I discovered the Pomodoro technique when I was studying for finals last year, and since finding it I’ve come to realize that it has had the single biggest impact on my productivity of all the different time management systems I’ve used. It’s very simple, easy to use, and can be done almost indefinitely because of how it breaks up your time into work and rest. I use it any time I need to plow through some work, and anyone who adopts it as a new work habit will likely experience the same thing.
What is the Pomodoro Technique
We can’t work indefinitely. Our brains need time to stop and process what we’ve been doing, and this is especially true with any work similar to studying. If we try to stare at flash cards for 2 hours straight, the first few minutes will go very well, and the last few will go well too, but everything in the middle will get steadily harder and harder to remember, with words around the 1 hour mark being the hardest.
The Pomodoro technique recognizes this, and breaks your time up into 30 minute chunks so you don’t work indefinitely. Each 30 minute chunk has a 25 minute working period and a 5 minute break. Additionally, every 4 “Pomodoros,” you take a 15 minute break instead of a 5 minute one. You can do whatever you want during the breaks, so long as you get right back into working once they’re over and don’t take any rest during the 25 minute working period. If you procrastinate or do anything non-work-related during the 25 minutes, that pomodoro doesn’t count and you have to start over. Instead of letting ourselves be constantly distracted by social media we just have to say “I can go on Facebook in 25 minutes… until then I’m going to keep working” and it becomes much easier to focus.
When we have a break to look forward to, the work feels less daunting, and we end up getting much more done. It is not, however, an end-all-be-all for productivity. It’s best applied to studying and to less interesting tasks that you have to force yourself through. The problem with taking a break every 25 minutes is that you can’t easily get into flow, and if you’re doing any sort of creative work the Pomodoro technique could actually hurt you. That said, it’s had a remarkable impact on my general productivity when I use it, and here are some ways you can incorporate it too.
How to Pomodoro
The Manual Way
The simplest and most obvious way is to just set a timer on your phone for 25 minutes, and then for 5 minutes, and so on. You could even use an appropriate tomato-shaped kitchen timer. Either way, this is a very manual way of doing things and will lose you time in the long run since you’ll have to constantly be changing the time on the timer. Not the best method in my opinion
The App Way
This should appeal to more people. There are a whole host of Pomodoro apps for Android (I use Pomodroido) and iPhone, and all of the top rated ones are comparable. Some of the better ones will track how many pomodoros you’ve done, and allow you to assign certain tasks to certain pomodoros so you can easily plan out your work session. It will also give you audio cues of when you should be breaking and starting work again, and immediately roll into the next timer without you having to do anything, so it’s easy to leave on in the background while you work.
You can also use a web app if you prefer to have it running on your computer rather than your phone. This is good if you need to be writing something on your computer and don’t want to risk being distracted by your phone, but obviously won’t help if you’re trying to avoid being distracted by the internet. What’s good about the online app (just like the phone apps) is that it will also run in the background and give you audio cues based on what you should be doing, so you can just start it up, minimize it, and not have to worry about it.
Tracking over Time
The last part is to look at your trends over time. While working smarter is better than working harder you can still get a good idea of how productive you were in a given day based on the number of pomodoros you completed. As part of my daily productivity tracking I’ll record the number of pomodoros I completed and compare it to factors like working outside of the house, sleep quality, and whether or not I exercised. This will give you a really good idea overtime of how different changes in your life are affecting you, and hopefully help you create better habits as a result.
Why The Pomodoro Technique Works
The Pomodoro technique works by addressing two major problems we encounter when we work: Parkinson’s law and task size. The problem with most big tasks or assignments we get is that they’re broad and intimidating. “Write a 10 page paper” isn’t something that we want to start on because we have no idea when it will end. In addition, if we have 1 month to work on it, the size and scope of the assignment (in our minds) will grow and shrink relative to the amount of time left (Parkinson’s Law). But the Pomodoro technique solves both of these.
Pomodoros and Task Size
By breaking our work down into 25 minute chunks it becomes much more approachable. Writing for 25 minutes isn’t something that we necessarily want to do, but it’s a lot less of a task in our minds than “starting a 10 page paper.” You know that at the end of the 25 minutes you’ll be able to take a break, and that when you get there you won’t be burned out. The same is true for studying. Studying for a final seems very daunting, but when you break down studying into 25 minute chunks with breaks it’s not so bad. In addition, since it seems like less of a daunting task, you’ll likely procrastinate much less and not have to pull an all-nighter catching up.
Pomodoros and Parkinson’s Law
Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” If we say that a project is going to take all day to write, when it could really be written in one hour, then we’ll likely still take the whole day because we’ve already set it aside. The same is true for studying. If we say we’re going to pull an all-nighter studying, when it could really be done in 2-3 hours, the amount of studying we think we need to do will suddenly grow to fit that entire chunk of night time.
The Pomodoro technique counters this by encouraging you to schedule your work into 25 minute blocks of 0 distractions and other work. Things that you previously thought would take days can be done in just a few pomodoros if you have the willpower to not get distracted during them. You’ll be amazed at how much quicker you can get things done when you set specific time parameters for it, and then do your best to meet them, as opposed to a big general amount of time like “a week” where you’re free to procrastinate and dilly-dally until the last minute.