How I've found using the Pomodoro technique

I’m always on the lookout to improve my productivity and better prioritise tasks that need doing. I’ve also always struggled with this and have experimented over the years on how to get better at it.

I’ve previously used device tracking tools like Rescuetime, default screen time apps and old-fashioned pen and paper but I’ve found that I would either turn them off or get frustrated having to decide what counted as ‘productive’ time.

I also found myself focusing on a lot of busy work that was technically still productive but wouldn’t help me reach my larger goals at all.

What is the Pomodoro technique?

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are known as "pomodoros". The method is based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility.

Here's how the technique works:

  • Choose a task to be completed.
  • Set the Pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
  • Work on the task until the timer rings.
  • Take a short break (usually 5 minutes).
  • Every four "pomodoros", take a longer break (usually 15-30 minutes).

The Pomodoro Technique can increase productivity and help individuals stay focused on their work. It can be beneficial for people who tend to get distracted or have trouble staying motivated.

Why do people use the Pomodoro technique?

  • Improved focus: The Pomodoro Technique helps people focus on one task at a time, rather than multitasking or constantly switching between tasks. This can lead to increased productivity and better-quality work.
  • Increased motivation: The Pomodoro Technique can help people stay motivated by setting achievable goals and rewarding themselves with short breaks.
  • Better time management: The Pomodoro Technique helps people better manage their time by setting clear boundaries around when to work and when to take breaks.
  • Reduced burnout: The Pomodoro Technique encourages people to take regular breaks, which can help reduce feelings of burnout and increase overall well-being.

I’ve found the technique super useful as it gives me an allotted time to do a specific task. I’ve found that when working on a lot of clients + personal stuff + general life admin my mind is busy and I jumped around doing many tasks on multiple companies and clients without having focus. Without this, I set timelines that were way too long and then Parkinson’s law took effect.

What is Parkinson’s Law?

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson introduced the concept of Parkinson's Law in an essay he wrote for "The Economist" in 1955.

The story is of a woman whose only task for the day is to send a postcard, a task that would take a busy person only around three minutes to complete. However, the woman spends an hour finding the card, half an hour searching for her glasses, 90 minutes writing the card, and 20 minutes deciding whether or not to take an umbrella on her walk to the mailbox. This process continues until her day is filled, despite the fact that the original task was relatively simple and quick to complete.

The law usually applies because if people know they have a long time to complete a task it won’t be prioritised and will take up the allotted time.

How this applies to me:

A lot of my work is autonomous and I set the deadlines for many things myself, this isn’t something I’m particularly good at because I set deadlines that are usually way too relaxed and then usually end up waiting until the day before anyway or worse, I just move the deadline I set myself. Using this technique I am able to take on big tasks in 25 increments of solid focus and smaller tasks get completed consecutively in 25 minute increments.

I also believe that the occasional 5-minute or 30-minute break is really good for my health. I use that time to drink a glass of water, stretch, go for a short walk around the house/office or read a couple of pages of whatever book I’m reading at the time. This led to the 25 minutes of focused work being more productive than usual as the break resets my focus.

When I started using the Pomodoro technique I also started using my to-do lists better. Every morning I give myself 8 main tasks that I want to get done in the day. They range from ‘Reach Duolingo leaderboard position top 10’ to ‘Finish writing x article’ but they are things I need or want to get done. I’m a to-do list addict. I love the feeling of checking things off and want to get them checked off as soon as possible. That means I prioritise the quicker tasks in the morning just so I can get things ticked off my checklist.

For example, Duolingo is a recurring daily task (I don’t want to flex but as I’m writing this I have a 407 day streak) so are hip exercises (For a marathon training run injury) and these are both relatively quick tasks which I aim to get done before sitting down at my desk to work. That’s 2 of 8 tasks checked off and it makes me feel great (yes it’s probably weird).

I’m not strict at making sure I finish all 8 tasks but that is the goal. If I finish earlier I’ll relax, often playing guitar hero on the PS2 or I will start ticking off things for the next day where I will then have fewer priority tasks to do then. This means that if I’m super productive one day it can make up for social time or relaxed days later on in the week.

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