Why You Must Try the Pomodoro Technique for Productivity

Remote work is said to benefit knowledge workers like project managers, analysts, and developers because they can avoid the distractions of the office like chatty colleagues and impromptu meetings. 

The COVID-19 pandemic forced most of us to set up a home office.

Remote work is said to benefit knowledge workers like project managers, analysts, and developers because they can avoid the distractions of the office like chatty colleagues and impromptu meetings.

However, the line between work life and family life tends to get blurred quite easily when you are working from home.

You don’t have a supervisor looming over your workstation.

You don’t have to keep up appearances in front of your coworkers.

So you’re more likely to start slacking until your work stretches and invades your personal and family time.

Such an unstructured and unplanned approach to work leads to feelings of overwhelm, dissatisfaction, and burnout in the long term.

But don’t despair–there’s an easy-to-learn and popular productivity method you can try: the Pomodoro Technique.

Why do you need the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique was created by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s as a university student to help him feel less overwhelmed and complete his assignments.

He wrote a book about it titled The Pomodoro Technique: The Life-Changing Time Management System, but the core concept of this technique is deceptively simple.

The technique is a time management framework that requires you to break down tasks into 25-minute sessions with five-minute breaks in between.

  • The idea is to avoid distractions and help boost focus during a period of intense work.
  • With practice, the Pomodoro Technique improves concentration and increases your attention span.

For this technique, a “pomodoro” is considered to be an indivisible unit of time and effort.

The technique is named after a tomato-shaped egg timer that Cirillo used; in Italian, “pomodoro” means “tomato.” You can use a manual timer or a digital app to apply the technique.

Cirillo preferred the low-tech approach, saying that the act of winding up the timer “confirms your determination to work.”

  • The tick-tick sound of the Pomodoro Technique timer acts as a physical stimulus to push you to complete your task.
  • And the ringing of the timer at the end of a Pomodoro session signals a hard stop.

You’ll find the Pomodoro Technique especially useful if:

  1. you get easily distracted and it affects your productivity at work
  2. you feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks on your list
  3. you want to realistically estimate the amount of time a task takes
  4. you enjoy gamified challenges
  5. you have open-ended tasks like planning and tracking that don’t have a finite amount of time to complete

Benefits of the Pomodoro Technique

A technique is only as good as its practitioner. Hence, you can reap the following benefits of the Pomodoro Technique only if you practice it correctly:

  1. You can develop hyper-focus on important, high-value tasks
  2. You can avoid the urge to over-refine your work to be perfect
  3. You can avoid multitasking that gives rise to low-quality work
  4. You can develop better concentration and willpower
  5. You can meet deadlines without pressure and stress
  6. You can estimate tasks more accurately, even for complex or undefined ones
  7. You can reduce friction with your coworkers by creating a team timetable to handle tasks and reach goals

The six steps of the Pomodoro Technique

If you wake up each morning with dread about facing your insurmountable to-do list, the Pomodoro Technique could be just right for you. It’s one of the simplest productivity techniques and all you need is a timer and pen and paper.

The six core steps of the technique are:

1. Choose a task

Pick a task from your to-do list based on priority level.

2. Set the timer for 25 minutes

Set your Pomodoro Technique timer for 25 minutes.

3. Work until the timer rings

Focus on the task until the timer rings. No distractions are allowed.

4. Record the task on your to-do list

When the timer rings, stop working and record the work done. Check off one pomodoro from your to-do list.

5. Take a five-minute break

Move away from your place of work for five minutes to refresh your brain and avoid mental fatigue. You could use this time to get a cup of coffee, read a few pages of a book, or even take a power nap.

6. After four sessions, take a 20-30 minute break

Repeat until you have completed four pomodoros. Take a longer break of around 20-30 minutes.

The Pomodoro Technique is a cyclical method and helps with repetitive work, such as checking email or tracking project progress. It is also ideal for tasks that require flow, such as coding, designing, writing, and studying.

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To get the most out of the Pomodoro method, consider a few rules:

1. Break down complex tasks

If your task cannot be completed in four pomodoros, you need to divide it into smaller and more actionable tasks. This will help you track the progress of each sub-task and motivate you to continue working on the complex task.

Alternatively, if you finish a task before a pomodoro is over, you can invest the rest of the time in overlearning.

  • You can review your task and edit it to make it better
  • You can review the progress made or measure the improvement from the previous pomodoro (gamification)
  • You can learn something new. Read industry blogs, complete a course module, or work on networking opportunities

2. Batch similar tasks

Tasks like checking email and social media or setting up a meeting will not take 25 minutes. They can be grouped into one pomodoro time.

You’ll see better productivity when some of these little tasks are out of the way in one session than if they were scattered throughout the day.

3. Create a to-do list in advance

Plan the day’s work—either at the beginning of the day or at the end of the previous day. Create a to-do list with the tasks you must complete.

Estimate how many pomodoros each task will take. Consider scheduling no more than two pomodoros per hour. If you work for four hours per day, you have eight pomodoros scheduled.

If you have more than twelve tasks on your to-do list, move the low-priority ones over to the next day.

