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Trying to find balance between time, energy and getting the work done is daily struggle for many professionals. We often push ourselves working to exhaustion just to find out how little work we actually got done in the end. I experienced this on my own skin many times. What if there would be some way to avoid this? What if we could complete tasks on our to-do lists in a lightning speed while keeping our minds and body fresh? Is it even possible? Well, something called pomodoro technique might be our Savior. In this article, you will find out if the days of struggle are gone.
Introduction to Pomodoro Technique
Before going any further, let’s first take a look at what pomodoro technique is about and when it originated. This time management technique pomodoro was created by Francesco Cirillo during the late 1980’s. Its somewhat strange title is related after a small tomato-shaped timer. Francesco was using this small timer when he was a student on LUISS Guido Carli University. The fundamental principle of this technique is based on the notion that frequent breaks will increase mental agility.
What should you do if you decide to implement pomodoro technique into your work-flow? The practice is pretty simple. You will only need to break down your daily tasks into half hour chunks. These chunks are called “pomorodos”. Single pomodoro chunk consists of twenty-five minutes when you are completely focused on your work followed by a five-minute break, let’s call it “rest” phase. It is important to understand that during the “focus” phase, you must avoid all distractions.
Preparing for Focus Phase
Make sure that there is nothing battling for your attention. Turn off all notifications on your computer and phone. Close all browser tabs. No social media allowed. Put your phone into airplane mode to avoid random interruptions by someone either calling or messaging you. Even lock the doors to your office if it will help prevent your colleagues from interrupting you from work. All your focus is devoted to the task in hand. Follow this regime for next twenty-five minutes.
When the “focus” phase is in the end, take that previously mentioned five-minute break. In case you are a more extreme personality, such as I am, resist the temptation to continue working. Even if you started new task just before the “focus” session ended, note down where you are, what’s next step and take a break. You have to remember that to make pomodoro technique work for you and avoid exhausting yourself or even burnout, you must use both, “focus” and “rest” phase.
Break Phase Done Right
What are some of the activities you can do during your break? Author of the pomodoro technique recommends you to physically leave your desk. Take a walk outside or just look from a window. It is backed by science that outdoors and nature have positive effects on your mood and energy levels. What can you do in case you don’t like any of these options or you are living in center of the city and without any natural place you can visit? The best advice is to get your blood moving. Do short workout, stretch your muscles or try yoga. Your body and mind will thank you.
Another great work not-related activity you can try during your break time is reading. By reading I mean reading a book, not opening social media and scrolling through the latest “hot news”. Is your bookshelf overflowing with books you want to read sometime in the future? Great! You can use pomodoro to get your reading plan flowing and fill up your reading diary. Don’t forget to share what books do you like to read when taking a break from work.
Aside from physical activity and reading you can also use the five-minute break to get done some quick organization tasks. Having said that, these tasks should be neither big nor important. Sort the documents in your cabinet, wash dishes, cleanup your desk. You can also use your five minutes to prepare a cup of tea or coffee. Just keep in mind that the “rest” phase is meant to allow your brain to rest and recharge its energy reservoirs. Meaning, whatever task you choose make sure it is not demanding or difficult.
The last two suggestions for your break time I want to give you is immersing yourself in daydreaming (or mind-wandering) or taking a nap. One benefit of mind-wandering is that when you think about things unrelated to your current work, it can actually help you focus when it’s time to do next pomodoro session. Mind-wandering also stimulates your problem solving and increases your creativity. The reason is that mind-wandering help your brain to connect ostensibly unrelated concepts that could be handy useful when applied to your current task.
Focus, Rest, What’s Next?
Great question! You already know what “focus” and “rest” phases are and how to make them work. However, in order to unleash the power of pomodoro technique and make it work for you there is one more step. This step is also very simple. After you finish four pomodoros (four sessions of focus and rest), you will take one long break. This break can be anything from fifteen to twenty or even thirty minutes. This long break is designed to let your brain absorb new information and also rest and recharge before your next pomodoro session.
Again, if you are tempted to skip this long break after four sessions, resist it. Pomodoro technique has its rules or guidelines designed in specific fashion for reason. By breaking those guidelines you are only putting yourself at risk of exhaustion and setting yourself for failure. On the other hand, by following these principles you can double, triple or even 10x your productivity and get done more stuff than you would though is possible.
The last advice I want to give you for successfully implementing pomodoro technique is to choose your break time activities wisely. This will apply mostly to short breaks. However, you should keep that in mind in for long breaks as well. Even though the time dedicated to breaks might seem relatively long, it’s not. Those five minutes given to recharge your energy and let your mind unplug will evaporate very fast. So, plan your “rest” phases as well as you do your “focus” phases.
Benefits of Pomodoro
Now when you know the theory behind this technique as well as the step-by-step process, it’s time to tell you main benefits. Although you are probably already sold on pomodoro technique and ready to use it, let’s mention at least four of them.
Time as Your Friend
When we think about time-management tools and techniques, we often think about time as our enemy. In most situations, we are trying to fill our working “block” with as many tasks as possible. We are putting ourselves in a race against the time. Whether is this done to meet our deadlines or finish assignments, it doesn’t work in most cases. On the other hand, by using pomodoro technique you are setting yourself for success by teaching you to work with time. With this system or approach the days of you struggling against the time are long gone.
