About 6 months ago it seemed like the internet was infatuated with a new time management technique called “Pomodoro.” Developed by Francesco Cirillo, The Pomodoro Technique is a good way to increase focus, manage time and improve time estimations. If you're curious, the term “Pomodoro” comes from the Italian word for tomato, which is the type of kitchen timer the author of the technique used to time his sessions, more on this later.
The Pomodoro technique taps into a few important principles to help increase focus and results:
- We can attain a laser-like focus for a short period of time, after that time focus deteriorates and results diminish
- Minimizing distractions is paramount for finding a flow state
- Taking short breaks can help increase focus
- Using a prioritized task list helps minimize downtime due to task selection between tasks
The author did some experimentation to find out how long a person can focus on a single task and discovered that it's generally about 25 minutes. After which point the person becomes increasingly distracted by other things.
The cycle of the pomodoro technique goes like this.
- Create a Priority weighted task list.
- Select the first task, set a timer for 25 minutes, and begin working on it.
- Turn off all distractions. No phone, e-mail, IM. Close your door and focus.
- At the end of 25 minutes stop working completely. Pencils down; like at the end of a gradeschool test
- Walk away from the task and do something else unrelated and calming for 5 minutes
- This means no checking e-mail, phones, etc. Go play with the dog, or get a glass of water.
- At the end of the 5 minutes,
- Return to your desk
- Place a checkmark next to the task you were working on, on your task list
- Set your timer for 25 minutes
- Return to your task and continue working with laser like focus for 25 minutes
- If you complete a task draw a line through the entire task on your sheet
If you complete a task before the 25 minutes are up, use the last few minutes of the “pomodoro” to review your work and improve it, or learn from your experience so you can do it better next time. If you complete a task, but you've used fewer than 10 minutes of your pomodoro, consider that part of the previous pomodoro and move on to your next task immediately.
Does this really work? I've found that this works well for me when working on certain types of tasks, but like almost any time management technique I've had to modify it for my own uses.
It works when I am writing, testing or reviewing. I think it works with these classes of problems because I don't need to hold enormous amounts of information in my memory, and taking short breaks periodically allows me to step back and reframe the issue I'm working on for added clarity.
When I have a task that I estimate should take an hour I will sometimes use a single pomodoro to complete the task in half the time. I've found when all distractions are removed that this 50% estimation is fairly accurate.
I've found this can be very distracting when I find myself solving large problems, while programming complex systems, or need to keep a large amount of information in my head. All this thrashing every 25 minutes only serves to defocus me. Stopping every 25 minutes makes it nearly impossible to enter into a “flow state” which can increase productivity significantly. If I find myself in that kind of a state, and I'm feeling good I won't take a Pomodoro break. I'll pop my head up four or five hours later to discover I've made significant headway on all my tasks.
Just think how well you work when right at the end of a major deadline. The Pomodoro Technique attempts to tap into that focus (or frenzy) and allow you to harness it all day. Give it a shot for a few days, maybe you'll find a source of energy and focus you never knew you had.
Posted By: Joe Basirico