I showed up at a meeting one year ago and realized that I had four Internet-connected devices. Yes, two laptops, an iPad and an iPhone were at the ready, all beeping and buzzing in synchronization with meeting reminders and new email notifications. The craziest part was that this felt normal to me.
With all of these devices constantly beeping and vibrating, it’s no wonder I was unable to get anything done without constant interruptions. I needed a new way of working. Luckily, I found the Pomodoro Technique.
While having ubiquitous access to information can be powerful, but here’s the rub. According to research, it can take between 5 and 20 minutes to re-focus after an interruption. Now multiply that by the number of times you get interrupted each day (think: email notifications, text messages, twitter messages). You don’t need to have an MBA to understand that this will have an impact on your own bottom line, whether in dollars, happiness, or time.
According to a recent New York Times article, all of this multitasking has a physical effect on our brains. The type of constant interruptions we receive from our smart phones can actually re-wire the developing brain to be less able to sustain attention. Permanently.
But what about you? Maybe you don’t even have a smart phone. But you’re still getting distracted by email notifications, instant messages, or your web browser laying open and ready to take you anywhere on the vast Internet.
The Pomodoro Technique
Rather than focusing on getting something done, why not focus on focusing? That’s the aim of the Pomodoro technique, a very simple and effective time management system that keeps you working on the things that matter most and nothing else.
The 10-second summary: Humans are only able to focus on a task for about 25 minutes before they need a break. Rather than trying to change this, the Pomodoro technique works with your limitations. Here’s the basic recipe:
- Pick a task you need to accomplish.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and start working
- When the time rings, take a 5 minute break
- Repeat steps 1-3
- Ever four cycles, take a 25 minute break.
It seems too simple to be effective, but I decided to give it a try for just one morning at work. That was eight months ago and I haven’t turned back. Upon discovering that its simplicity is its strength, I’ve even adopted the Pomodoro technique at home for practicing guitar and writing songs..
Notice that the Pomodoro technique is easy to remember, and doesn’t require any special charts, lists, or iPhone apps. It can be practiced wherever you’re getting work done.
Once you’re up and running with the Pomodoro technique, you’ll begin to wage war with your new enemy: distractions. Negotiating these distractions becomes an important way to complete more Pomodoro cycles per day.
Distraction 1: For technology interruptions, turn off new email alerts. Turn off new tweet alerts. Mute the ringer on your phone unless you are required to respond immediately when someone calls.
For me, this wasn’t enough. I actually had to turn off my iPhone because simply muting it and putting it in my pocket wasn’t a strong enough deterrent against taking a quick glance at my email inbox.
Distraction 2: Now on to the more difficult, walking and talking interruptions: your coworkers. Sometimes they’re unavoidable, but there are some things you can do to minimize the inevitable distractions of the office.
In order to successfully implement the Pomodoro technique, I started listening to music (usually classical) on headphones so that I didn’t get distracted by the near constant stream of cross-cube conversations in my work area.
Another big one is negotiating your privacy. At a team meeting, I politely explained that the office was distracting for me, and would appreciate it if people would knock on my cubicle before they walked in and started talking to me. I was really nervous about doing this, but it went really well. My coworkers have respected my request and have even begun extending the same courtesy to others in the office.
When all else fails and you’re faced with a live interruption, politely explain that you’re in the middle of something. Keep a polite “Can I call you back in 25 minutes?” handy.
Beyond the Pomodoro Technique
This basic formula gets much more refined in the (free) Pomodoro Technique book, which the author generously gives away. You can get great results by applying it in its simplest form, but I’d highly recommend reading further. The record keeping system is equally elegant. You’ll find yourself interested in geeking out on stats because you’ll be showing a noticeable improvement in how much you can accomplish and how quickly.
At its core, the Pomodoro Technique forces you to tune out distractions and start focusing on focusing. Pick one project or task your working on and decide to only work on it for a set amount of time. Maybe even turn off your phone while you’re doing it and see how that feels.
Whatever you do, living and working in a constant state of distraction will not get you the results you’re looking for. The Pomodoro Technique can help get you out of that rut, 25 minutes at a time.
What ways have you found to cut down on distractions at work? How have you applied the Pomodoro Techniqe? Share them in the comments.
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Great technique Ethan. I’ve recently took up blogging after a hiatus of more than 4 years. I was a problogger before and used to get things done relatively quickly.
