When I read productivity and life hacking posts mentioning the Pomodoro Technique, this is what I see :
Pomodoro is made of rainbows and unicorns ! With this awesome technique, you just have to split your hours in 25 min work spans and take breaks in between. Then you’ll be super productive ! See ! Easy peasy !
This is far from being the Pomodoro Technique ! Actually, if you are just doing this, you might even be wasting your time (well at least you are taking breaks, which has been proven good for productivity).
The Pomodoro Book is 35 pages long. Although this is nothing compared to David Allen’s GTD method, you can imagine that this is not just a 35 pages manual explaining how to properly set up a kitchen timer.
The technique actually relies on 4 important actions : Plan, Measure, Log and Review. The main goal of these 4 steps is not only to be productive, but to really improve your skills.
The technique relies a lot on task estimation. Every day should begin by filling a ToDo Today sheet, prioritizing activities and estimating time to spend on each one.
This planning step is important to keep you focused on what you should do, not just work randomly for 25 minutes.
This is the core of the technique : work hard for 25 minutes and take a 5 minutes break, but you already know that.
By the way, surfing on Facebook or Twitter for 5 minutes is not considered as a break for Pomodoro. You actually have to get up and walk, ideally do some exercice.
Those 25 minutes sprints (or pomodori, as it’s called by the method) represents a indivisible unit of time, and if this paragraph is called “Measure”, it’s there is more to it than just time splitting.
To use the method correctly, you have to log every task duration, and challenge it with your estimation (remember the Plan paragraph).
Note that pomodori are meant to make you focus on a task. You should not multitask within the same iteration. If a task is longer than expected, start another iteration, if you have time left, stay focused on the task and try to improve what you’ve already done, do not stop the iteration !
Even if you use a “Keep Out” sign as obvious as the one in Shrek’s swamp, people will interrupt you.
To acknowledge, track and prevent interruptions you will need to identify 2 kinds of interruptions : Internal (an idea that pops into your mind, a phone-call to make …) and Externals (“Hey ! I just sent you an email about a bug report I just filled, but I though I would give you a call so we could both lose a lot of precious time”).
Internal interruption are easy to deal with, just log it, and don’t break the pomodoro. You’ll come back to your genius idea later.
External interruption are breaking the iteration (unless you tell your client to f**k off, but I advise you not to) so it should be logged and once the interruption is dealt with, another iteration will begin.
You should not resume an interrupted pomodoro, the method is about focusing on a single task for the complete duration of the iteration.
Review, Process, Visualize
There is one thing that most of the good productivity / self-improvement / diet / business-enhancement / project-management … methods have in common : a review phase.
Your brain is wired to forget a task once you’ve completed it, so you’ll have more resources to complete the next one, and that’s a good thing, it won’t be overloaded by useless stuff.
But reviewing what you’ve done is really powerful. For starters, it always feels good to visualize accomplished work. You will feel better if you acknowledge what you’ve done, especially if you’ve managed to split work into a whole load of small iterations.
But most of all, it gives you perspective on how much work you are able to accomplish within a day and/or a week. By analyzing the amount of work done in a workday, you’ll get better at estimating your futur workload. Your pomodori will become more and more efficients and your days will feel less and less stressful.
Start now !
What we’ve seen so far is that no, the Pomodoro Technique is not as easy as setting up a clock. Still, it’s one of the easiest productivity enhancement methods. The required effort to start a routine is quite low, and you’ll see the benefits within a week.
So go ahead, take a few minutes to read the full method, print those 3 sheets and start splitting your work right now. But remember, it’s only by estimating, logging and reviewing that you’ll really get to leverage the power of the technique.