Pomodoro Technique – what is it and why important?

So let’s get one thing straight – the Pomodoro is not an Italian tomato, not in this context anyway, but rather it is a time management technique. More on this later but first the Parkinson law. We know already that Parkinson’s law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. In other words, if you have to write a report and you allocate a whole afternoon to this then you will likely find that the report gets finished within that time. However if you reduce the allocated time by, say 20%, then you will also find that the report gets finished within that time. Obviously there is a limit to it, but what is important is the time that we allow ourselves to complete a task. Another example, if you decide to spend time on three occasions a day to check email and allocate a finite time to this then you are more likely to complete that task within that time. A set time allows us to have a finish line before us which we have to reach, and so we pace ourselves accordingly. 

We also know that focused time can be at a premium. Life is full of distractions and I would say more now than ever before. We live in a time of always being connected and this can also lead to be being always distracted. 

Pomodoro – In a nutshell what is it?

So what we need is to find a finite amount of time to carry out a task and stay focused during this period so to ensure that we complete as much as possible. This is where the Pomodoro Technique comes in (although why it is called that is not important). It is an allocation of a short time (usually 25 minutes) that allows us to stay focused. Then you have a short break following these sprints to stay creative and productive while keeping a higher level of motivation. Following this technique is really easy:
  1. Choose a task.
  2. Set a timer to 25 minutes.
  3. Work on the task until the timer goes off.
  4. Record the time spent on the task with an “x”.
  5. Take a short break, say…5 minutes.
  6. Repeat the above process four times.
  7. After every four tasks completions ( or “pomodoros”), take a longer break – anywhere between 15–20 minutes.

Here is a short video that explains it in under 2:30 minutes.

Pomodoro – how to deal with distractions?

Ok so you have set the clock (there are several apps and online clocks) but just when you are in the flow, a colleague distracts you. What do you do? You have two choices; either you defer the Pomodoro or the distraction. It is important not to divide the Pomodoro and so break the flow.  If you opt for the latter then the strategy should be the inform, negotiate and call back. Let’s go through each
  • Inform – let the (distracting) person know that you are in the middle of something that you need to finish.
  • Negotiate – quickly establish when you can return to them to deal with the new thing that has just come up. At this point you are letting them know that you got it but also give them  time frame. Make a note of it quickly so that you also know it is scheduled.
  • Call Back – you have set the expectation in the second step so when the Pomodoro is finished attack the issue that came up. Doing this will help you to stay focused.

Pomodoro – is it effective?

The short answer is Yes. The Pomodoro can be a great way if you struggle with:
  1. not enough time in the day
  2. not being able to finish things
  3. work vs personal time balance
  4. distraction
We all struggle at times to keep the focus high and not to be distracted. As a technique the Pomodoro can be used to achieve much in short sprints. It can be used in to compliment various other methodologies such as GTD, Scrum, Kaizen and the like. The beauty however is not only in its effectiveness but also in its simplicity. implementation effort is  cost and effectiveness in the way you apply it is high.
Oh and the name? Pomodoro is Italian for Tomato. It was invested by Francesco Cirillo who named it after a tomato shaped kitchen timer he used during his studies to track productivity. Visit the official website for more information.

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