The age of being a proud multi-tasker has come and gone! Brain function and task efficiency research show that multi-tasking and being open to interruption makes tasks take longer and produces lower quality results. For effective professional productivity you need to focus.
Personally, I’ve found my brain distracts itself by continually thinking of new ideas and additional tasks. Then I learned about the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is simple to apply and helps you focus on a single task so you work better and faster. Newsweek listed it as one of the best ways to “Get Smarter in 2012.” The Lifehacker community voted it as the “Most Popular Productivity Method.”
Some people, me included, find it a big help. Others find it unnecessary. My recommendation is to give it a try and check the variations I’ve listed below. BTW: I’m using it right now.
The Pomodoro Technique was named by Francesco Cirillo who developed it in the late 1980s. He named the technique after the kitchen timer he used, shaped like a pomodoro or tomato in Italian.
Here’s Francesco’s original recipe for the Pomodoro Technique.
1. Pick one task.
2. Turn off and tune out all distractions: phone, Twitter, Facebook, Outlook, co-workers.
3. Start a timer set for 25 minutes.
4. Work on just that one task until the timer goes off.
5. Put a checkmark on your list of tasks showing you’ve completed one Pomodoro.
6. Take a five minute break doing something completely different. If you’ve been sitting, get up and move.
7. Do another Pomodoro.
8. Repeat for four Pomodoro segments and then take a longer break of 15 minutes.
Why does it work?
- It’s amazingly simple and gets immediate results.
- It’s easy to convince ourselves that we have the will power to put aside distractions for a “short” 25 minutes.
- Brain research shows that the best memory retention and most creative work occur at the beginning and end of work periods. Consolidation of new learning occurs during the break and later when you sleep. Pomodoro’s 25 minutes followed by a break fits this perfectly.
Tips I’ve found that help make it work.
- Give yourself conscious permission. Tell yourself “I can focus on this one task for xx minutes. Interruptions can be put off for that long.”
- Choose chunks of strategically important tasks for your Pomodoro time. Studies of high-performing executives and professionals show they set aside two or three hours of uninterrupted work early in the morning. (A few do this late at night.) This time is dedicated to their most important tasks. That’s perfect for Pomodoro time.
- Break large projects into “chunks.” Compile small related tasks into “chunks.” Large projects can be overwhelming. Small administrivia can be annoying. Chunk them and put them into a Pomodoro.
- This works great with kids and homework. Put a reward at the end of two or more Pomodoros, like a lemonade popsicle or bike ride around the block. Teach them to chunk large projects into tasks.
- Use a visible timer so you can see the time remaining in a Pomodoro. Watching the minutes tick away can remind you to not waste time. If you use just an iPhone or Andriod phone the timer turns off its display so you may want to check out some of the alternatives at the end of this article. (The iPhone Pomodoro app I’m using right now has a setting to keep the display on.)
- Post a sign to prevent co-workers from interrupting. At office and at home I’ve found that taping a sign to the back of my chair works to delay interrupts. Use something like “On a Project Until 10:00”.
- Turn off the sound and pop-ups in Outlook, Skype, and IM. In Outlook, on the Send/Receive tab, in the Preferences group, select Work Offline to put Outlook on hold. Remember to turn it on when you are done with Pomodoro time.
- If your Pomodoro time is sitting, then get up and move during the break. Office-place yoga to stretch shoulders, neck, and lower-back is excellent.
- If your brain distracts you with unrelated ideas, then keep a stack of 3 X 5 cards nearby. Quickly jot down a note, then set it aside until after Pomodoro. My brain has learned to let it go once I know the idea hasn’t been forgotten. (I am a great user of iPhone and iPad, but you’ll never find me without a few 3 X 5 cards which are quick to scribble on.)
Links to more information and timers.
Pomodoro Technique, Official website of Francesco Cirillo
Pomodoro Time, an iPhone and iPad app by Nasa Trained Monkeys
I’m currently using this app created by “Nasa Trained Monkeys”. Its easy-to-use, works flawlessly, and costs just $1.99. (If you think all apps should be free, then you’ve never given up weekends writing code. And, I don’t have any affiliation with the Nasa Trained Monkeys, but I’d love to hear where their name came from.)
Sue Shellenberger from the Wall Street Journal on using Pomodoro technique and other personal productivity techniques
Wikipedia Pomodoro Technique
The Unofficial Apple Weblog lists free and fee timers