Pomodoro Technique: Productivity's Secret Sauce

Continuing Productivity Week here at the blog, I wanted to talk today about a technique that really helps me focus on specific tasks and achieve dramatically increased productivity. It's called the Pomodoro Technique. Tomato sauce

The technique is very simple to implement, but contains tremendous power for creating focus within your day, in bite-sized blocks of time. Best of all, it has almost no barriers to entry, and you can start it today with equipment and tools you already have.

Science is disclosing that multitasking is a myth. We all stink at it. Men and women alike. Worse yet, it's something that we don't learn to get better at, we actually get progressively worse at it over time! So the more we try to multitask, working on code while tweeting and watching Law & Order: South Beach and talking with our spouse on the phone, the less effective we are at any of it!

The Pomodoro Technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo, using nothing but a pencil, paper, and a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. In Italian, pomodoro means tomato. By forcing himself to focus intensely for brief periods during his student years, he discovered that he could accomplish amazing amounts of work, not by multi-tasking, but by serially single-tasking. Thankfully, he shared this with the world.

Here's the prescription:

  1. Pick the task you're going to work on during this Pomodoro.
  2. Set the timer for 25 minutes.
  3. Work on the selected task until the timer rings. Work on nothing else. Don't answer the phone, don't check your email. Don't look out the window, don't let your mind wander. Maintain your focus as completely as you can. Like any skill, this takes practice. You'll get better at this with time, so don't beat yourself up if it's hard at first.
  4. When the timer rings, check off the task from your list and take a short break. Set the timer for 5 minutes. Stretch, walk around, get some coffee, have a brief chat with someone. Just don't start anything that can't be finished in 5 minutes.
  5. After 4 Pomodoros, take a longer break (15-30 minutes).

The Pomodoro book, also available as a PDF download, goes into great depth about planning and estimation, but I tend to use the technique on a more ad-hoc basis, picking the tasks that are most pressing at any given moment and using Pomodoros to focus my efforts. For my daily workflow, this works. For others, planning and estimation might be a better solution.

Tools

You can begin with nothing but a piece of paper, a pencil, and some sort of timer (a wind-up kitchen timer is ideal, but any countdown timer would work) that can easily be set to 5 minutes or 25 minutes.

To avoid distractions, consider adding headphones, or closing your office door (if possible). Changing your physical location can work wonders. Turn your phone off. Use a social media blocker like Anti-Social on your computer.

If you're a nerd like me, that's never quite enough. Excellent tools exist for us as well. Chromodoro is a Google Chrome plugin which delivers Pomodoro timer functionality into the browser. On the iPhone, I use Pomodoro Pro, though several other apps exist as well.

Finally, let me leave you with this video, which I hope you find as inspiring and entertaining as I did.

How could you apply the Pomodoro Technique to your life or work today?

Photo CC by Rolando Junior Lattanzi