Have you ever found yourself putting off work? Bargaining with yourself to get just one more hour of Netflix in? We all have. We often associate this putting off of work with blatant laziness or lack of self-control. People digging in a little deeper might even recognize their behaviour as procrastinating but their research often ends here and they term themselves as procrastinators. But I implore you to dig a little deeper and ask why do people procrastinate? Laziness or a lack of self-control has little to do with procrastination. People procrastinate because they are averse to the task they have at hand (Blunt & Pychyl, 2000). Personal meaning, autonomy, structure, stress, and unpleasant emotions were linked to this task aversiveness. In essence, people put off the work they need to do because they find the task tedious, frustrating and unrewarding.
Now the million-dollar question arises, how do we keep our task aversiveness in check and get the job done? Many of these reasons for task aversiveness such as autonomy and rewards of the task depend on the nature of the task and should be handled on the management level. But reasons like the task being tedious and frustration due to tasks can be kept in control using effective time management techniques that keep the individual from wearing themselves out while making sure that enough time is allotted to the task itself that the productivity level of the individual remains on the higher side. One of the more popular and effective techniques is the Pomodoro Technique. For more general ideas and tips on time management click here.
The Pomodoro technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo, who is an Italian deventant. For better time management he asked individuals to think of time in tomatoes instead of hours. That is how the technique got its name, Pomodoro, which is Italian for tomatoes. This method of time management might seem simple and thus not significant. But Francesco Cirillo claims on his website that over 2 million people have used the Pomodoro technique and that has “transformed their lives, making them more productive, more focused and even smarter.” This huge following of the method is more than enough to vouch for its efficiency. So let's see what the Pomodoro technique is, how to apply it and how to get the most out of it.
The effectiveness and popularity of the Pomodoro Technique can be traced back to its simplicity. In this, the time is divided into 25-minute intervals called Pomodoros (tomatoes) and between each Pomodoro, there is a brief break of 2-5 minutes. The steps to using the Pomodoro technique are as follows: -
- Have a to-do list and timer, be it a notebook and a clock or a tool such as a Timer app that is inbuilt in most phones or a 3rd party app like Butter can also be used.
- Set your timer for 25 minutes and focus on a single task or project at this time.
- When the 25 minutes are up, and the timer rings, mark off one Pomodoro and take note of the task you have completed then take a short break of 2-5 minutes.
- Repeat such pomodoros four times, then take a 15-30 minutes long break.
Why Pomodoro Works
The sheer simplicity of this technique is quite contrary to its effects on a person’s lifestyle. The Pomodoro technique is vastly beneficial because of many reasons.
- It’s easy to start
Like we talked about the avoidance circle, and how difficult it is to break out of that, the steps are actually pretty simple. For any task that seems daunting, break it down into smaller parts. Make sure these parts are not simple enough that they don’t intimidate you. If you need to solve an exercise of questions, start with one. That doesn’t seem so bad, does it? Even if that feels too difficult, try reading through the solved examples and understand the solution.
Any task done for a short period of time makes it less daunting and less exhausting. It keeps your mind off the enormity of the task because you view it as small parts that are done one after the other.
This is exactly what Pomodoro does by breaking it down into smaller more manageable parts.
- Helps to avoid distractions
Interruptions in the concentrated stage can be a very big deterrent for work. It breaks the flow of thought and it is extremely difficult to regain that sense of concentration again. In today’s world, distractions are all around us, right from texts to emails and social media of course. And our brain tries to justify these distractions by deeming them as “harmless” or “important” even if they may be not so important. Czerwinski et al., (2018) suggested that these work distractions are self-inflicted and technology is not to be blamed here.
According to Todoist, a moment’s distraction to check social media or a message can result in 20 minutes of trying to get back to work. In the Pomodoro technique, each Pomodoro is dedicated to one single task or subtask at hand and we have to get it completed by then. This helps you avoid distractions and take short intermittent breaks to clear your mind but not get distracted.
- Helps you keep track of time
When you use this technique on a regular basis, you grow accustomed to keeping track of time in Pomodoros. This way, you know what routine tasks feel like with this technique and how long you need to allocate to which task. It helps you become more efficient and get work done quicker. When we work in Pomodoros, time becomes both about time and effort so to turn the time into something positive by accomplishing tasks from something negative by just viewing it as the passage of time can help create wonders. With this technique, you have a clear understanding of your time and efforts so even if you feel that you have not got much work done, once you start using this technique, you reflect on your day with more clarity about what you can achieve and what is out of the scope.
