: Keeping It Simple

the timer used by Francesco Cirillo to develop the Pomodoro Technique

The thing I hate about most productivity advice (as I think I’ve said before in this space) is that it assumes that unproductive people procrastinate or get distracted because they are not organized enough. But some of us are beautifully organized and still have trouble being productive — because we are stressed out or depressed or worried about a particular issue and as a result simply cannot focus on the task at hand.

That’s where the Pomodoro Technique comes in. Unlike most productivity books, The Pomodoro Technique does not require the user to set up a whole new system of organization. There are no context-based task lists, complicated virtual or physical organizers to set up, or filing systems to implement. If you are depressed, anxious or worried, and try to implement a typical getting things done system, your will to get something done will be used up by the time you set up your new organizational system — leaving you even further behind on your work and more worried than ever.

The Pomodoro Technique, though, you can try right away. While Pomodoro refers to the tomato shaped kitchen timer that the author chose to use, you can start by setting an alarm using your cell phone or an online alarm clock — or even an ordinary alarm clock. Chances are that you have some form of timer available to you somewhere — no procrastinating going out to buy the perfect timer! The system is simple: set your timer for 25 minutes, and sit down to work. If you are distracted by worries, thoughts, and the sudden desire to do laundry, tell yourself that whatever it is can wait until your 25-minute Pomodoro is done.

I tried this system and it works. I modified it, of course (I love tweaking other people’s productivity systems) — I made my Pomodoros 30 minutes long instead of 25, so that I could record the Pomodoros on my time sheet more easily without having to calculate what percentage of an hour 25 minutes adds up to. (I avoid opportunities to do math at all costs.) According to the rules of the Pomodoro Technique, if you stop in the middle of a Pomodoro to do something else, it doesn’t count. You can’t record half a Pomodoro. You have to throw that Pomodoro out and start over. That one simple rule activates (and harnesses) my obsessive nature, so that I feel I truly cannot stop what I am doing until the timer goes off. (You see, neurotic obsessions can be harnessed as forces of good, not merely as evil temptresses of procrastination.)

There is one more rule you’ll want to keep in mind if you try this technique. After each Pomodoro, take a five minute break and do something that might normally tempt you to procrastinate. Go throw that load of laundry in the washer, or do the dishes. Or spend five minutes on Facebook (in which case I’d recommend you set your timer to make sure that you stop after five minutes in order to get back to another Pomodoro).

Why does the Pomodoro Technique work? I believe that it works because the units of time are short — it would really be embarrassing if you couldn’t focus for 25 minutes! — and because it harnesses our natural OCD tendencies in order to use them for getting things done. And it’s simple: no trips to the office supply store, no new filing systems, no downloading new to do list software — just setting a timer and getting to work. You can start right now if you want to. All you need is your work, a timer, and a 25-minute block of time.

For more information, visit http://www.pomodorotechnique.com.

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