The Pomodoro Technique

On Sunday I discovered the Pomodoro Technique to get more done in less time. The concept is simple: working without interruptions is more effective than multitasking. The implementation is not always as easy as understanding the concept. The Pomodoro Technique is choosing a task and working for 25 minutes on it, taking a short break, and then choosing another task and working for 25 minutes on it, followed by another short break. Each block of uninterrupted concentration and work is called a pomodoro. If you let the pomodoro get interrupted or you interrupt the pomodoro yourself, then it doesn’t count and you have to start the pomodoro over again after the interruption is over. After four consecutive pomodoros, a longer break helps to keep from getting burned out.

I used the Pomodoro Technique on Sunday night to finish up a paper that I did not have very much desire to complete. You don’t need a computer to implement the Pomodoro Technique. Its creator started with a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato—that’s where the name of the technique comes from. I found a great Mac application called Pomodoro Desktop that is basically a timer that sits in the menu bar and makes a ticking sound each second similar to a real kitchen timer. The benefit of the ticking sound is that it reminds you that you should be focusing on the task at hand. The technique worked wonders for me. I was able to easily force myself to continue working rather than giving in to the compulsion to check email or my Twitter feed when I got bored. Since the timer is always visible, I could glance up at the timer to see how many minutes I had left. The first 5 minutes are pretty easy. The next 5 minutes are kind of difficult if the task is boring, because it starts to feel like a long time is left on the clock. After the first ten minutes, there are only 15 minutes left, which always seems to go by too fast. By the time I got to the end of a pomodoro, I wanted to keep working—that is the beauty of it. If you stop working while you feel like you want to work, then you will be compelled to start the next pomodoro as soon as the break timer finishes. This keeps you from getting burned out.

Pomodoro Desktop can be set up to execute scripts when a new pomodoro is started or stopped. I use this functionality to automatically set my Adium chat status message to away when a pomodoro starts and back to available when it ends. This alerts people that I am in the middle of a pomodoro and that I will get back to them later. The status message tells what time I will be finished with the pomodoro I am working on. There are more advanced techniques to tracking pomodoros and how many distractions threaten to interrupt the concentration and focus of the pomodoro, but this is enough information to get started.

Pomodoro can be useful in teams as well. Sometimes it is difficult to get a small group of peers to all focus on a task at the same time. If everyone is on board with the Pomodoro Technique, then all it takes is an announcement and agreement of the group and a pomodoro can begin, which will help everyone focus on the task for 25 minutes. Everyone knows when to work and when to take a break. No one has to feel like the one who wants to take away the fun of goofing off. No one needs to feel guilty for wanting to take a break. When the pomodoro is over, then everyone can take a break. Then the break time is over, another pomodoro is started and everyone focuses at the same time again.

One instruction in the free ebook is not to use the Pomodoro Technique to govern your free time. Work time is the time for pomodoros, but free time should be free. Keeping these aspects of life separate is becoming increasingly difficult, but the Pomodoro Technique makes it a little bit easier. Most of the time that I work at home in the evening, it is because I had too many interruptions at work to get some difficult or complex task finished. I bring the work home because it is quiet and free from the interruptions of the office. Using the Pomodoro Technique helps you get more work done at work and allows you to spend time at home relaxing with family and friends.