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Become More Productive with the Pomodoro Technique

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The Pomodoro Technique

Two of the biggest productivity killers are distractions and interruptions. If you can eliminate these two you WILL be more productive. There are a lot of systems, methods, and methodologies that cope with those productivity killers and we’ve tried most of them. However, there is one method that we have found to be the most useful for increasing your personal productivity and for getting things done. What we are about to show you is called the Pomodoro Technique.

The main idea behind the Pomodoro technique is something called “time-boxing” and it is a really simple time management technique. The basic premise is to firewall your attention for a small amount of time and mentally recharge after each interval of work. By completing small chunks of work you will build momentum so that you will feel more productive which in itself leads to getting more work done. This productivity tip works great for people who have to work at a desk, but you can also use it in different settings.

The Pomodoro technique is a way of managing time and becoming more productive by managing tasks in 25 minute intervals. All you need is a timer (also called a Pomodoro) for this technique to work. Here are the steps:

  1. Identify what the task at hand is.
  2. Set your Pomodoro to 25 minutes.
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro is over.
  4. Take a 5 minute break.
  5. For every four Pomodoros take a longer break (15-20 minutes).

By completing each Pomodoro, you will feel more productive. 25 minutes is not too long and not too short to feel like you are working towards completing a task. By completing a Pomodoro you will feel more productive, feel more happy, and build momentum that will help you get more things done. It’s really that simple. Let’s take a look at each step and see how it all ties in with each other.

Step 1: Identify what the task at hand is

The first step is identifying what tasks you want to complete. If you are using a to-do or taks manager, go through your projects and decide which tasks you want to complete. If you are not using a to-do manager, grab a piece of paper and a pen. Write down all the tasks you want to complete today. Seriously, write them down.

A good idea is to prioritize your to-do list. Ask yourself, “What are my 3 most important tasks?” List them in that order. This is an important tactic to always tackle your most important tasks first.

Step 2: Set your Pomodoro to 25 minutes

The next thing you need is a timer. You can use an egg or physical time or a digital timer on your computer. It doesn’t really matter which one you use. I’ve used this physical digital timer in the past, and nowadays I use a software timer on my Mac.

Here are some links to timer software you can use. Our favorite is this Pomodoro application (Mac OS X) or you can use Focus Booster (Mac OS X / Windows).

Step 3: Work on the task until the Pomodoro is over

Now that you have your list of tasks and a timer, it is time to start working on your tasks. Start your timer (make sure it’s set to 25 minutes) and then start working on your task. As you are working, don’t focus on the timer. Use your attention for the task ahead of you.

Some important guidelines behind the Pomodoro technique:

  • You can only work at the task at hand. No other tasks are allowed during your Pomodoro.
  • When your Pomodoro ends, you stop right away. Even if you think you only need a few more minutes, stop.
  • When you didn’t finish your work in a Pomodoro, move it to your next Pomodoro session.
  • When you finish your tasks before the deadline, don’t stop. Review your completed work till the timer ends. Always finish the 25 minutes.

Step 4: Take a 5 minute break

Once your Pomodoro has ended, you take a 5 minute break. It is important that you disengage from work for a little bit to mentally recharge. This is really important, especially for people with short attention spans. Some things you can do on your little breaks are stretching, refilling your drink or using the bathroom. Getting away from your desk is a good idea because it makes disengaging a lot easier (not to mention the health benefits). Once your 5 minute break is over, either move on to the next task or finish your previous task.

Step 5: For every four Pomodoros take a longer break

This step is really important. Make sure that every 4 Pomodoros (so after 4 * (25+5) = 2 hours) you take a longer break. Do something else that is totally unrelated to your task. A good idea is to get something to eat, to fuel yourself. Some things we like to do are to take a little walk, or to have a small snack.

Also by changing your environment you will sometimes get a different perspective on problems and your tasks. Not to mention, like said earlier, it is easier to disengage from your work and mentally recharge.

So you might wonder how you exactly use this technique? Let me give you an example of how I use it. Whenever I’m starting my day, I look at my Omnifocus task manager and prioritize what tasks I’m going to complete today. The most important one is always the one I’m going to tackle first. Once I have a list of tasks, I’m going to start completing all of them one Pomodoro at a time. It’s really that simple, but so effective.

Caveats

The Pomodoro is not a solution for everyone nor for every task. It’s a great technique for people who work in office settings and sit behind a desk a lot. People with short attention spans love this time management technique. However, we wouldn’t advise using this for running errands or for people who do work that require long sessions of focus (e.g., coding).

