Twenty-four hours. Seven days. Fifty-two weeks. We all have the same amount of time, and we all frantically scramble through our workdays. Fortunately, there is more than one way to be productive — and more than one way to say “tomato.” Let’s look at the Pomodoro Technique, which focuses on tailoring your day, working with the time you have instead of against it.
Keep in Mind
First, a brief language lesson: “Pomodoro” means “tomato” in Italian, referring to the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that the Pomodoro Technique’s inventor, Francesco Cirillo, used to develop his method during his college years. While we may think that the most productive workdays require gluing ourselves to our desks, research shows that longer, busier days don’t automatically mean more productivity. Spending large portions of time focusing on specific tasks actually reduces productivity, but taking short breaks at regular intervals will keep you enthusiastic and focused.
Cirillo’s approach divides work into 25-minute segments. Each segment is a “pomodoro.” After each pomodoro, take a five-minute break, and then move to the next pomodoro. It seems counter-intuitive, but the breaks don’t make you less productive. Instead, the breaks refresh you, improving your focus for your next pomodoro.
Make Your Plan
To begin using the Pomodoro Technique, evaluate your tasks for the day. Make a list of what you want to accomplish, and estimate how much time each task will take. Make a loose schedule that organizes your tasks around your commitments, and remember to schedule those five-minute breaks. Plan a longer break (20-30 minutes) at a natural stopping point or after four pomodori (or tomatoes).
Before beginning your first pomodoro, check that everything you need for your tasks is within reach. Set your timer — be considerate of the volume level if you have shared workspace — and begin your first 25 minutes.
Keep Your Focus
As your 25 minutes ticks by, dedicate yourself to your chosen task. See how much you can accomplish in your limited time. If you can, eliminate disruptions: turn off your phone, disable email alerts and shut your office door. Keep a pen and paper nearby — if thoughts distract you from the task at hand, write down a quick note. These notes will prompt your memory later and keep you distraction-free during the pomodoro. If you finish a task before the pomodoro ends, use the last few minutes on brief tasks, like answering emails.
Take a Break
When your timer signals that 25 minutes have passed, always take the five-minute break, no matter how involved you are in the task. Cirillo recommends spending your breaks truly recharging. This is the real secret of the Pomodoro Technique. Go for a short walk, tidy your office space, pour a fresh cup of coffee, chat with coworkers — whatever you do, actively move and avoid thinking about the task you were working on. This allows your mind to absorb what you just worked on, giving you a refreshed mind for your next pomodoro.
After four pomodori, take a 20-30 minute break. Again, use this time to be active and avoid the task you were doing. Exercise, eat a snack, read a book — move away from your desk and clear your head. Do whatever it takes to revive your energy so you return to the next pomodori refreshed.
Make It Yours
Everyone is unique, which, in this case, means adjusting productivity techniques to fit your own purposes. Notice when you feel most productive and energized — human bodies naturally flow in ultradian rhythms of 90- or 120-minute cycles, and with practice and tracking, you can pinpoint your ultradian rhythms and plan your tasks accordingly. Maybe mornings are better for focusing on large tasks, while a few extra breaks better suit your afternoon. If it’s impossible to focus on a task for 25 minutes, don’t force yourself — rather, figure out what amount of time works best for you. At the end of your workweek, review the last five days to see what worked and what didn’t. Personalizing the Pomodoro Technique will help you sustain productivity and energy with whatever task you face, no matter how you pronounce “tomato.”
Amanda Pennington is a copy editor and writer at Innovative Publishing. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org