The practice of Pomodoro

One of the classic, tried-and-true methods for maintaining focus is the Pomodoro technique. Developed by Francisco Cirillo in the 1980s, it essentially involves breaking up your work into 25-minute segments, or pomodoros, each followed by a 3- to 5-minute break. During the 25 minutes, you focus exclusively on your task, and you offload any distractions that arise—from “Oh no, I forgot to pay my electric bill and my electricity’s about to be shut off!” to “You know what sounds really good right now? Pizza!”—by writing them on a list to be addressed later. After 4 pomodoros and short breaks, you take a longer 30-minute break.

I’ve found the Pomodoro  technique surprisingly effective in terms of getting stuff (like this blog entry 😉) completed. In fact, like any groove, the hardest part is just getting habituated to using it. Here are a few tips that helped me use it more effectively:

  • You probably think that just setting a timer, or your phone, for the appropriate intervals is really easy, but for me, being able to start a pomodoro or a break with one tap makes a huge difference. I recommend looking for an app that specializes in the technique. I use Pomodoro Timer Pro by Tatkov Lab on my Android phone. It has all the timings built in and is more efficient than using a generic timer.
  • Despite having just suggested that you use a phone app to time pomodoros, my next suggestion is that you not use a phone app to offload your diversions. The whole point of keeping a list is to quickly get the distracting topic out of your mind, and I find that thumbing in the diversion is much less efficient than typing it into a note in my laptop or just writing it down.
  • Make sure you’re ready to start. Get yourself situated so there are as few blockers as possible once you start the timer. Quickly scan your physical comfort. Go to the bathroom; get a glass of water. I’m writing this at a cafe, and just now I started my first pomodoro timer … only to realize pretty much immediately that I needed my earbuds for noise cancellation. Three minutes later, having dug them out, untangled them, and gotten them into position, I reset my timer and started over.
  • Suppress risky diversions. Turn off the ringer and notifications on your phone; better yet, leave it across the room. Do the same for notifications on your computer. (This is a great time to use the Do Not Disturb mode on your devices.) Close the door to your office and extra windows on your computer. Set your chat statuses to unavailable.
  • Consider how much interruption you’ll allow before calling it on a pomodoro and resetting the timer. I have decided that, for me, it’s any blocker more than a minute long. Over a minute and I’m starting fresh. This helps me have some level of accountability about staying on task.
    Of course, you’re allowed to change what constitutes an interruption. Maybe you want to set the bar low at first and get stricter with yourself as you habituate to the technique, or maybe you’re just having one of those days when you need to go easy on yourself. It works best, however, to set your terms before you set the timer.
  • Likewise, don’t be afraid to refine as you go. While the technique includes recommendations about what timing works best, ultimately it’s entirely up to you. Need shorter work times and longer break times? That’s okay. Be proud of yourself for surrendering to the process to begin with. This leads me to my last tip …

Forgive yourself! This is your process and you’re doing great, even when you think you aren’t. Testing a new productivity technique is a big deal. You need practice to get the hang of it. Don’t short yourself that win.