Parkinson’s law says that work expands to fill up the time available for its completion. The more time you assign to a task, the longer it takes to complete the task.
That’s why (most of) you do not finish your work until the deadline comes around.
You push it for later or drag it along until there’s no time left. Sometimes, you miss deadlines because you’re waiting for that sense of urgency to descend upon you to motivate you to work.
How can you develop a more disciplined approach to work?
One way is to use the Pomodoro Technique or variations of it.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is a task management approach that requires you to complete tasks in specific boxes of time. You take a break after each pocket of focused time and after a few sessions, you take a longer break to rest your fatigued brain.
“Pomodoro” means “tomato” in Italian. The technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo when he was a university student in the late 1980s to help him complete his assignments. He used an egg timer shaped like a tomato, hence the name.
Don’t be fooled by the simple nature of the Pomodoro Technique. It can help you improve focus and build concentration.
In the context of this technique, a “pomodoro” is an inseparable unit of time and effort. It represents a focused session of work.
Who will benefit from the Pomodoro Technique?
You need the Pomodoro Technique if:
- you get easily distracted and allow these distractions to waste the entire day
- you underestimate the time required to complete your tasks, thus taking longer
- you perform a lot of open-ended work such as writing, coding, or studying
- you feel overwhelmed by a large number of tasks on your to-do list
- you are unable to start work because your tasks seem too large
- you sit at your desk all day but have little to show for it by the end
If any of this sounds like you, please read ahead.
The 6 steps of the Pomodoro Technique
At its core, the Pomodoro Technique has six steps:
- Select a task from your to-do list.
You can break down larger tasks into smaller sub-tasks to make them easier to complete. Small and similar tasks such as checking email or social media can be clubbed to be completed in one pomodoro.
2. Set your timer for 25 minutes.
Use a physical or digital timer. Set it to ring after 25 minutes. This period is one pomodoro.
3. Work on the task.
Focus on your work for 25 minutes. No distractions (gadgets, people, noises) allowed.
4. Check the task on your to-do list.
When the timer rings, place a check mark on your pomodoro.
5. Take a 5-minute break.
Rest for five minutes away from your place of work. Eat a snack, listen to a song, take a quick walk, or even a power nap.
6. After 4 pomodoros, take a longer break.
You can take a 25-30 minute break after working through four pomodoros.
A common objection to this technique is that 25 minutes may not be enough to complete a task and the 5-minute break does more harm than good. This is true of tasks that require “creative flow,” such as writing or composing music.
You can use Pomodoro variations to help you tweak the technique to suit your needs.
- Try working for 90 minutes at a stretch and then taking a 30-minute break, in tune with the body’s ultradian rhythms.
- If you work from home, try to fit pomodoros around your household tasks. For instance, work on a task until your washing machine completes its wash cycle.
- A Desktime study has suggested that 52 minutes on, 17 minutes off could be the ideal mix.
What happens if you get interrupted?
An important point to note is that you are not allowed to entertain any interruptions during a pomodoro.
You cannot have a quick chat with a colleague or a family member.
You cannot check social media or your emails.
You cannot have a 5-minute phone call to finish up a trivial task.
No interruptions, whatsoever.
But life isn’t always so convenient, is it? You do have interruptions.
According to Cirillo, you have two choices:
- You abandon the pomodoro and attend to the interruption. Later, you start another pomodoro to complete your task.
- You use the INSC (Inform, Negotiation, Schedule, and Call back) strategy:
a) Inform the interrupting party that you are busy and cannot attend to their request right away.
b) Negotiate a later time when you will attend to their request.
c) Schedule a meeting at the agreed time.
d) Call back the person after you have completed your pomodoro.
Why can’t you just attend to a request during a pomodoro, especially if it’s a small one?
Because it takes time to regain focus — at least 23 minutes — after an interruption.
That’s almost the length of an entire pomodoro!
You may think you’re great at task switching but you don’t realize that you aren’t working at your full potential until after 20 minutes of the interruption.
Think about it. Haven’t you gotten more and better quality work done when in deep focus for a long time?
What are the benefits of the Pomodoro Technique?
There are several!
- Helps you accurately estimate the time taken for each task, allowing you to plan better
- Improves your concentration over time
- Teaches you to manage interruptions without losing focus
- Helps you tackle task overwhelm by breaking large tasks into manageable chunks
- Builds motivation by allowing you to complete big tasks bit by bit
- Gets you over “starting trouble” with difficult, challenging, or big tasks
- Reduces stress over deadlines by helping you get tasks done gradually
Tips to use the Pomodoro Technique effectively
Tools and techniques are only as good as the person using them.
Here are some tips to help you leverage the Pomodoro Technique better:
a) If you finish your task before the timer rings, use the remaining time to either review your work or spend it in overlearning – improving your skills and knowledge. Read industry blogs or research papers, finish a course module, or conduct research for another task.
b) When you begin a fresh pomodoro, challenge yourself to do better than the previous one. Review your work at the end of each pomodoro, compare and analzye.
c) Schedule no more than 12-15 pomodoros in a day. Push the less important tasks to the next day.
d) You don’t have to schedule the whole work day into pomodoros. Use the morning to get in a few hours of uninterrupted work using pomodoros and continue with the rest of the day as usual.
e) Use 15 minutes at the end of your day to plan the next day’s tasks. Or use the first 15 minutes of your day to plan the tasks for the day.
f) If your work involves looking into a screen, get away from it during your break. Allow your eyes and brain to refresh and recharge.
g) If social media easily distracts you, use apps to block them while you work in pomodoros.
Enjoy this lovely infographic on the Pomodoro Technique:
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