The Pomodoro Technique Illustrated

Summary Written by Susan Gregory
"Who doesn’t want to have a stress-free life? To have brilliant ideas? To improve? To enjoy free time? But how can we achieve these goals?"

- The Pomodoro Technique, foreword

The Big Idea

Power Up Your Productivity

"With the Pomodoro Technique, you can make time your friend, not your enemy. Instead of feeling anxiety about deadlines for this hour, this day, this week or this month, you set a timer for twenty-five minutes and completely focus on the task at hand."- The Pomodoro Technique, section 1.4 (Kindle)

The main benefit of the Pomodoro Technique is to get more done. By working in twenty-five minute units of focused time (each unit is known as one Pomodoro) you will create powerful results for your productivity. By focusing on one activity at a time, you could halve the amount of time each activity would otherwise take.

The reason this works so well is that our brains need to work in a number of different modes: big picture planning, being absorbed in a task and relaxation/recreation. When we pick a task to work on for twenty-five minutes we can focus exclusively on that task and experience the state of flow. Knowing that this work period will come to an end is what allows us to lose sight of the bigger picture for the time being.

Once the Pomodoro ends, you take a break. This is very important. Taking a break helps to create a sense of perspective and gives you an opportunity to decide whether to keep working on this task. Before your next Pomodoro, you might check your email and phone messages to see whether anything more urgent or important has come up.

Insight #1

Protect Your Pomodoro

"The mental state, characterized by the following properties, is known as flow: clear goals, concentration and focus, a loss of the feeling of self-consciousness...[ ] balance between ability level and challenge, intrinsically rewarding, the merging of action and awareness."- The Pomodoro Technique, section 2.17 (Kindle)

A key principle of the Pomodoro Technique is to ignore distractions and minimize interruptions, to allow you to truly focus and lose yourself in the activity at hand. Here’s how I do it. I decide on the work I’m going to do and get my materials ready. For example, I might open relevant web pages and collect my notes and tools.

When I’m ready to start, I follow these steps:

1. Close email program and turn off the sound on phone
2. Set timer for twenty-five minutes (it’s important that it will make a noise when the time is up)
3. Start working
4. Stop at the end (I’ll finish the sentence I was writing or make a note to remind myself of where I was at when the timer went)

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Insight #2

Prove Your Performance

"Tracking data can answer questions about the way you work and help you improve your productivity."- The Pomodoro Technique, section 3.20 (Kindle)

Things that get tracked get done. Another key to the Pomodoro Technique is tracking.

Important metrics include:

  • How many Pomodori do you complete in a day?
  • How many times do you get interrupted?
  • How many Pomodori do regular activities take?

I’ve been using this technique for the past seven working days. The average number of Pomodori I complete in a day is four. Though I know that’s not all the work I do, I was still surprised by the low number of sessions that I’ve had that are truly focused work.

The best day I’ve had so far is six. However, six Pomodoro is extremely rewarding. During this time I’ve made significant progress in drafting updates for my website and writing client proposals. By tracking the number of Pomodori you complete in a day, you can see why and how you’re getting your work done or, alternatively, give you an insight into why it’s so hard to move some tasks and goals forward.

In order to effectively track the number of Pomodori, you must choose a consistent length of time. The recommended time is twenty-five minutes. However you could choose a shorter or longer time if you prefer, as long as it’s the same amount each time. Choosing a consistent length means you can compare a day of work to another easily – five Pomodoro completed on Wednesday can be compared quickly with eight on Thursday.

How often are you interrupted? So far, all of my Pomodori have been in my home office. Interruptions are thankfully rare – usually I have one or none. Distractions can either be external (interrupted by the outside environment or other people) or internal (my own thoughts or actions). I find most of my distractions are internal – I think of something else I could be doing. One time I made breakfast and tried to eat it while typing this summary. It doesn’t work. I can either type or eat, not both. Of course, I can switch back and forth between the activities but it’s very inefficient. I’ve switched between eating and typing before but only now that I am focused on getting work done during a Pomodoro, I notice how ineffective it is.

How many Pomodori do regular tasks take? I’ve learned how long it takes me to write a summary for Actionable Books. This summary took me four Pomodori, which is what I estimated. I’ve now set myself a benchmark for future summaries. Recently I estimated it would take me two Pomodoro to write a proposal for a client. In reality, it took four. This data will help me plan my time better in future.

Through using the Pomodoro Technique, I am making progress on tasks that have languished on my list for far too long. The key of this concept for me is blocking off time in my day for focused work.

How much time do you spend per day engaged in focused work? What does this amount of time tell you about your productivity?

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Staffan NöTeberg

Staffan Noteberg has 20 years of experience as a freelance software developer, Agile coach, and conference speaker. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden and Istanbul, Turkey. And he’s not only focused on his own productivity; he’s also passionate about helping all kinds of office people to improve their personal time management.

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