It is a great way to beat procrastination at the start of your day. If you begin your day right, it is much easier to do things done later in the day. Some people use the Pomodoro technique to get started and once they have that momentum going, they just free flow the rest of the day. Use this technique to your own liking, because in the end, all that matters is that YOU are getting work done. It doesn’t matter how you do it then.

Next Action

Getting started with something is usually the largest hurdle for most people. First, implementing the Pomodoro technique requires that you need to be organized with your tasks. We highly recommend you use a to-do list manager. It does not have to be a software program, pen and paper work fine too. (You can read up on simple task and to do list management here.) The next step is to get yourself a timer and start working on your tasks.

We suggest you give this time management technique a try. So starting right now, download a software timer and hit a Pomodoro. Let us know in the comments below what you think of this time management technique.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous September 13, 2011 at 1:37AM

I found the Pomodoro Technique when my wife was tooling around for some apps for my 4G. Great for those of us with ADHD. Even if you have ADHD you can hone in in 25 minute segments and the click, click, click of the timer is the perfect reminder.

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Thanh Pham September 13, 2011 at 7:14AM

Yes, I agree. I find that people who have very short attention spans work really well with Pomodoro Technique. For people who can focus for longer periods of time, I can advice to try out 50/10.

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Pomodorium September 22, 2011 at 8:03PM

Pomodorium – new GAME based on pomodoro technique .

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Jessica L. November 10, 2011 at 11:17AM

And there’s a very inspiring book Pomodoro Technique Illustrated: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1934356506

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Thanh Pham November 10, 2011 at 1:29PM

That’s a lot of pages for explaining something so simple :)

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Cheri Riley December 26, 2011 at 5:56PM

I love the app Vitamin R to implement the Pomodorp principles.  I will take my Omni Task list and paste it in or better yet read it in to the box for what I am to accomplish during that time period.   You can save your logs and rate your efforts.  Very very cool.  It is great for when I get too involved in research and can’t get back on task..

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Vincent van Andel January 2, 2012 at 12:47PM

I’m a developer, and I love pomodoro technique.
The only downside is that it’s not so good for long sessions coding.

Does someone have an alternative for it then? :)

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Thanh Pham January 4, 2012 at 1:20PM

Hey Vincent what I found is that 50/10 cycles are just as effective. Even for coding :)

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Pablo February 25, 2012 at 1:12AM

Pomodoro + Time Flex app by @danielpunkass:twitter .  

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Kevin June 14, 2012 at 10:37PM

Good stuff, been using Pomodoro to keep my once-online poker playing brain focused on 1 thing for a while now. Tough to start, but solar flaring it up helps quite a bit :)

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srinivas.sista July 12, 2012 at 5:47AM

i like it

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maggy simony October 31, 2012 at 1:01PM

All you creators of systems–seem to be mostly men–need to read The Fly Lady. Her name is Maria, she lives in North Carolina, and has fans by the thousand all over the world. Although her basic goal is to get control of keeping house, running a family (with or without a career) she does some simple things that even work for me–a nonagenarian procrastinator who has yet to get my days into “routines” despite trying all my life, and buying so damned many books on it, could start a self-help library.

The Fly Lady’s system for keepin g track of one’s day is simplicity itself to set up. A Looseleaf 3-hole punch notebook, plastic 3-hole punch sleeves for the paper. She too has an AM routine (with few household tasks added), coming home from work routine, PM routine. Once inserted in plastic, one can tick off when done, erase at end of day, and re-use. Also has weekly and monthly task sheets.

Includes a Control Journal (all the things one must do, projects that require progress each week, etc. I think you spend an hour each Sunday planning next week. Always with plastic so can be checked off.

One thing she does that actually works for me. 15-minute time segments to speed up on stuff like housework, tackling clutter in short segments. Makes you speed up! I will do three different 15 minute tasks fast as I can, then sit and read 15 minutes.

But I’ve used 15 minute timer to get “into” a writing task for my blog and such, tackle something I loathe doing (clean the car, pay bills), so often I just go ahead and finish the damned thing.

In terms of getting control of housekeeping, Fly Lady says absolute must (like your water in the morning) is a shining kitchen sink! Plus make your bed first thing.

Just discovered asianefficiency this morning — and as usual, after 92 years of doing this!!! — got so intrigued with yet a new “system” haven’t done a damned thing on my blog!

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Thanh Pham November 2, 2012 at 2:03PM

Hi Maggy,

Thanks for suggesting the FlyLady. She seems to have really great books! I’ve added a couple to my list to check out. From what you’ve told me, it seems like her thinking is very similar to how we see things.

