I Tried the 'Pomodoro Technique' and Focusing Has Never Felt Easier
September 26, 2018
My mountain of a to-do list appears in my dreams more often than I’d like to admit. It’s a big source of anxiety for me, and thinking about the millions of things I have to do gets my palms more than a little sweaty. And that stress makes my attention wander to everything but my work.
When the time comes to actually sit down and cross some items off? My short attention span takes over and I get swept up in scrolling, swiping, or doodling. I’ve realized any sort of pressure to focus on a giant project or to-do list sets me up for failure—the pressure keeps me from focusing at all. But instead of working against that tendency, I’ve finally found something that helps me work with my non-linear focus: the Pomodoro Technique.
Francesco Cirillo developed this method in the 1980s after using an old school tomato timer to track his work habits. The name “pomodoro” translates to “tomato” in Italian, thus birthing the title “Pomodoro Technique.” The actual method he landed on is pretty simple:
●︎ Work for 25 minutes
●︎ Rest for 3-5 minutes
●︎ Repeat 4 times, then take a 15-30 minute break
Then rinse, repeat, until you’re done with a task.
I’ve heard the Pomodoro Technique touted as “game changing,” yet it sounded too simple to actually have an effect. But after testing it out over the course of a few work days, here’s why I already know it’s going to have a special place in my rolodex of productivity hacks.
Dedication + Time = Your New Friend
For me, the shorter amount of time I’m asked to focus, the better. With Pomodoro, I realized that dividing my tasks into dedicated chunks with breaks built in helped my to-dos seem less daunting.
To test out the effectiveness of the method, I looked at my list and found a perfect task. I knew a friend needed me to get going on writing proposals for our side hustle. Building an outline seemed like a huge ordeal, so I decided to try breaking it up in pieces with the Pomodoro technique.
Initially, I used my trusted iPhone timer, but found that I kept checking the phone to see how much time was left to work. That was too much of a distraction for me, so I did some digging and found the Tomato Timer website, a timer literally built for the Pomodoro Technique which provides a simple, no frills approach.
I kept it open while working, and a notification alerted me whenever it was time to take a break. (You can download their browser extension here, too).
These breaks are scientifically proven to be effective, too. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that breaks from a task can “dramatically improve one's ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.”
Because of the structure of the Pomodoro technique, I also had to prioritize my work. I knew the proposal was a bigger task than, say, cleaning my room. Sending out emails also felt a little more pressing than chores too. By breaking my tasks into 25 minute chunks and stacking them based on priority, I found I could finish more things even though I was taking more breaks.
Dispersing my energy into short stop-and-start sessions propelled me straight through my to-do list faster than I think it would have if I had just tried to power through.
Give Yourself a Break
Our brains are built for breaks. The five-minute breaks between each focus session gave me permission to take a much-needed pause—without feeling guilty. And that break time proved necessary.
Each break was focused on something completely unrelated to my work, like talking to my brother on the phone or watching a quick trailer someone had texted me.
The five minutes gave me plenty of breathing room. When I returned back to whatever task at hand, I was able to approach it with fresh eyes and a little more energy than if I had just powered through.
It helped me remember that taking a step away from my task isn’t necessarily indicative of a bad habit, but it can help me gain a bit of distance from my work and come back with a better attitude and outlook.
Go With Your Flow
While testing out the Pomodoro technique, I realized that not all tasks are created equal. There are some things that I can dive into for a long time, like binging a Netflix show or reading a book. But when it’s something a bit more challenging, my nerves can get the best of me and I put things off until I absolutely can’t any longer.
I found that leaning into whatever flow I may have on a particular day works a lot better than fighting, well, myself. For some tasks, I knew I could catch a rhythm and work for more than 25 minutes, so I do just that. For others, I stick within the Pomodoro time frame.
Approaching techniques like the Pomodoro as suggestions has helped relieve a lot of pressure. I feel more free and able to figure out what really works for me instead of trying to fit inside a box of time-management that most definitely isn’t one-size-fits-all.
To try out the method and see if it works well with your focusing style, there are a lot of different digital tools at your disposal. If you’re more of a fan of apps, don’t worry, there are plenty of options. Try Focus Keeper, an app that calls each breakout time “focus sessions”—a bit boring but just as effective. And if you’re wanting a little something extra to pair along with your Pomodoro efforts, check out the Focus meditations in the free Shine iOS app and start your journey to making time work for you.
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