There is a technique for time management that could make a huge difference to how you work. It is called Pomodoro, and it’s amazingly simple.
Sorry, Pomo what?
Pomodoro. It’s Italian for tomato. Francesco Cirillo invented it in the late 1980’s. It breaks down work into bite-sized 25 minutes chunks (called Pomodoros) to improve your focus. It also keeps your mind fresh and agile by ensuring you take breaks. It’s simplicity itself. All you need is a kitchen timer (Cirillo used a tomato-shaped one that he borrowed from his mother’s kitchen), a pen, and piece of paper.It goes like this.
It goes like this.
1) Decide on a task
2) Set the timer for 25 minutes (a Pomodoro)
3) Work on the task until the timer buzzes, pings, or rings
4) Put a tick on the paper
5) If there are less than four ticks take a 5-minute break (use the timer) and go to step 2
6) If you have four ticks, take a 35-minute break then go back to step 1.
When you are working on a task, you do it without deviation or interruption for the full 25 minutes. So bar the door and leave the phone, email, and social media alone. If you have to do these things they get another Pomodoro of their own. If you are interrupted by a natural disaster, the Pomodoro must be abandoned and started again later. You’ll be surprised how many seemingly important things take second place to finishing your Pomodoro.
When it’s time for a break, it’s important that you get up and go and do something completely different. Give your brain a rest meaning you are refreshed and ready for the next Pomodoro.
So, Whats Great?
If you struggle with procrastination, this is a godsend. It WILL keep you focused. If you’ve read Eat The Frog you’ll also find that the big frog is easier because you know you only have to do it for 25 minutes.
It rewards you with a little smug feeling of achievement every time you put a tick on the paper, and it makes you accountable. That piece of paper becomes an honest review of your day, plus the ticking clock tends to urge you on, by making you aware of the passage of time. You end up with a review of how you spend your time. Plus if you bill by time, you are tracking that too.
One of the great things for me is it stops you getting carried away on a task. If you are the person who suddenly finds they have spent 2 hours on a job that should have taken 5 minutes you need this in your life.
What’s Not So Great?
I have only one bugbear. The Pomodoro is indivisible. If you don’t do the full 25 minutes, you should not count it. So, if I found myself with 15 minutes spare before a meeting, I tended to get a bit freaked out about starting a new Pomodoro I knew couldn’t be finished. Yes, yes, I’m a total dork I know, but it gets you that way. However, there are ways around that.
I have used this system a lot, and over the years I’ve slowly adapted it to fit my working style. I always use it to structure my day and how long I will spend doing something. Is that task one Pomodoro or two? Can I make all of my calls and emails in a single Pomodoro? On big jobs, I change the structure. 25 minutes and then a break can sometimes feel frustrating because I want to get on. So, a Pomodoro becomes 50 minutes with a 10-minute break which can make it easier to get into the zone and be more productive. In fact, this works well if you consider the 52/17 rule for productivity (find our more in this Forbes article)
If you are a bit of a procrastinator, or you struggle remaining focused give it a try. It costs nothing. You don’t need an app, just the kitchen timer. But I would make sure you ask whoever runs the kitchen in your house before you steal the timer.