By: Matt Reynolds, Founder & CEO of Barbell Logic
Do you struggle with procrastination, or getting tasks accomplished in a timely manner? When was the last time you focused on one thing – no multiple tabs open, no email open, no phone notifications, and basically separated yourself from the outside world to focus on just ONE thing?
Once a week? Once a month? Never?
I get it. It’s hard. There are a million shiny objects, cat videos, and distractions calling for our attention. Technology advances have given us the ability to search the entirety of the world’s knowledge in the palm of our hand, but that same technology makes it incredibly difficult to focus and get ONE thing done.
Enter The Pomodoro Technique, a productivity technique so simple and effective that you’ll wonder how you didn’t come up with it on your own… and why you’ve never tried it.
The Pomodoro Technique is simple: Work for 25 undistracted minutes on ONE THING, and then take a 5 min break. Rinse. Repeat as necessary.
Yes, it works beautifully.
Note: The reason it’s called “The Pomodoro Technique” is because it was invented in the late 1980s by an Italian author using a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato (“pomodoro” is the Italian word for tomato).
How To “Pomodoro”
- Prepare for your Pomodoro by turning off all notifications on your phone (set your phone to “do not disturb mode”), turning off all notifications on your computer, going to the restroom if needed, getting a drink if needed, and gathering any supplies needed to perform the ONE task at hand. I always try to be in a completely quiet room with no other people, no TV, no music, etc. However, while traveling I’ll often find myself needing to perform a Pomodoro Technique in a coffee house or the like, and for these times I always use my noise-cancelling headphones to block out the outside world.
- Mise en place: A technique developed by chefs in France where they gather all ingredients, cooking utensils, plates, and anything else they’d need to make a meal before they start the actual cooking process. Just like a chef, gather all supplies needed to complete the task. If you’ll need tools, books, paper, writing utensils, or a computer make sure you have everything gathered ahead of time.
- Always have a single piece of blank paper and pen to jot down any distractions that occur in your mind while trying to complete the task. Remember you need to call your mom and wish her a happy birthday later today? Note it on the paper quickly and get back to work. Want to order a pizza for lunch? Jot it down. Back to work.
- Then give 100% of your effort to working on the ONE TASK to complete it.
DO NOT go to the bathroom, refill a drink (you may have a drink during a Pomodoro, however), answer the phone, answer the door, etc. during the Pomodoro. IF you have to break away in the middle of a Pomodoro Session, it is a failed session. Stop the timer, take a few breaths after the distraction, and start over with a new 25 min session.
You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish in a single Pomodoro Session. When the timer goes off, you can stop and take a break… or if you are in an incredible flow state, it’s ok to keep working (just reset the timer for another 25 min and continue).
Break time: If you are going to go right back to another Pomodoro Session on the same task after a 5 min break, then do something refreshing. Get up and walk around. Go to the restroom. Get a drink. Go for a short walk. Stretch. Do a mundane task like loading the dishwasher, making your bed, or folding laundry. Then after 5 minutes, get right back to work. This is a great strategy when a single task will take multiple Pomodoro Sessions.
Most people can do up to four Pomodoro Sessions (four 25min work sessions, followed by 5min breaks; 2hrs of total work) before their mental efficiency really starts to decline.
When I complete a task at the end of a Pomodoro Session, then I’ll take a slightly longer break, first checking my email, texts, and social media notifications, address the items on my “distraction sheet” and then take a 10min refreshing break or so before getting back to work on a new task.
As a testimonial to how well this works, my 13 year-old daughter, whom we homeschool, is very easily distracted. We use very difficult classical education curriculum for her schooling. She would often find herself starting school every day between 9 and 10am, and then working relatively inefficiently until 5pm at night. She’d get distracted frequently, take lots of breaks, and never really get to have much fun during the day because her schoolwork was always hanging over her.
One particular night she was still working at 7pm, and I became increasingly frustrated because I knew she had nowhere near 10 hours of work to do each day. I told her I was going to wake her up at 6:30am and she was going to do Pomodoros with me downstairs. The next morning I woke her up, let her go to the restroom, wash her face, get a drink of ice water, gather her school supplies, and then she came downstairs to begin her work. I explained exactly what we were going to do and told her that I’d be doing a Pomodoro as well alongside her. We set her up on her math for the day, which she easily completed in a single Pomodoro. We took a short 5 min break, and then started a new Pomodoro on her next subject. After only THREE POMODOROS she had completed ALL her work for the day! What was taking her between 8-10 hrs, now only took her 90 minutes to complete. She became a believer overnight. Rarely does she ever have to complete more than four Pomodoros in a day now to complete all of her work for the day.
If you’ve been looking for a way to be more productive, procrastinate less, and accomplish more in the simplest and most effective way possible, give the Pomodoro Technique a try. Very simply — work for a defined, totally uninterrupted period of time on ONE task followed by a short break. That’s it.
Author’s Note: I actually used the Pomodoro Technique to write this 1000 word article, and easily completed it in less than two Pomodoros.
Editor’s Note: I used a Pomodoro to proofread and edit this article for publication. It really does work!