- It becomes a competition with yourself
With the Pomodoro Technique, it becomes more and more easier to work with high usage of Pomodoros. With every task you do, you have the opportunity to improve in the next one, to be better than the last time. This means that you get time to become a better version of yourself and limit distractions. With practise and focus, you learn to zone out distractions and challenge yourself at every step.
The most important thing about this is that it is more about creating a habit and being consistent with your work. When you start becoming consistent, you start to improve and then you never stop. Try to go the extra mile, try adding more Pomodoros than you thought you could. Start with one, work your way up to two extra Pomdoros a day. If that intimidates you, try to achieve the Pomodoros that you have to achieve that day.
Now that we have a basic idea about the structure of the Pomodoro Technique and why they work, let’s have a look at some pointers that an individual needs to keep in mind to get the maximum out of the Pomodoro technique.
- Use appropriate tools whenever necessary
Although one of the primary USPs of the Pomodoro technique is that it keeps the individual from getting easily distracted by mobile and similar technologies, these very tools can be used to maximize the method’s efficiency.
For instance, in the Pomodoro technique, the task is divided into subtasks that can be completed in one pomodoro or 25 minutes. For keeping track of these tasks and subtasks Butter app can be used. The app allows its user to make tasks and then break those into multiple subtasks. It can also substitute the timer as the app has an inbuilt reminder feature that can be used as an upgrade to the traditional timer clock. After each Pomodoro, the performed subtask can be checked off thus making the app sufficient for the Pomodoro method.
Apps like Trello, Microsoft to-do, and Butter allow peers and managers to assign tasks to their team members, they can assign tasks already broken into subtasks and use the follow-up feature to make sure the subtasks assigned to each pomodoro is being fulfilled.
- Once you set a Pomodoro, you must see it through
The fundamental working principle behind the Pomodoro techniques is the short 25 minutes productivity boost in which the individual performs the tasks. Thus these 25 minutes or Pomodoro are should be disrupted and once the timer starts the entire pomodoro must complete. Distractions such as team chats, communications and ideas should be put off till the break between the pomodoros. The Butter App’s dashboard allows the user to go through all the tasks and projects assigned to each member of a group or project, so the individual can quickly glance through the dashboard in the break and make sure no important tasks have skipped his note.
If there comes a disruption that can not be avoided then the 2-5 minute break should be taken and after dealing with the disruption the pomodoro should be started again. It is also recommended by Cirillo that a note should be taken of all the disruptions, individual as external and reflect upon them and devise ways to avoid them in further pomodoros.
- Personalize the Technique
Although the length of the Pomodoros and the break has been prescribed, it can't be neglected that the focus and concentration of individuals vary vastly. So tweak the lengths of the pomodoros to maximize the productivity of each session. Some individuals find a lot of mental resistance focusing beyond a certain time frame, say 15 mins, they should cut down the length of each session to 15 minutes and increase the number of sessions to compensate for the time lost. On the other end of the spectrum are people who can last an hour without losing focus or any significant decline in productivity. Such individuals should increase the length of the sessions and the breaks to get more work done without wearing themselves out.
The Incremental Objectives of the Pomodoro technique
The simplicity of the Pomodoro technique has made it the primary way of time and management for millions. Although the technique looks fairly simple on the surface it has a certain depth to it. To get the most out of our day and this technique Francesco Cirillo has traced out six incremental objectives of the Pomodoro Core Process that he advises should be followed to achieve maximum efficiency, or in Cirillo’s words, become a Certified Pomodoro Master. He describes the six incremental objectives as
- Find out how much effort an activity requires
At the end of the day, we often end up wondering where the 24 hours of our day went. This can also happen on a day where you have been working endlessly, at the end of a hectic day you might still end up wondering how is it night already when you haven’t completed a whole lot of tasks.
Tracing of time and thus effort is the first incremental objective of the Pomodoro Technique. Following the Pomodoro technique, you keep track of the tasks you accomplish in the assigned 25 minutes or a Pomodoro. At the end of a workday, what you have accomplished and how much time the tasks have taken is all in one page right in front of you. Using appropriate tools you can get a visual overview of everything you have accomplished on a particular day.
Having the right idea of how much time and effort you take to accomplish different tasks helps you plan your tasks in a balanced way without over or underestimating the intensity of the task or your own working speed. This would help you make a timeline that you can stick to, with the correct knowledge of time and effort spent on different tasks.
