There’s a lot going on in the world at the moment, and it can be hard to stay focused and get things done. Add to that the fact that millions of us are doing all our work from home for the first time and you have a recipe for distraction. Fortunately, people have put a lot of thought into how to stay focused and get more done, whether you’re working remotely for the first time or just trying to keep your head on straight in a stressful time.
As part of our ongoing project to help make remote work easier, allow us to introduce you to the Pomodoro Technique.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro method is a popular productivity technique designed to break your work into time blocks, schedule regular breaks, and help you get more done, especially if you’re having trouble getting started. The basic idea is breaking your work down into blocks of time, setting a timer to track your progress, and planning your work according to the number of blocks you can (or want to…) fit into your work day.
The most popular setup is 25 minutes of continuous work with a 5-minute break. That doesn’t necessarily mean screwing around so much as giving your eyes a break from the screen shaking out your fingers and maybe getting up for a stretch or a glass of water. What you do with those five minutes is up to you.
This can be particularly helpful when you’re having a hard time getting started on a project, have to do something you don’t really want to do, or are struggling to break a large project down into manageable pieces that help you see a direct path to complete it. You can play a little psychological trick on your brain by telling yourself “I just have to give this 25 minutes, I can handle that.” Better yet, you can race yourself to see how much of the project you can get done before that time limit is up. You might surprise yourself and finish faster than you thought!
It’s also not required that you stopped working when the initial time block is up. If you feel good about the work you’re doing and you’ve gotten into a good flow, why not keep going? A lot of people have found that it only takes a Pomodoro period or two to get the ball rolling and the momentum they need to finish a project. But don’t forget the part of the purpose of the Pomodoro method is not just to help you get into a flow state, but to make sure you’re taking regular breaks for the sake of your health and focus as well. Many people are surprised to discover just how little they move around in a day and how consistently staring at a computer screen can affect their vision.
Pomodoro Apps and Timers
Most people who like the Pomodoro method use some sort of timer to help them keep track of how long they’ve been working and how long they have for a break. Originally, the idea was based around using an egg timer that would tick along in the background (the inventor happened to be Italian, and his timer happened to be shaped like a tomato and, hence, “pomodoro.”) You would know your work session was up when the timer ended and gave you a little “ding” noise.
Nowadays, many people just use the timer on their phones, but there are lots of dedicated websites and apps that offer more features, functions, and even that pleasant little egg timer “tick” if the noise helps you focus. These can be helpful if you don’t want to be committed to the 25/5 time periods, since many of them allow you to set custom time ranges.
This is easily the best timer on the list, combining a simple Pomodoro timer with a task list and productivity tracking that will help you visualize trends in your work life over time. Best of all, it’s free for up to ten Pomodoro sessions per day. There are a few features reserved for the premium version, but if you’re just getting started, it’s an amazing tool to get started (as long as you’re on iOS – no Android yet, unfortunately.)
However, it’s easy to customize your time intervals, change your sound settings to turn the ticking sound and alarms on and off, add your to-do list, and track the number of Pomodoros you’ve completed in the last week. You can also see how many Pomodoros you’ve skipped and tasks you’ve completed to get a better picture of trends in your work.
Check out BeFocused in the App Store
Tomato Timer is a free, ultra-light website for running a Pomodoro timer. There are no real bells or whistles here: it lets you choose how long your working period is, how long your breaks are, and set a goal for how many sessions you want to get done in a day, with a choice of alarms to let you know when you’re done.
Check it out at TomatoTimer.com
This is a bit of an odd inclusion on this list, since it mostly duplicates the features of the last two entries, but there’s one interesting wrinkle that makes Focus To-Do an interesting contender: it’s a Chrome app.
That might not seem like a huge distinction, but it makes a big difference in the usability of the app, as long as you’re a Chrome user. Like the other apps on this list, Focus To-Do allows you to customize your Pomodoro timer’s intervals for work and breaks, and like BeFocused, it offers some interesting reports about your productivity.
However, the major advantage of this Chrome extension is that it lives in your browser so you can seamlessly fire up a new Pomodoro session while you’re working or browsing the web. Just hit the Focus icon in your extensions to launch your to-do list and Pomodoro timer.
Check it out for free in the Chrome Store.
Pomodoros for Avoiding Procrastination
One of the best things about using the Pomodoro Technique is how you can trick yourself into getting things done that you’ve been avoiding. We all know that procrastinating just kicks the can down the road and makes things harder in the long run, but that doesn’t always make it easier to get started on something we’re not in the mood to do.
Every job has tasks that aren’t much fun sometimes, but fortunately, the Pomodoro Technique can help!
