Four Letter Nerd

Productivity 101: The Pomodoro Technique

If you are anything like me, sometimes it can be hard to stay focused at work.  If you work on a computer all day long like I do,  it can be mentally exhausting to do the same thing day in and day out.  Over the last few months I have been fortunate enough to be able to leave my beige-walled cubicle and start working from home at my real job, which has been fantastic.  For the most part I’ve been able to stay around the same level production-wise, but I was expecting to be able to get more done now that I am away from my colleagues that like to stop by and talk, or the over-the-cubicle-wall talk about the Jackson 5 or listening to older ladies discuss Miley Cyrus (both of which happened occasionally).

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the distractions found at home are way better than those found in the nondescript cubicle farm where I still go one day a week.  I had to set up my desk in the bedroom because the only extra room in the house was between the living room and play room, and I didn’t feel like getting pummeled by our three year old who thinks he’s both a Ninja Turtle and a Power Ranger every five minutes.  You know what else is in the bedroom? A bed, a TV, whatever books I am currently reading, and a window to the world outside (mostly a view of my shed, but what can you do).  That is four things I never had to worry about at work.  The only TV we have at the office is in the basement and plays the Andy Griffith Show and the Price is Right on and endless loop and at an unbelievable volume.  Seriously, the show choices and the insane volume is like being at my Granpa’s house when I was a kid.  My production at work hadn’t dropped per se, but it wasn’t where I wanted it to be.  I needed something that could get focused on my work, while also staving off the constant cycle of burnout.

Enter the Pomodoro technique!

The interestingly named Pomodoro technique is a productivity system that promises to help you eliminate distractions, avoid burnout (burnout is a major drag), and create a better work/life balance.  The user sets a timer – Francesco Cirillo, the founder of the technique, used a Pomodoro timer (a kitchen timer that looks like a Pomodoro tomato) hence the name – to alternate between periods of intense focus on work and complete separation of all things work related.  Generally, before setting your timer and starting your first Pomodoro, you set up a “To-Do” list of things to accomplish, and work them in order of priority.  Once one item is completed, it is checked off the list and the next item becomes your priority.

pomodoro_image

Now let’s get into the system itself.

Each Pomodoro takes 30 minutes total – 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of play.  After all, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” (is that reference still relevant? I assume people still read and/or watch The Shining).  Once you complete your 25 minutes of focused work, a check mark is made on a notepad, and you are now free to do something completely separate from your work, whether it be a walk, stretching, straightening up the house, or, I don’t know, finally thinking of that witty comeback you wish you would’ve said to Gary last night… but seriously, spend 3-5 minutes completely disengaged from your work.  After the break you reset the timer and get back to work.  After four Pomodoro’s you then give yourself a 15-30 minute break.

“That’s a lot of breaks!?” the middle-manager in you might say.

Here’s the thing, since your 25 minutes are meant to be hyper-focused on work, you are actually likely to get more done than you would were you just to do your normal routine of interspersing work with browsing the internet, going to get coffee, or catching up with the few colleagues that you actually enjoy being around until you get your fifteen minute break.  I have only been using this technique for a week or two, but I can go back and look at my production levels and there is a significant difference between by pre-Pomodoro work style.  I was honestly surprised by the amount of improvement between my already decent numbers and my productivity using this system.  Please note: I am not trying to Billy Mays you into trying this technique.  I am legitimately interested in what works, and, as of now, this technique is on fleek (I have no idea if I used that right… I am dreadfully boring).

It also appears that the technique delivers on its promise to manage burnout and eliminate distractions, as far as I am concerned.  Knowing your next break is always less than 25 minutes away makes it easier to keep your mind on the task at hand.  It also helped me eliminate my random Facebook/Google News browsing, because it’s easier to convince yourself to block out those distractions knowing you will get your chance when you are in your 5 minute work hiatus.  Throughout my Pomodoro trial run, I’ve noticed a significant increase in my focus and production, while experiencing a marked decrease in pretty much all of the common distractions found in both cubicle land and at the work-at-home office.

If you are interested in working smarter and increasing your output, while still getting time to mentally reboot and feel refreshed, the Pomodoro technique is definitely for you.  If you decide to give it a go you can get more details at their official website here!  Let us know in the comments how this technique works for you if you decide to try it out!

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Cam Clark

Cam is a husband, father, and a fan of many things. In college, he wrote his senior thesis on Mythological, Philosophical, and Theological Themes in Star Wars, and now spends his days causally specializing in Star Wars, Tolkien, and cubical work. No relation to Bill Clark.

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