The Pomodoro Cycles technique is probably the most popular strategy for getting lots of work done in short periods of time. The guidelines are simple:
- Work for 25 minutes
- Take a 5 minute break
- Repeat this until tired, then take a longer break.
Don’t get fooled by the simplicity of the rules. The most simple things are often the most effective. However there are a few major things to ensure success. It’s not enough to just work on something for 25 minutes, take a break, then continue with the same thing. To get the most benefit it is crucial to complete something, to hit a target, in those 25 minutes. You will need to spend few minutes splitting out your major tasks into smaller ones that can be finished in this short time frame. It is well worth the effort. If you take this seriously, the time commitment will force you to breeze through miniscule details knowing your time is running out. This will keep you focused on completing the task and avoid distractions.
Better decision making
During our daily work we make thousands of small decisions, it is a natural part of the creation and problem solving process. In fact most of our time is spent making these decisions. For example when writing this article, for every next sentence I’m deciding what to say, what words to include and how to arrange them best. It is these decisions that produce the work in the end. With the Pomodoro technique you are forcing yourself to make these decisions much quicker, because most of them can be changed quickly afterwards. Ideally you would have made all the big decisions beforehand so you are free to execute without any big dilemmas during the work cycle.
Postponing procrastination and eliminating distractions
The true magic of the short work periods comes in full power when procrastination thoughts start to creep in. Just by remembering the small time commitment it is extremely easy to say No to any social media outlet or youtube video or another success article. Remember that these things are fast food for your brain. They will affect your mental ability for the rest of the day. Save it for later and always keep it short.
Finally with your quick decision making skills and eliminating distractions you will regain an amazing focus that will only get better the more you use the technique. Over time this will enable you to complete more work in short periods of time. In few months’ time you could finish entire day’s work in 2 hours.
Remember, only if you take it seriously and tweak it to your own situation will you reap the benefits.
Pomodoro Done Right
Make it your own
Showcasing the Advanced Pomodoro module at LifeHQ
Customize the work and break durations. Use trial and error and find the best combination that works for you. Myself I am a programmer and I often find that 25/5 works ok when I’m working on tasks where I have very few unknowns, I already know how to do it. However when I’m doing something new I usually go with 40 minute work and 10 minute break. Remember, the longer work requires a longer break.
Take time before every session to plan out carefully what you’re going to do, don’t ask too much or too little of yourself. Don’t be overambitious and plan to write 1000 words in 25 minutes for example. You want to make as much easy wins as possible at the beginning. Then slowly push yourself to accomplish more and more. After a while you will develop an intuition for what’s possible in a period. This will be useful when delegating tasks to other people as well.
Take 1 minute after every session for review. Recorded if you accomplished the intended tasks, what can be done better, any blockers you might have faced or distractions and how to handle them in the future.
Common setbacks and time sucks
Getting deep into a task and time flies by
Sometimes instead of 25 minutes you continue working for 40 minutes, time just flies by when you are into flow. That’s fine, take a 10 minute break after those 40 minutes and then continue with the rest of your sessions. Just keep in mind that if you work for too long, say 2 hours without a break, you are more likely to slow down after the first hour, thus losing productivity points. It is better to force yourself to take a break, you will be fresher when you return.
Decisions and Roadblocks
Ideally you want clearly defined tasks where not much decisions need to be made. But when it happens I like to pause my timer, make my decision, then continue if the work can be completed in the remaining period. Otherwise I switch it up and split the same task into two sessions.
Commit to a good-enough version
The most common problem of software developers is scope-creep. This is when an easy job suddenly turns out to be much harder and will take much longer than expected. I’m sure this happens across all industries. It’s not your fault, as you go deeper into your work, you can see more than before you started. So when this happens decide to a good enough version you will complete and move forward. Or restart the whole thing if it’s a big deal.
Especially in office settings, interruptions are the only constant. When this happens I like to restart my Pomodoro cycle from the beginning. It’s not just the work that’s left but you also need to remind yourself of everything you’ve done already and get all the information in the front of your mind before continuing.