4. Don’t entertain distractions

Once the Pomodoro Technique timer starts ticking, you cannot work on anything other than your chosen task.

You don’t stop to quickly check the new email that has come in, you don’t take a brief Twitter break to tweet that cool thought you just had, and you don’t participate in the IM chat discussing the latest movie.

A pomodoro is an inviolable unit of time and should be religiously guarded. If requests or ideas come up, make a note of them for later.

What if you cannot put off the distraction? Let’s see how the pomodoro method deals with unavoidable interruptions.

The cost of distractions

According to research from Dr. Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, it takes an average of 23 minutes and fifteen seconds to return to your full flow once you’ve been interrupted?

Context switching, the phenomenon of jumping between tasks, costs you more brainpower, hampers concentration, and decreases productivity.

If you follow the Pomodoro Technique, you work in short bursts of focused work and are forced to concentrate on one task at a time. However, there are times when you cannot avoid distractions.

Cirillo offers two options when you get distracted:

1. You can end the pomodoro time, save/record your task, and return to the task later when you start a new session.

2. Or, you can use the inform, negotiate, schedule, and callback (INSC) strategy to postpone the distraction. It involves four steps:

  • Inform the person distracting you that you are working on an important task
  • Negotiate a time when you will attend to the person’s needs later
  • Follow-up immediately to schedule a meeting at the agreed time
  • Once your Pomodoro Technique timer rings, end your task and call the person back to deal with their request

How to create an actionable Pomodoro routine

Since the Pomodoro Technique focuses on how you work on your tasks and not on how you organize them, it can be used with methods like Kaizen, GTD (Get Things Done), Scrum, or Kanban.

You don’t have to work throughout the day using pomodoros.

You could schedule the morning hours into four pomodoros to complete the high-priority tasks and then go about the rest of your day relatively stress-free.

Here’s an actionable Pomodoro routine for you:

1. Plan your day

You can plan your day the previous evening or take the first fifteen minutes of the day to schedule your tasks.

Use a template like a project tracking template or an OKR template to help you categorize and prioritize tasks.

2. Estimate time taken

Create an estimate of the time taken by each task in pomodoros. If any task requires more than four pomodoros to complete, break it into smaller sub-tasks.

If there are twelve–fourteen tasks on your to-do list, consider moving some of them to the next day.

3. Work on the task

Now that you know what your schedule looks like, begin working on each task using a Pomodoro timer. Note down ideas and distractions to be tackled later.

Once your tasks are complete, check your to-do list to see if you need to do any more work. Low-priority tasks can be pushed to the next day.

4. Repeat the process every day

Work on your most important tasks in this way every day. With regular practice, you will find your concentration improving.

Try to improve the quality of work done in each pomodoro, and try to increase the number of pomodoros you can reasonably do in a day.

Treating it like a game helps with motivation.

Challenges of the Pomodoro Technique and how to overcome them

The Pomodoro Technique has its share of criticism because of its perceived rigidness. However, it allows for enough flexibility to enable people with various work and life situations and preferences to use the method effectively.

These modifications of the original pomodoro method are called pomodoro variations.

Some challenges that people face when practicing the Pomodoro method are:

1. Difficulty breaking down collaborative tasks

A common objection to the standard Pomodoro method is that it is difficult to break down tasks that require the involvement of many people.

Cirillo demonstrates how the Pomodoro Technique can be used to create a team timetable to achieve multiple goals and manage unplanned tasks, emergencies, and any kind of change.

You can optimize the collaboration between team members with pomodoros and prevent a jumble of emails, text messages, or phone calls interrupting your work.

2. Too many breaks

Another challenge that people face is when the short, five-minute breaks become a hindrance rather than a brain refresh, especially when a task cannot be completed within 25 minutes.

One way to work around this problem is to schedule pomodoros based on your natural rhythm and the nature of the task.

  • Try working for 90 minutes and then take a 30-minute break if you need to maintain your creative state for a longer period.
  • Research shows that working for 52 minutes and then taking a seventeen-minute break helps boost productivity.

Another way you can optimize the length of your pomodoros is to set them around your household chores, especially if you are a remote worker. For instance, you can work until it is time to pick up your child from the bus stop or you can complete a task while the washing machine cycle is on.

Use pockets of available time to fit in productive tasks, not aimless screen time.

Just don’t do away with your breaks altogether because they help your brain fight fatigue and sharpen focus.

3. Feeling anxious due to the ticking timer

Some people complain about feeling anxious due to the tick-tick sound of the timer. It probably reminds them of timed tests!

Instead of a manual timer, you can use music as a Pomodoro Technique timer. Choose timed pieces of music for specific tasks and play them when you work on those tasks.

A word of caution: Select music that promotes concentration and productivity, not pop music that distracts you.

Conclusion

The Pomodoro Technique is meant to boost productivity by helping you focus, not chain you to boxes of time. When applied correctly, it will help you make time your ally instead of fighting it throughout the day.

If your remote team applies the principles of the Pomodoro Technique in consultation with one another, it will help the team get through tasks smoothly by reducing interruptions and bottlenecks.

The technique is flexible enough to mold itself to your work situation and task complexity.

Once you get used to the Pomodoro Technique, there’s no looking back!