The trick to using the Pomodoro Technique to help you break through procrastination is to remind yourself that it’s just 25 minutes before you get started. You can stand just about anything for 25 minutes, so commit to doing at least one. Turn off the internet, if you can, put your phone on airplane mode, and do whatever else it takes to be able to lock in for the next half an hour. After all, when you’re done, you get a break!
It will probably be difficult to get going – there was a reason you were avoiding this task, after all – but no one is stubborn enough to just stare at their computer for 25 minutes. That means, when your first Pomodoro is over, you’ve made some progress! Maybe not a lot, but breaking ground on a project is often the hardest part, and the good news is that you’ll go into your next session with a head start.
When your five minute break is up, it should be dramatically easier to get started on the next block of time. I’ve personally found that the second Pomodoro is where the rubber really meets the road for me on things I don’t want to do. Something about breaking the seal and making a little progress makes it much easier to continue, and an awful lot of things I’ve been avoiding can be finished within the first two Pomodoros, which is always a big relief.
This can make even the most menial, mind-numbing tasks easier to get started. Just remember: you can do anything for 25 minutes.
The Pomodoro Technique and Time Blocking
Another thing the Pomodoro Technique is great for helping you to bring order to your day with time blocking. If you’re one of the uninitiated, Time Blocking is a productivity strategy for structuring your day around a series of pre-planned chunks of work, scheduled in advance. Also known as time blocks!
The basic idea here is to encourage you to be more mindful about how you spend your days. Say what you will about scheduling, but designating a time for each task, and putting that time onto your calendar, has helped us dramatically increase our productivity here at Woven. There’s something about the act of setting aside time for a particular task that makes it really easy to ignore distractions, since you know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing in that chunk of time.
It’s much more defensible than an open hour, both socially and psychologically. For instance, you’d never skip a dentist’s appointment, or even a haircut, but if you’ve technically got the hour free to “work,” your perspective about that hour will be different than if it’s scheduled to get something done – even if you want to use that hour to get something done. It’s just human nature.
The beauty of time blocks is that it’s a priority-agnostic strategy. Sure, in a perfect world, you’d probably load your calendar up with your most important tasks, but the real benefit is just putting things on the calendar. Overloaded with chores that are getting in the way of your more important priorities? Need to meal plan for the week? Why not block out a couple of hours one afternoon to get them out of the way so they’re not on your mind the rest of the week?
The Pomodoro Technique pairs perfectly with time blocking, since blocking off chunks of your schedule is baked into both ideas. Some proponents of time blocking would probably resist the idea of taking a break every 25 minutes, but realistically, who isn’t going to stretch, get a glass of water, or go to the bathroom a couple of times an hour? Nobody, so give yourself a break.
It’s perfectly reasonable to break your working day – let’s say 8 hours, to make the math easier – into 30 minute time blocks and start hanging your work on that framework, knowing that you’ll still have your five-minute stretch breaks built in. It’s helpful to start thinking about tasks in terms of how many “Pomodoros” they’ll take up.
For instance, clearing your inbox might be with a Pomodoro at the beginning or end of your day, but deep work, like writing a blog or coding, probably need much larger blocks of time – or even most of your day! That’s fine! Having that kind of clarity about your day is great, actually. But breaking it into blocks of 25 and 5 minutes will help you stay healthy and happy even while you’re grinding through a heavy workload. You’ve planned your day around time blocks to help you structure your day around your priorities, but also broken it down into manageable chunks that will help you get started and keep you on track.
But Remember, It’s Just a Tool
The Pomodoro Technique can be a big help for getting things done, but don’t forget that it’s just one arrow in your quiver, so to speak. If you make it through 25 minutes of a project and are still struggling to get anything done, ask yourself if it’s really that important anyways. Similarly, if you make it to the end of a session and feel great, keep going!
The point of the Pomodoro Technique isn’t to adhere to strict rules, but to help you be more productive and accomplish your goals. If your first session or two helps you get into a flow, that’s great! Turn off the timer and get as much done as you can while you’re on a roll. The goal was to help you get going, not force you into following a restrictive schedule.
On the other side of the coin, if you make it through 25 minutes and realize something just isn’t worth your time, that’s fine too! Find a way to outsource it or a way to eliminate it entirely.
Our goal here is to help you get more done, and the Pomodoro Technique (scheduled on your Woven calendar, naturally) is a great way to break out of a rut and plan an effective day.
Other Productivity Guides by Woven
- Parkinson’s Law
- The Eisenhower Matrix
- Eat The Frog
- The Pareto Principle: 80/20
- Time Blocking
- The Maker/Manager Schedule
- Workstation Popcorn