The “Pomodoro Technique is named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that was first used by Francesco Cirillo when he was a university student while searching for a way to increase his focus. 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 pomodori, the plural of the Italian word pomodoro for tomato.
The method is based on the premiss that frequent breaks (enabling renewal) can improve mental agility through periodization—the movement between focus and rest that delvers the highest level of performance. This logic is supported by the work of Tony Schwartz who has written extensively about the power of renewal in his book The Power of Full Engagement and recently launched the energy project.
Basic Principals of The Pomodoro Technique
There are five basic steps to implementing the technique:
- Decide on the task to be done.
- Set the pomodoro timer to n minutes (traditionally 25).
- Work on the task until the timer rings; record with an X.
- Take a short break and renew away from the computer (5 minutes).
- After four pomodori, take a longer break (15–30 minutes).
The stages of planning, tracking, recording, processing and visualizing are fundamental to the technique. In the planning phase tasks are prioritized by recording them in a “To Do Today” list. This enables us to estimate the effort and time tasks require and allows us to record or recognize when we are drifting out of the optimal productivity zone. As pomodori are completed, they are recorded, adding to a sense of accomplishment (and a shot of dopamine) and providing raw data for subsequent self-observation and improvement.
For the purposes of the technique, pomodoro refers to the interval of time spent working—how many pomodoro did you complete today? After task completion, any time remaining in the pomodoro is devoted to a goal, task or skill that you have highlighted as important. For me it’s language study, any time left on a pomodoro is spent learning a language. Please note this is my specialized hack, I found myself with small increments of time in various pomodoros and I decided to have a ‘living goal’ that I wanted to work on during those instances.
Taking Breaks & Renewal
The regular breaks are just as important as the pomodoros, they aid in assimilation and provide time for renewal—don’t skip them, you’ll be tempted too roll right through breaks when you feel in the zone but if you do your focus-to-work ratio will be compromised.
You should find the right time-to-break ratio that works best for you—I am currently experimenting with a 35-5 ratio (35 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest). However, you body has a natural rhythm that follows a ninety minute cycle (the ultradian rhythm) and moves in and out of this ebb and flow while pulsing between high attention and rest. Your body is a pulsing machine, not a rocket on a linear course to the moon. You might think that you have rocket fuel in that humungous coffee cup in the morning but it’s likely that you are overriding your natural dance of pulse and renewal by splashing caffeine into your tank. Don’t get me wrong, I love coffee in the morning but make sure you find a balance between lift-off and your ultradian rhythm.
An essential aim of the technique is to reduce the impact of internal and external interruptions on focus and flow. In his book on flow psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that “the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
A pomodoro is indivisible and its aim it to get you to that place Mihaly is talking about. When interrupted during a pomodoro, either the other activity must be recorded and postponed (inform – negotiate – schedule – call back) or the pomodoro must be abandoned. If something is constantly interrupting your work (email, telephone, partner, facebook) you’ll never be able to get into the zone necessary for optimal focus. Pomodoro is about protecting your energy, wrapping your creativity into a cocoon of flow that will enable you to be your best and do your greatest work.
Timing and Accountability
If you have a large and varied to-do list, using the Pomodoro Technique can help you crank through tasks faster by forcing you to adhere to strict timing. Observing the timer tick down can inspire you to wrap up your current task more quickly. The alternative of spreading a task over two or three pomodoros can keep you from getting frustrated but it can also create a more realistic sense of how long certain projects take.
The constant timing of your activities makes you more accountable for your tasks, and minimizes the time you spend procrastinating. You’ll grow to respect the pomodori, and that can help you to better handle your workload, but most importantly it can get you closer to flow and the best expression of yourself.