I’ve been testing the pomodoro technique for the last 24 hours. I’m using it right now while writing this blog post. It’s already made me more productive and efficient – I think.

I first read about the technique last year sometime over on the Buffer blog. It sounded intriguing but I wasn’t really in a position to actually try it out – at work in particular I was in the middle of several intense projects and it really wasn’t the time to start experimenting with alternative productivity approaches.

So here’s how it works:

  1. Decide on the task to be done
  2. Set the pomodoro timer to n minutes (traditionally n = 25)
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down, but immediately get back on task.
  4. After the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper
  5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 1
  6. Else (i.e. after four pomodoros) take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1

And yes, I did just copy and paste that from the pomodoro Wikipedia page.

As you can see, it’s really very simple, which is part of why I didn’t give it a go back in 2015 – I was sceptical of it’s potential to genuinely help, and dismissed it as something of a wishy-washy technique that couldn’t possibly apply to my life.

Then, last night, I gave it a quick whirl. And it was effective. By splitting tasks into 25 minute bursts, it becomes very easy to remain focused. When you have a 2 hour slog ahead of you, the tendency is to hunt around for any kind of distraction – whether it’s a different, more fun piece of work, or a cup of tea, or a biscuit, or a chat with your spouse/colleague etc etc – but a 25 minute task is far more approachable.

25 minutes is nothing, my brain subconsciously thinks. Which means I don’t check Twitter, or my phone’s notifications, or my email, or find myself reading the Guardian or Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

That’s all very well for what I was writing at home. But surely it couldn’t possibly work in my super-busy and complex work environment, where there’s always multiple on-going projects and priority tasks with important dependencies and colleagues relying on my to Do Stuff?

Primarily, I’d assumed that 25 minutes wouldn’t be enough to be truly productive but it turns out that a remarkable amount can be accomplished in under half an hour, as long as you’re 100% in the zone. In a work context, that means remaining totally focused on that specific task, rather than being distracted by other tasks (which are probably also important, but can wait).

Then comes that all-important ‘short break’. Which can mean anything you want, I think – at work, for instance, that doesn’t mean I put YouTube on and watch cat videos for five minutes. Instead, I use that opportunity to go get a drink, or converse with colleagues on some other work matter, or check emails. Or even to just stretch my legs and give my screen-eyes a rest by looking out the window.

And then you’re back in the zone, on the next task. Which might simply be a continuation of the previous task – some things obviously do take longer than 25 minutes – but you’re now refreshed and ready to dive back in and, again: properly focused.

Both at work and at home it’s not possible to follow the technique to the letter. If somebody comes up and asks me something, I’m not going to tell them to go away until I finish my pomodoro. If my boss asks me to do something urgent which won’t take long, I’ll do it. That’s fine. But in those cases I’ll stop the pomodoro and then restart it from the beginning.

I’m using an app called My Effectiveness on Android to do the actual timings. I’m sure there are probably a million other timers you can find with pomodoro built-in– OH LOOK HERE’S ONE.

None of this would matter if I got to the end of the day having been less productive. But the exact opposite happened – I accomplished more tasks and a wider range of tasks today than normal. I completed tasks faster and more efficiently than normal – tasks which might otherwise have been spread over several days, or been delayed for a week before I got to them, are now already finished.

It’s early days, of course. Comparing a single day of pomodoro technique to many years of working without it doesn’t prove anything. But it was certainly an interesting experiment which appears to have had a positive impact on my work efficiency and quality. On top of that, challenging myself to adhere to pomodoro timings was actually quite fun in itself.

And here’s the final thing – I’ve now managed to write out this 800+ blog post inside of a single 25 minute pomodoro. I’ll now publish this, take a 5 minute break and then begin my next task.

I sense this is going to be a highly productive evening.

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