Career Development

Using the Pomodoro Technique to Master Time Management

March 30, 2020

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The Pomodoro Technique is an important time-management method people use to keep on track with their work. It relies on the principle that people work best when they take small breaks between bursts of work. If time management is a skill you'd like to develop, the Pomodoro Technique can help you do that. In this article, we explain the Pomodoro Technique and how to use it.

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What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management method developed and perfected by author and software developer Francesco Cirillo. In the late 1980s and early '90s, Cirillo used a small tomato-shaped timer to track the work he was doing at his university. Pomodoro means "tomato" in Italian, and is associated with the characteristics of the food timer Cirillo used to create his methodology.

The practice is simple: You work and take breaks in intervals. You take one five-minute break every 25 minutes and one longer break every 100 minutes. The concept that drives Pomodoro users is that you're more productive when you work in intervals and give your mind a chance to rest in between.

In theory, this helps people improve their stamina for working by breaking up work into segments that are more manageable. By scheduling time for an interruption, the technique looks to reduce the impact of unscheduled interruptions on flow. Interruptions during a Pomodoro can result in one of two outcomes—either you must abandon the Pomodoro and start over or log the interruption as something you need to return to if it's an item that should have been included in your original planning.

Critics of the technique prefer an approach that's less rigid. However, people who use the Pomodoro Technique appreciate it for helping them stay focused and refreshed through long projects and workdays.

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How to use the Pomodoro Technique

Use the Pomodoro Technique by following these steps:

  1. Determine your scope
  2. Have a timer and pen and paper ready
  3. Set your timer for 25 minutes
  4. Work on the task until the timer goes off
  5. Notate your break and take five minutes
  6. Every four Pomodoros, take an extended break

1. Determine your scope

To do this, decide what needs to be done. Maybe you are trying to get through a research paper or an extended workday with lots of small tasks, but whatever the case is, you need to start the Pomodoro Technique with a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. This may mean it's worth taking a few minutes at the start of your session to conceptualise what you need to accomplish in defined steps.

2. Have a timer and pen and paper ready

You only need three things to complete this simple technique: a pen, a piece of paper and a timer. You can use a cooking timer or the timer built into your smartphone's time software.

3. Set your timer for 25 minutes

Once you've prepared everything you need and you understand the scope of your project, you can start your timer. Each timer session is referred to as a Pomodoro and should last 25 minutes, followed by a short break. When you've completed four Pomodoros, you will take an extended break that lasts around 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Work on the task until the timer goes off

Work on your project until the timer goes off. Here are some tips to improve your focus during Pomodoro sessions:

  • Set small daily goals
  • Write out your tasks
  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise early each day

5. Notate your break and take five minutes

When the timer goes off, you simply notate your break on a sheet of paper. You can do this by creating a grid and filling it in with checkmarks every time you take a break.

6. Every four Pomodoros, take an extended break

Once you've completed four Pomodoros, you can give yourself a longer break to clear your mind before returning your focus to work. This allows you to feel refreshed in between long sessions of work to help your brain from tiring.

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Additional Pomodoro tips

Central to the Pomodoro Technique, users must develop a strong skill set for planning, recording and visualising, among other qualities. When planning your scope, using time-tested techniques, such as creating a list of things that need to be accomplished, makes this technique easier to use. While you are in a Pomodoro, you should be focusing on nothing but completing the task at hand, so it's important to have your day organised in a way that works for you for optimal success.

Another consideration is how to handle distractions. Because of the structured nature of the process, there is no room for distraction. An approach called "inform, negotiate, schedule, call back" can be deployed in situations when an interruption occurs that needs to be addressed at a later time, like when a coworker interrupts your Pomodoro.

Using this approach, you handle interruptions using the following strategy:

  • Inform: Be polite, but inform the person who needs your attention that you are busy at the moment.
  • Negotiate: Discuss and decide on a time when you can address the other person's needs.
  • Schedule: Schedule that time and confirm.
  • Call back: Call the other person back at the appropriate time to discuss their concern or directive.

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Advantage of using the Pomodoro Technique

For some people, approaches to time management have a number of benefits, including helping them develop time-management skills that can be used at work and on a resume. The Pomodoro Technique has a number of unique benefits, including:

  • Increased accountability: You can increase accountability by tracking work between sessions. When using the Pomodoro Technique, one option is to write down what you completed in each session at the end of the session. This can serve as a productivity report that managers will likely appreciate.
  • Physical and mental benefits: By allowing yourself small breaks or time to stand and walk around, you may improve how you feel mentally and physically during the workday.
  • Staying motivated: Pomodoro allows you to stay motivated because it breaks work up into smaller milestones, a similar tactic managers often use to keep employees engaged.
  • Improved planning: As you get familiar with the technique, you'll be able to determine in planning stages how many Pomodoro sessions you need to complete a task. This makes for more accurate planning and time management that can make the whole company more efficient.
  • Empowerment to manage distractions: The Pomodoro Technique lets users feel empowered to manage their own time and distractions. With techniques like inform, negotiate, schedule, call back, people have the ability to manage distractions on their own time.

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