Task Lists and Productivity: Part 2 – The Pomodoro Technique

9 mins read

This article is written to give you an overview of the Pomodoro Technique for productivity, which combines strict time-management with priority lists.

Tomato, Tomahto

How many times have you sat down to work on a task and manage to get through 5-10 minutes before something else comes up? Don’t be ashamed, you are not alone. Most of us are constantly bombarded with emails and texts, flyaway thoughts, or well-meaning colleagues poking their head in the door. While this happens to many, it is also true that many people don’t have the systems in place to regulate these distractions and get work done in a timely, organized fashion. This is where Francesco Cirillo’s method comes in handy: the Pomodoro Technique.

For those who are not fluent in Italian or have not recently ordered spaghetti al pomodoro at their local eatery, pomodoro is Italian for tomato. In the 1980s, Francesco Cirillo was a university student and, while trying to organize his studies and assignments, came up with a technique that has now been used by over 2 million people. Using a tomato timer. Cirillo’s idea was to create a system in which one works for timed periods with no distractions and is allowed timed breaks in between, before diving back in for more uninterrupted work.

The Pomodoro Technique in 5 Steps

Step 1: Establish Your Most Important Task

Before you begin working, you need to figure out where to start! The best place to begin is by establishing what your most important task is for the day. Often, the most important task is also the most difficult or procrastinated upon task. Some days it may be clear to you which the most important task is, other days you may need to choose whichever of your top few will be the most difficult.

When all else fails, it is best to get the difficult tasks done first so you can put them behind you. Once you’ve established your most important task and have jotted it down, write down your next 2 tasks, your secondary tasks of importance. These are tasks that, in an ideal world, get done within the same time period as your most important task, but may not be quite as pressing.

Finally, jot down any other tasks you would like to get done. These are tasks that can likely be pushed to the next day if there isn’t time, but ideally you would like to complete today.

Step 2: Plan Your Pomodoro

Now that you have organized your tasks by level of importance, plan out how many pomodoros you think each task will take. A pomodoro is a made-up unit of time, often 25 minutes long, in which you will work uninterrupted. Between each pomodoro, you will take a timed, 5-minute break. Consider your most important and secondary important tasks and determine how many pomodoros each should take. Jot down how many pomodoros you expect each task to take, leave space to keep track of the pomodoros you need as you work, and then leave a designated spot to write down the number of pomodoros you actually needed.

Depending on your task, there are 2 potential methods to executing the Pomodoro Technique:

1. Get It Done – Oriented on task-completion. Allocate pomodoros to complete the task, and use more if necessary. This is best if you need to complete a project before moving forward.

2. Hit the Target – Pomodoro-specific. Allocate how many pomodoros you want to do in a day, and once you have completed those and feel satisfied, stop, and move to something else. This method is best if you are working on a project without a definable end, typically a project that will take longer than one day.

Step 3: Remove Any Distractions

Distractions are the number one killer of workplace productivity, often coming in the form of smartphones, emails, and other people. To most effectively use your pomodoro time, take steps to minimize distraction.

First, turn your smartphone to airplane mode, so you will receive no notifications. Next, minimize or close down your email. Unless you know there is a critical-response email coming your way, there is no reason for you to check your email. Anything that comes through can be reviewed once your task is completed. If you are able, close the door to your office and let others know that for a brief time, you will be working on a priority task.

Step 4: Begin Your Pomodoro

It’s time to begin! Set your timer, tomato or otherwise, for 25 minutes and get to work. Remember that there is no such thing as a half pomodoro! This means that even if you’ve been working for 20 minutes and stop, you have not completed a pomodoro and will need to start your timer over again. It’s okay if your mind drifts a bit, just be sure to refocus yourself and get back to it without veering off into side-projects or other task-items. Once you’ve gotten used to doing 25-minute work “sprints,” try experimenting by upping your time to 30 minutes, 35, and so on.

Step 5: Use Your Breaks Wisely

Before you know it, the timer will go off, and you will have completed your pomodoro! Set your timer for 5 minutes and take a small break. Grab a glass of water, stretch, and decompress for a few minutes before getting back to it. It is strongly suggested that you don’t check your email, social medias, or texts. Doing this will cause your mind to start working on something else. Try to stay in the moment during these breaks and allow yourself a respite from external distractions. Once your 5 minutes are up, it’s time to get back to it! As a general rule, after 4 pomodoros, allow yourself a longer rest. Go for a 15-30 minute break, and depending on how many pomodoros you had scheduled, come back for more afterwards.

Time to Succeed!

Through this method of establishing task priorities, giving yourself specifically timed periods in which to work, and eliminating distractions, you will see drastic increases in your time and task management, productivity, and ability to stay focused on one task at a time. It may seem odd to base your work on a tomato timer, but as you get used to the Pomodoro technique, its benefits will prove its value.

Pro Tip: When you try new productivity methods, one day won’t cut it. Try the Pomodoro technique for at least a week, if not two, to really see if it’s right for you!

Stay tuned for the 3rd article in this series, in which we will discuss another time and task-management method: Calendar Blocking.

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