Nowadays I’m teaming up with a few freelancers to form an inspiration blog, and I’ve got to say that by far my biggest enemy are distractions: Whenever I hit a little writer’s block (it can happen every two sentences) I immediately “run away” to Facebook or Twitter, or check my e-mail.
I think it’s just a matter of sticking to the task and fighting those urges. I will definitely try to utilize the Pomodoro technique. Hope this one sticks!
Good luck! For writing, I’ve also found success using one of the many distraction-free writing environments like WriteRoom.
Great intro to the pomodoro technique. I have been using it for about a year, and it has been very helpful. I use an AIR app named pomodairo as a timer/task tracker. It is very simple, but effective. You can find it here: http://code.google.com/p/pomodairo/
Gotta go – my 5 minutes is almost up!
Fantastic App! Thanks for sharing.
This app makes this technique so much easier. I use it all the time at work and it really does make a difference in when you get done in a day. Great post 🙂
Great post – I’ve just employed this method today following reading this.
There are browser addins which might be worth a mention, as the first thing I though was is there an extension for that?
Sure enough there is for Chrome (not checked the others), there’s even a strict one which will block certain sights.
I used to use the PT religiously, but nowadays I only use it in case of emergencies. Whenever I feel I’m about to procrastinate, that’s when I will use PT. Otherwise, 50/10 works better for me.
Interesting! Is 50/10 referring to 50 minutes of work with a 10 minute break?
I am a big fan of Pomodoro technique. I have read that e-book quite a long time back, around start of 2010, and practicing it since then.
Wow, finally the Pomodoro technique has it’s own article 🙂 I fount it out in some time management article posted in 2010.
The Pomodoro Technique is definitely underrated. I’m glad to be giving it proper recognition 😀
I’ve been aware of the Pomodoro technique and how it is being used by different people but I never practiced it myself. I am currently inundated by distractions I need something like this to focus!
I definitely find the Pomodoro technique to be calming when I am inundated. It helps break through the stress when you are jumping back and forth between too many tasks. I hope it goes well for you!
I’ve been using this technique lately, in conjunction with the idea of eating your biggest, ugliest frog first thing each day.
Before I go to bed, I identify the #1 task that I need to get done the next day, and when I wake up, I don’t check my email or stats or anything until I’ve finished that task.
But I use the 25-minutes-at-a-time method to complete it.
Nate, I love the “no email in the morning” idea. It’s been powerful for me as well- checking first thing really derails your train of thought and sets the stage for the rest of the day.
i knew about PT some time ago, I even got a (physical) timer which helps me accomplish this. Altough, distractions are all around us, and I find it pretty hard to focus while working at home.
and this site is amazing, I always have it open in my firefox, good job, fine writers!
Thank you for your kind words, Paul. Keep reading WorkAwesome!
Hi to all. I invite all the readers of this article to participate as BETA testers in my project orkanizer.com which is the on-line version of The Pomodoro Technique.
I Find this is realy usefull, esp. when working at home.
I like using http://tomatoi.st/ , as you can give co workers a link to your timer in your email .sig or in a status or something, then they will know when they can bother you next…
I created flowchart how to use pomodoro technique:
The pomodoro technique is basically the same as time-boxing. I use it all the time to enhance my productivity. So much so that I made an iPhone app to help manage my tasks and set the timer. This way it is with me wherever I am. If you are interested check it out here: Action Plan productivity app.
I like to pair the Pomodoro Technique with Behance’s Action Method. I use Action Method for tracking everything I need to do, and for anything that’s going to take more than 25 minutes to accomplish, I use Pomodoros to get it done.
Headphones, closed office doors (wherever possible), changing scenery, even just putting up a little sign on the back of my monitor saying I’m in a Pomodoro has helped cut down on interruptions, and my co-workers have come to understand and appreciate the intensity of focus that I get during these periods. More than a few have tried adopting the technique themselves as a result.
Stayfocused is the great Pomodoro software, not only manages your time. but also helps you run apps as well as you want.
Definitely loving this technique, taking my GCSEs at the moment and it’s really helped me get back on track with my studies. I would recommend this to anyone studying for exams and definitely to uni students.
Great article! I would like to share another Pomodoro app for iPhone (disclaimer: I’m one of the developers). You can find it here bit.ly/1ePOUHH – it’s a clean and simple app that lets you customize every aspect of the Pomodoro Technique. Hope you like it!
Timer pop is also a pretty great mobile site that’s perfect for Pomodoro. It only has one simple function that creates and repeats timers easily. No app install needed.