Pomodoro might sound like a breed of small dog, or pasta sauce, or a dance move… it is in fact a time management tool.
Invented in the early 1990s by developer, entrepreneur, and author Francesco Cirillo, The Pomodoro Technique was named after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student.
The Pomodoro methodology is simple: When faced with any large task or series of tasks, break the work down into short, timed intervals (called “Pomodoros”) that are spaced out by short breaks. This trains your brain to focus for short periods and helps you stay on top of constantly refilling inboxes and deadlines. Like brain training games that were popular in the early 1990s, over time this technique can help to improve attention span and concentration.
In our ‘always on’ world we often have conflicting priorities and getting stuff done can be hard. You may be continually reacting to urgent tasks or absently dwelling on non-important tasks, and before long, your minutes become hours and days of unfocussed activities. By working in short sprints, you’re consistently productive and you take those vital regular breaks that bolster your motivation and keep you creative.
The Pomodoro Technique is a popular time-management method to help you power through distractions, stay focused and get things done in short bursts, while taking frequent breaks to come up for air and relax. Best of all, it’s easy.
Here’s how it works in five simple steps:
All you’ll need is a timer. There are no special apps, books, or tools required (though plenty of them are available if extra reading or technology is your thing). Cirillo’s book, The Pomodoro Technique, is a helpful read, but Cirillo himself doesn’t hide the core of the method behind a purchase. Essentially it’s five simple steps:
- Choose a task to be accomplished.
- Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)
- Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
- Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
- Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break
That “longer break” should be about 15-30 minutes, whatever it takes to make you feel recharged and ready to start another 25-minute work session. If you repeat that process a few times over the course of a workday you actually get a lot accomplished—and take the breaks to refill your water bottle, make a cup of tea or stretch your body.
But here is the hard part – if you’re distracted part-way through your pomodoro by a colleague, meeting, or emergency, you either have to end the pomodoro there (saving your work and starting a new one later), or you have to postpone the distraction until the pomodoro is complete.
If you can do the latter, Cirillo suggests the “inform, negotiate and call back” strategy:
Inform the other (distracting) party that you’re working on something right now.
Negotiate a time when you can get back to them about the distracting issue in a timely manner.
Schedule that follow-up immediately.
Call back the other party when your Pomodoro is complete and you’re ready to tackle their issue.
This way, you are managing your time and other’s expectations. Win/win.
I believe this technique works for most tasks and for most people. Anyone with an inbox, a queue of requests or a ‘my door is always open’ attitude can benefit from an allocation of time to get tasks done. This isn’t a tomato shaped shackle that forces you to start and finish, rather an increased awareness of how easy it is for time to trickle away when we are least aware. If you’re making good progress when the timer goes off, it’s OK to pause the timer, finish what you’re doing and then take a break. The goal is to help you get into the zone and focus—but it’s also to remind you to come up for air.
You can only read so much and sometimes you must try it out on your own and see if it works for you. With luck, it’ll give you a way to be continuously productive while keeping you from burning out. Don’t worry if you only get in one or two pomodoros before you’re distracted by something unavoidable. Those one or two may be more productive than anything else you do that day.
So, if you want to have more time to look after your small dog, to eat pasta or to dance, The Pomodoro might be for you! I’d love to hear your thoughts experiences.
Full disclosure – as Pomodoro sounds like the breed of a small dog, the feature image is unapologetic click-bait!