What is it?
Pomodoro technique is a time management tool that breaks the day down into segments, usually 25 minutes in length. Each segment is separated by a short break of varying lengths (dependent on how much you’ve achieved).
How does it work?
1. Choose a task to work on.
2. Set a timer for 25 minutes and get to work on the task at hand.
3. When the timer sounds, put a checkmark next to the task you’ve been working on.
4. If you have 3 checkmarks or less, take a break of 5 minutes before setting to work again.
5. If you have 4 checkmarks take a break of 15-30 minutes, reset your checkmarks to zero and begin the cycle again.
N.B. Cirillo notes that if the task ends but the timer has not gone off, you should not move onto another task.
“Specific cases should be handled with common sense: If you finish a task while the Pomodoro is still ticking, the following rule applies: If a Pomodoro begins, it has to ring. It’s a good idea to take advantage of the opportunity for overlearning, using the remaining portion of the Pomodoro to review or repeat what you’ve done, make small improvements, and note what you’ve learned until the Pomodoro rings.”
Should you interrupt a Pomodoro (unit of work)?
Ideally not – if a colleague interrupts or makes a request it is recommended that you let them know you are working on something right now and negotiate a time when you can get back to them (and make sure that you do so!) Pomodoro technique is about focus and concentration, and except for in the case of an emergency, you should always finish off a unit of work before starting something else.
Many people choose to adapt the cycle to fit with their own lifestyle and personal ability to focus. A popular variation is to use a 90-minute sequence, as this is a period of natural concentration. Others don’t assign a time period to a task, but simply get a task done, give themselves a tick and a short break and then move onto another, meaning that cycles can be short or long depending on the task (although this seems counter-productive when considering what Cirillo says above about using leftover task time to over-learn).
Why is it important?
According to the official website, using Pomodoro technique will help you to:
Reduce the length and number of meetings (by being better able to estimate the amount of time needed to dedicate to them)
Reduce estimation errors by learning to simplify and organise tasks
See time as an ally rather than an enemy
Create effective team timetables
Improve attention span and concentration
My experience of Pomodoro technique
No point writing about it unless you’ve lived it, right?
My initial feelings about the technique were that I liked the low-tech approach and the emphasis on improving focus and that I liked how flexible it appeared to be able to be – changing the task times to fit around your own way of working and how your day works out.
I liked it, overall.
I started out using hour-long focus times, as it fits in better with my business and the types of tasks that I do, as well as the way that I invoice. Because I already use Toggl Track to keep a check on my time, it was easy enough to use it to track my time, whether I was spending it on a task for a client or for my own business.
It would have been better if I could have set the time to count down an hour rather than having to keep an eye on it to see when my hour was up, but it was not possible through Toggl and I didn’t want two timers running at once, since the aim is for productivity, not more stuff to do!
It became apparent pretty quickly that hour-long focus times wasn’t the right way to go. I only have 4 hours in the day between dropping the kids off at school and collecting them again, so by the time I was ready for a proper break, it would have been time to do the school run! I compromised by breaking down into 30-minute sessions, and this worked much better, meaning my long break came at around lunchtime.
I think I was at an advantage starting out because the nature of my work means that I am used to tracking time, but I did initially find it hard to remember to start the timer even for tasks that weren’t billable.
The burning question – did it make a difference?
In all honesty?
I think because my day tends to break down quite naturally into chunks anyway, by the nature of doing tasks for several different clients in a day, timing the tasks didn’t do much for me. I do believe that the ‘not moving on from a task until the timer is up’ was an advantage, as it encouraged me to thoroughly check my work and I did end up spotting errors and making changes that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
The other thing that was surprising was realising just how much of my time is taken up with my own business admin every day, particularly marketing. It made me realise that there are areas of my business where I could streamline and find ways to work smarter rather than harder.
One huge disadvantage of this technique was trying to do it during the summer holidays when the kids were at home. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to explain to a 3-year old that you are focussed on a particular task, or trying to negotiate a later time to connect with them, but I can tell you now that in my household it was a distinct and utter failure!
Overall, I don’t think I’ll continue with this technique – it hasn’t been a game-changer for me – but I can see that it has big advantages for all kinds of business owners, especially those who struggle to tie themselves down to one task at a time, or who find themselves getting distracted. I can also see how, if you worked in an office where there are many different pulls on your time and people who want a piece of you, using this technique would allow you to say ‘no’ and give a good reason, without feeling guilty – it gives you permission to focus!
Have any of you tried Pomodoro technique? How did it work out for you?
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