So often, we convince ourselves we need a big chunk of time to sit down to focus on a task or project, but what if we’re more effective in smaller increments?
Interval training isn’t anything new, with the Jeff Galloway Run Walk Run method for runners or the Fly Lady 15-minute approach to domestic tidiness, but uniquely suited to the work environment is the Pomodoro Technique.
Developed by Francesco Cirillo during his university days, the time management technique has a devoted following that seems to be growing.
The premise of the Pomodoro Technique is simple – based on a tomato-shaped kitchen timer (Pomodoro means tomato in Italian) – breaking down work into 25-minute intervals, known as Pomodori.
A typical cycle would feature four Pomodori, separated by breaks. The first three breaks are just five minutes in length (maximum), while the fourth break is a whopping 15 minutes. But the time intervals are not the only elements to make this approach a success, it is the mindfulness as well.
Recording the planning, tracking, and process of your work and time spent is just as important as the timing itself. Special care is taken to noting tasks and estimating anticipated effort, jotting down interruptions, and actions. Productivity trends can be observed and, in time, learned from.
With industry leaders supporting this as an effective tool in the self-regulation of time and tasks, I wanted to try it first-hand, so I set aside 130 minutes to evaluate how it fits with my own workload and approach to tasks.
Instead of a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, I used my trusty Teamwork Timer. The notes section when logging time helped me keep track of how effective I felt I was working during each Pomodori.
Here is the breakdown of how I approached my first foray into the Pomodoro Technique:
Work – Pomodori 1 (25 minutes)
I created a custom graphic for this post. Having only 25 minutes to spend on the visual element of this blog post kept my focus efficient. I didn’t get bogged down in conceiving a perfect idea, just a simple one that conveys the message.
I used Photoshop and was done with minutes to spare, which I devoted to saving the image along with my post draft so the entire graphic task was complete.
Break (5 minutes)
I checked Facebook for April Fool’s jokes and drank a glass of water. Having only a few minutes to spend on Facebook was ideal so I didn’t get distracted.
Work – Pomodori 2 (25 minutes)
For this time, I read part of Pomodoro Technique Illustrated by Steffan Nöteberg. With over 140 pages, I knew I would not be able to read the entire book in one Pomodori, but with elements of the approach summarized and playful illustrations, it was a pleasant read.
Break (5 minutes)
Planning ahead, I went to the bathroom and stretched my legs.
Work – Pomodori 3 (25 minutes)
Being accustomed to the time frame now, I jumped into the work immediately to not waste a minute. I chose to focus on an editing task. I found the 25-minute time frame ideal for chipping away at a large document or taking care of two one-page files.
Break (5 minutes)
This break felt like an interruption more than the others, even though I was at a good breaking point I felt like I was on a roll. But was that momentum from the success of the technique so far or because the task was an enjoyable and satisfying one?
Work – Pomodori 4 (25 minutes)
The final work time increment was devoted to editing again. I couldn’t wait to get back to my last task. Another Pomodori and it felt like I had made proper headway.
Break (15 minutes)
I looked at how my time was spent. For every 100 minutes of work, there are 30 minutes of breaks. Which means in a typical nine-to-five work day (480 minutes plus 60 minutes lunch), you can adjust your schedule to fit three full cycles, a spare Pomodori or two, and extend a break at midday to be a proper lunchtime.
But that equals around 300 minutes of work (5 hours) and 90 minutes of breaks (1.5 hours) – 76.9% working and about 23% on breaks. From a practical standpoint, for anyone working in certain fields or being paid hourly, only fitting about five hours into a typical workday can be challenging when there is a long task list or a specific deadline.
But overall, I did like the approach to breaking down the large block of work day into more approachable blocks.
From a practical perspective, the timing was made simple. I used my iPhone timer to notify me when I had 30 seconds remaining in my Pomodori or break so I could jot down a few sentences about the time, but I tracked the time using my desktop Teamwork Timer.
But overall, I feel that a full week of Pomodori every day might grow tiresome or frustrating. Especially with a big undertaking or slow progress, having two complete hours to devote, devour, and dedicate one’s self to a task or focus can be worthwhile.
Going forward, I will definitely apply the technique, but not liberally. Perhaps one Pomodoro cycle at the start of the day, or at the end of the day to rally and complete tasks without feeling sedentary or bogged down.
Ultimately, this new approach is a reminder that we are not fighting the clock to be productive, but using it as a tool.
How do you track or manage your time? Is it effective or just what’s familiar?