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Brian Parker May 2, 2013 at 6:01PM

Pomodoro seems to be interesting for people working on tasks that are unlikely to be interrupted, developers or writers etc but I can’t see it being much use in the busy tech support office environment that is my workplace. We move from constant to occasional interruptions while simultaneously attempting to work on longer term projects and the big challenge is to remain focused on what you were doing before the latest distraction. In this, Omnifocus keeps me on track (also using some of the AE techniques) however I’d be interested to see whether you guys could come up with an article focused on organisation and productivity in my sort of environment. I don’t believe I’ve seen anything like that done before.

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JGARCIA June 19, 2013 at 10:09PM

i second that, working in the helpdesk and operational it role!!

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Jaime Clifton October 31, 2013 at 3:03PM

Yes, I concure with this too. Most of the productivity books I’ve read seem to think that multitasking/switch tasking is a bad thing. In my line of work I have an enormous amount of changing small tasks to deal with in a day. If I carried out each task individually and waited until each task was completed until I moved onto the next it would waste enormous amounts of time. For me the key is to switch task, but to do it quickly and concentrate only on the task in hand, when your on it.

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Caroly August 29, 2013 at 1:33PM

This helped me blow through a major project task this morning that I thought would take all day – the Project Manager was quite pleased! Thanks for the amazing tips—I also utilized your Spotify “Work” playlists.

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Thanh Pham September 2, 2013 at 11:05AM

Cheers Caroly!

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Maxi October 1, 2013 at 3:51PM

I would like to share another Pomodoro app for iPhone (disclaimer: I’m one of the developers). We think we’ve put the best UI out there! You can check it out here: bit.ly/1ePOUHH Hope you enjoy it!

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Antonio D'Onofrio October 10, 2013 at 11:49AM

I have a few problems to come back to my duties after the 5 minute pause.
I don’t know what to do. Is it a good idea “organize” my short pause to force myself to a sort of autopilot?

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Thanh Pham October 12, 2013 at 4:02PM

Yeah give it a try and see if that works for you. Usually just telling yourself to commit to finishing it helps too.

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JeanDream February 6, 2014 at 4:14PM

I use this beautiful and simple Windows gadget Pomodoro timer: http://mitchfournier.com/2014/02/04/a-free-and-simple-windows-7-gadget-pomodoro-timer/

Lets you use the standard 25/5 Pomodoro or customize for longer and shorter intervals. Gets the job done nicely.

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Benedict Ursal March 27, 2014 at 7:13PM

I once had a hard time finishing tasks quickly. I lacked focus because I haven’t trained my mind to do it. I have a list of what I needed to do but when I do work on them, I just work for a few minutes then give in to the temptation of going to my Facebook or do a Google Search. I also didn’t work on one task at a time. My working habit was a cluttered one.

So what happened? I read a blog post on time blocking techniques for productivity. One popular method is the Pomodoro Method. I applied it and it worked very well. Working for 25 minutes of uninterrupted work and taking 5 or 10 minutes of rest after it not only made me finish my tasks a lot quickly, it trained my mind to focus. This doesn’t work like magic. It takes a bit of practice to master this. I started with working for 10 minutes of focused work then gradually increased it to 30 minutes until it’s automatic to me.

When I started, using my non-smartphone’s timer worked. But then, it became a bit of a hassle as I had to use two tools (a todo list, and a timer). I searched for online tools that merge these two features. Nothing satisfied me. So I decided to make my own. It worked seamlessly.

If you’re tired of using two tools and you’re working on your computer most of the time, I would recommend you to use my online tool.

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Sergio Felix April 9, 2014 at 4:11AM

Hey Thanh, I’m going to be trying the Pomodoro technique tomorrow because my productivity is literally killing me lately.

I have a very hard time focusing on getting things done and I seriously need to learn how to become more productive since I’m not used to work in a home office environment so I’m pretty sure the distractions have a lot to do with it but I will still try my best!

Sergio

PS. I have a secondary monitor, that’s where I’ll put the digital countdown timer and I’ll see how it goes.

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Kimberly August 21, 2014 at 12:33PM

I am an advisor at a community/technical college and I love to learn how people learn. I will include this advice when helping students transition from high school to college since successful college students need to learn to be self-taught, not just do their homework. It is taunting for most students to see how much work is necessary to be successful. I remind my students that their short-term memory is only designed to contain 7 to 10 concepts and the brain need a breaks to download the information into the long-term memory before moving on to new information. Pomodoro Techniques makes perfect sense for a college learner.

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