but should build in a buffer of 2-4 pomodoros for unexpected surprises.
Both arguments make their fair share of sense. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, most people don’t put in a full 8-hour work day. They wander off to the water cooler, to use the bathroom, check in with their partners, check baseball scores, shop Amazon, etc….
At the end of the work day, you should feel satisfied that you accomplished all you set out to do… assuming you followed the technique. Take 30 minutes to review what you did and know that tomorrow is another day.
And now it’s time to put the day behind you and enjoy your life. Go home to be with your partner, family or friends. Go for a hike or to the gym. Unwind with a drink and your favorite take out. See a movie. Take a bath.
The Pomodoro Technique may just be one of the best kept secrets when it comes to effective time management. It can also help you stay on track with short-term SMART Goals, by allowing you to check off obtainable tasks in a fixed amount of time that does not seem daunting.
25 minutes is nothing… but an hour can seem long to stick with something without breaks, especially if it’s a more complicated or tedious task.
For more tips on better time management, check out these 7 articles.
- 9 Time Blocking Templates and Printables to Master Your Time
- The Eisenhower Matrix: How to Use 4 Quadrants to Make Important vs. Urgent Decisions in Your Life
- The 80/20 Rule: How to Apply This Principle to All Areas of Your Life
- 26 Productivity Hacks to Work Smarter, Not Harder
- 13 Top Productivity Podcasts to Get Things Done
- 27 Best Books on Productivity and Time Management
- The Rock, Pebbles, and Sand Story About Time Management
Finally, if you want to level up your productivity and time management skills, then watch this free video about the 9 productivity habits you can build at work.
Nicole Krause has been writing both personally and professionally for over 20 years. She holds a dual B.A. in English and Film Studies. Her work has appeared in some of the country’s top publications, major news outlets, online publications, and blogs. As a happily married (and extremely busy) mother of four… her articles primarily focus on parenting, marriage, family, finance, organization, and product reviews.