- Cut down on Interruption
It is essential to the core process of the Pomodoro technique that you single mindedly focus on the tasks for the 25 minutes productive sessions. It is imperative for the working of the technique that you protect your Pomodoro from all the internal and external interruptions.
The time duration of a Pomodoro, which is 25 minutes, has also been designed in a way that you aren’t kept away from any important communication for too long. A time lag of 25 minutes can be afforded before calling back your peer or replying to an email or text.
Learning how to handle the interruptions that are bound to try to distract you, and staying focused on the task that you’ve assigned for the specific Pomodoro is the second incremental objective of the Pomodoro Technique.
- Estimate the effort for activities
This is essentially an extension of the first objective, but it requires a certain level of mastery of the technique before you can achieve this technique. Once you have gotten used to the technique, that is, have accomplished the first two objectives, then you will be able to accurately predict and measure the time and effort you would need to complete tasks and projects.
For this objective, you measure the tasks and work in terms of Pomodoros. Equipped with a correct estimate of your working pace and the intensity and length of tasks you will be able to assign the correct number of pomodoros to tasks and assignments. For instance, after following the technique for a while I was able to predict that it would take me somewhere around 13 Pomodoros sessions to complete this pillar content.
- Make the Pomodoro more effective
Once you have a handle on how to keep the interruptions at bay and you can correctly plan your pomodoros and tasks, then the next objective is to increase the efficiency of your Pomodoros. The skeletal structure of the technique has been predefined and is to be followed, but you can personalise and adjust the Pomodos to suit you better.
Adjusting the time duration of Pomodoros is one way to adjust the technique to suit you better, this has already been discussed in the article.
Another way to increase the efficiency of Pomodoro is to use the first few minutes of the Pomodoro to review the progress of the task and what has already been completed, this way you can hit the ground running and get back right where you took the break. You can also use the last few minutes of the Pomodoro to review the work done and plan the next few Pomodoros, this way you ensure that you don’t get too caught up in the specifics and lose the overall progress of the project.
Tweaking the specifics of each pomodoro to make the technique more effective is one of the most important incremental objectives.
- Set up a timetable
Setting up a timetable is something that we all already do in one form or the other. Setting up a timetable could be misinterpreted as pulling yourself into a rut or taking away the fluidity from your work. But making a timetable does so much more. Seeing everything that you’re supposed to do in selected time frames. What this essentially does is it keeps you motivated to complete the tasks. When you see a task that you have assigned to yourself and for a specific time it becomes a sort of a challenge to yourself and you get a gust of motivation to complete the preset tasks and follow the timetable.
The reason this objective has been set at number 5th is that setting up an unrealistic timetable without properly gauging up the effort and time required by each task could lead to an unravelling of the timetable and that in turn would lead to the anxiety of work and loss of motivation. But with a realistic timetable that is not too ambitious one can keep himself motivated and grounded throughout a workday and accomplish the tasks he set out to achieve.
Another benefit of setting up a timetable is it helps you segregate your free time from your work time. This way you can enjoy your free time without the thoughts and anxiety of tasks hovering over your head.
- Define your own objectives
The Pomodoro technique, in essence, is a tool that you use to achieve your own objectives. You will be able to define your objectives based on the insights you gain from achieving the preceding objectives. Gaining an insight into the time and effort you spend in various aspects of your work and having your timetable visually present in front of you would give you a fresh perspective on your working style. You can then define your own objectives that you need to accomplish in order to achieve the best version of your working style.
For instance, if you are a graphic designer and you have been working your ideas on the canvas itself and find out you spent a lot of time revising and clearing out your work for a better design. After having this insight laid out in front of you, you might think about assigning a couple of pomodoros to the ideation process and once you get a basic idea of what you want to create then taking those ideas to the canvas.
This way the final incremental objective of the Pomodoro technique will help you define and accomplish your own objectives and become more efficient and probably a better professional.
We have gone through what the Pomodoro technique is and the steps one needs to follow in order to use this tool. We also went over why this technique works and has been adopted by millions all over the globe. We also went through tips and pointers one should keep in mind to get the most out of the technique. We discussed how certain apps and tools can help us utilize the Pomodoro Technique to the maximum, we recommend using the Butter app as it provides all the necessary features you would need, and then some. Using the technique, following the advice given by our team and aiming for the incremental objectives mentioned in the article can help you become a Pomodoro Master and become “more productive, more focused and even smarter”.