Smart Energy Management
The majority of time-management practices out there are focusing only the “work” part or phase. Only some of them take into consideration also our need to take breaks and let ourselves rest. This is where pomodoro technique is different. While it teaches you to deliberately focus on your work during your work or “focus” session, it also emphasizes the importance of taking regular breaks. And, there is much more to it.
Since regular breaks are hard-coded into pomodoro’s principles ,they become even essential or fundamental parts of it. Taking this fact into consideration, one can argue that it turns pomodoro into something more than just time-management tools. With this in mind, I would rather think about it as energy-management tool. Sure, there are energy-management related things that are not addressed by pomodoro technique. At least not in its basics.
However, you can’t say this technique is not trying to keep you away from exhaustion and burnout in the long-term. Sure, you can “customize it” and push yourself beyond your limits, but it will be hard to do it with “default” setting. Let me put it straightforward. It will be impossible for you to overwork if you stick to the principles this system is based on. With this smart energy-management it is possible that you will avoid couple of sick days and reduce your need for taking vacations.
I would say that this third benefit of pomodoro technique comes in handy especially in this age when we are literally under siege by distractions. Unless you will lock yourself in the woods without any access to outer world, there will be some distractions bidding for your attention. These distractions vary from messages on Facebook or Twitter, call from a friend to your kids wanting your attention. You might also get distracted by your thoughts popping up in your mind.
With pomodoro technique you will simply note down all these distractions and return to work. When the “focus” phase is in the end, you can go back to your list and take care of the distractions. Following this procedure, you will learn to prioritize the tasks you need to get done before the less important ones. In a fact, many things we think are important are actually not important at all. Hopefully, it will also teach you the power single-tasking comes with.
Do you want to learn more information about handling distractions and improving your ability to focus? Great! I can only support your interest in these subjects, even thought the world seems to go the other way. The best place to start is by reading a book called Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman or Focus: Best Ways To Improve Your Concentration and Improve Your Learning by David Hewitt. I read the first one and recommend it. It was worth the time.
Smarter Way to Procrastinate
Nowadays, the word “procrastination” became almost forbidden. In the past, we were scaring our kids with the idea of the devil coming for them if they will misbehave. Today, procrastination has almost the same power. You procrastinate, devil will come and take you to hell. Procrastination and guilt are now almost synonyms. Unless we were working like crazy from early morning to late evening, we often end up with feeling that we shouldn’t enjoy our free time.
When you embrace the pomodoro technique and become master in it, you will naturally avoid such feelings. You will learn to create an effective schedule and also allow yourself to enjoy your free time to the fullest. Also, contrary to some popular believes, procrastination can be or become more serious than just cautiously avoiding some tasks in our to-do lists. So, if you find yourself in urge to put some task aside, you might search whether is there some more serious reason for it.
When you implement pomodoro technique and start using it, the amount of work that you can complete is pretty impressive. This effect will be even stronger when you finish your first pomodoro session. Meaning, don’t be surprised by how much work can you achieve and also by how fast the time can fly. This is something I was surprised, even shocked, by. I got done more work in one hour using pomodoro technique than I did before. My day also went faster than usual.
In some sense, this fact was both, positive and negative. The positive was that it felt great to get done so much work in less time than I was used to. The negative side was that when I saw what am I capable of complete, it seemed to me like as was not productive at all before I start using pomodoro technique. Tasks I would need couple of hours to finish with previous approach to time-management (no approach at all), now required just one or two pomodoros.
During this article I also mentioned couple times how important it is to take breaks and not pushing yourself too hard. It was for a reason. When I tried pomodoro for the first time, last weekend, I ended up with strong headache lasting until Tuesday. Explanation? Well, I simply though I can handle couple longer pomodoro sessions while completely ignoring taking breaks to recharge. Man, how much I was wrong.
Saturday was okay. Well, it was the first day of this experiment. Sunday, on the other hand, was horrible. Headache started right after waking up. Depending on how well you know me, you would probably guess right that I forced myself to work for the whole day anyway. Consequently to Sunday’s workload, my Monday was even worse. I was happy to just finish my morning training, not to mention I have to sit down and write a blog post after it. Tuesday was similar hell.
Fortunately, I recognized that I made a mistake. Well, the evidence was pretty obvious, and painful. I went back to the basic and study the principles and theory of pomodoro technique again. I decided to give it one more shot and start on Wednesday. Now, using the “default” length of sessions–twenty-five minutes of focus followed by short breaks. And, one fifteen-minute long break after four pomodoros. The result?
The change was astounding! No more headaches caused by working on my computer for too long. My mind and body remained fresh and energized. In a short, I got done a lot of work and felt great! I’ve been using pomodoro technique every day since Wednesday without any negative “side-effects”.
Closing Thoughts on Pomodoro Technique
Based on my own, sometimes pretty painful, experience, I can only recommend pomodoro for you to try it on your own. If done right, it is great technique for increasing productivity without hitting the point of exhaustion or burnout. By trying it, you will be surprised by how many work you can get done. What’s more, it is quite possible that you will even get more free time for things and activities you enjoy the most. And, yes I was using pomodoro technique while writing this article.
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