A few years ago I was really embracing the role of a video editor. I had a total of 4 monitors glaring back at me, two of them were used for video editing. The one to my far right had a window opened for email, I was ready to immediately respond to anything that landed in my inbox. The last monitor placed above was mostly empty, but whenever I was doing something that didn’t require my full attention I would put on something on YouTube or Spotify to entertain me. Did I need all four to complete a video edit? Of course not, but it was pretty cool sitting in front of it all. I thought I was being productive, I thought I was focused. However, when I came across this one technique of improving my productivity, I realised the monitors had to go and it was time to downsize to one. What productivity hack did I come across might you ask? It was none other than the Pomodoro technique.
How the Pomodoro technique works
It’s a pretty simple concept that is split into 4 rounds.
One complete round looks like this:
- Decide on the task you want to tackle.
- Set your timer for 25 minutes.
- With no distractions and 100% focus, work on your task until the timer ends.
- Set your timer for 5 minutes.
- Take a break.
You are to repeat this for another 3 rounds. At the end of your fourth round, you are to have a 15-minute break. This is to be repeated until your task is complete.
When translated into English the word ‘Pomodoro’ means ‘tomato’. It got its name from the tomato-shaped timer the inventor used to keep track of each cycle. Of course, you don’t need to use a tomato timer for your workflow, there are a plethora of apps and websites that can do the same job.
Skillful management of energy
In his book, “The Power of Full Engagement” Loehr talks about the importance of managing your energy levels. One of the main methods to managing this is by taking regular breaks,
“At the most practical level, our capacity to be fully engaged depends on our ability to periodically disengage.”
Have you ever felt burnt out and your performance level slowly going south? The reason for your burnout isn’t always due to the intensity of work you put in, but rather the lack of rest you implement. Taking calculated breaks from your task is important for the mind. Not only does it allow you to take a step away from your work, it resets your focus levels for when you come back. Allowing you to be more productive in the long run.
That is why the Pomodoro technique incorporates the occasional break. It reminds you to stop. In our society, so many of us have embraced the culture of burning the candles at both ends. Not only is it detrimental to the body, but it halts your performance as well. Overworking has unhealthy consequences that include lack of concentration, sickness, anxiety and a loss of passion. It’s no wonder why so many people are burnt out after long periods of work.
Similar to a car, when we work we’re expending energy from our tank, taking calculated breaks allows us to recover and fill that tank back up. Loehr puts it nicely, “Performance is grounded in the skilful management of energy.”
How do I spend my 5-minute breaks? If I’ve been working at my desk I definitely take a step back and walk away from it. I highly recommend creating distance between your work space and your place of recovery time. Take a 5-minute walk, go to the toilet, have a conversation with a colleague, do anything to get your mind off work.
One of my favourite past times is something quite childish. I like to throw a ball at my wall and invent new exciting ways to catch it. One handed, 360° spins and whatever else I can come up with. You might think I’m being immature but being playful in your rest periods is quite important. Be adventurous in your breaks, wind down and make the most of it.
Effectively manage your time
Knowing how to effectively manage your time for each project is an important skill to have. There are so many occasions where we feel overwhelmed and not know where to begin, I know at times I have felt like that. There are times where I’ve been working on a particular task, I look at the clock and I think to myself, “where has the time gone?” Ever since I started incorporating the Pomodoro technique I’ve been able to keep an eye on the time and effectively manage it.
Knowing that I am to work on a task for 25 minutes at a time, I am able to keep a tally of how many rounds that have gone by. This allows to me to decide if I’m working on one task for too long or if I’ve been wasting my time. If you can take control of your time and not let the day go by, I’m positive that your productivity level will spike.
Remove all distractions
Remaining in a high state of focus can be mentally taxing, it’s challenging to maintain it for several minutes, let alone hours. That is why the Pomodoro technique forces you to work in short bursts. It understands that the mind cannot keep up such a high level of concentration for so long.
In order for you to make full use of the benefits of the Pomodoro technique, it’s important to remove all distractions from your work space. For the next 25 minutes, it’s just you and whatever task you set out to complete. Keeping your phone next to you or allowing colleagues to interrupt you isn’t going to help you be productive. Leave your phone in a drawer, close your email window tab, turn off any desktop notifications. In that time you’re going to be uber-creative, solve problems and come up with the next best thing. Allowing something or someone to take that away from you is a travesty, you owe it to yourself to get the work done. Time is precious, what’s more, is how you spend it.
Saying this, I can totally understand if you find it difficult to remove all distractions. If for some reason you need to take the dog out for a walk or if the water is boiling, deal with that first, especially the latter! If you do get distracted, don’t beat yourself up. Reset the timer and continue with doing what you set out to do.
There are times when I’m in a new environment and noise pollution becomes a distraction, what I like to do is put on some headphones and listen to instrumental music. Not only does it drown out the background noise, but it allows me to zone in on the work and reach a level of flow.
Maybe the Pomodoro technique isn’t for you, but before you decide to jump onto the next productivity craze give it a go for at least one of your tasks. Don’t be so strict with the way you approach it, give yourself some leniency and enjoy the process. If you only have 45 minutes to work on a task, mathematically speaking you won’t be able to complete 2 full Pomodoro’s. That doesn’t mean you should not start the task at all!
There are times where I have bent the rules. I added a few more minutes to my break or continue working when the timer went off. I use the Pomodoro technique as a rough guideline to help me manage my time and energy. Ever since I implemented the Pomodoro technique it has definitely streamlined my workflow, which has had a positive knock-on effect on other aspects of my life. I recommend you give it a go and see if it can benefit you too. Everyone has their own methods to be productive. What’s yours going to be?
Links & Apps
What you’re looking for is a way to keep track of each Pomodoro round. You can do this with the help of an app or you can do this with your own timer and notepad. Whatever you choose, make sure it suits your needs.
For the pen and paper enthusiast
For the iOS lovers
Having a timer on your phone, tablet and desktop can help you keep in check and not get distracted. If you’re on an iOS device the Be Focused App is ideal
For the iOS haters
Hate everything Apple? No worries I’ve got you covered. The brain focus app will do the job for every Android phone.
For the desktop fanatic
As the majority of my work is done on a laptop, I knew I needed to install a Pomodoro timer on my computer. My go-to desktop application is Tomighty. It’s available for both Windows and Mac, which is great as I work on a Dell laptop. Tomighty conveniently sits on your taskbar and notifies you when your break is due and when to get back to work. I’ve been using Tomighty for a while now and I can’t see myself switching over to anything else.