There are many tricks we can use to help motivate ourselves to do tricky work, to stick to time limits and ensure we don’t fall into Parkinson’s law of spending too much time on a task as every task fills the time allotted to it. One of the best little tricks that can really help you to stay motivate, plow through difficult work and not keep working when you really shouldn’t is the pomodoro technique. It’s a really simple system you may already be familiar with, but today I want to cover a few little tricks that could help you get more from the pomodoro technique, or find a use for it where previously you had written it off.
What is the pomodoro technique and why you should use it?
The pomodoro technique is essentially a system which regulates the time you work for and how long your breaks are. That’s it. It’s no more magical than that, yet it can lead to some surprising and wonderful benefits to your productivity.
- It limits the length of breaks you take, helping you to avoid procrastination.
- It stops you from continually working when you really should take a break (this is of great help your eyes, to stop you looking at a computer screen for too long. But also your mental freshness, often I find my best ideas come during my 5 minute pomodoro breaks).
- It helps motivate you to “just do one/two pomodoros” [I’m sure Eric would point out that as Pomodoro is the Italian for Tomato, the plural should be Pomodori]. By breaking your work into manageable chunks (only 25 minutes) it’s easy to agree that you have time to do one or two pomodoros, where as working on “the ninja report” might seem too daunting.
- It helps you work to a deadline. By setting a time limit you can encourage yourself to only spend one or two pomodoros on this task and so help avoid Parkinson’s law. Of course, your mind may push against this barrier and remind you that you can always extend past this time limit.
However, this problem will be more acute following other systems with greater flexibility. If a task will take longer than 25 mins you can just allow yourself two or more pomodoro slots.
When it works, it will promote you to really focus on your tasks for a set length of time, take a revitalising break and then come back with greater energy. However, it doesn’t always work and isn’t great for everyone. The biggest issues tend to come when a task really requires 30 mins or some awkward length of time (more on how to overcome that in a second), and for some people these artificial constraints just don’t work. It’s by no means perfect and for a long time I didn’t like it, however this year I started using it after I had a large writing project that I was avoiding and since then I have embraced it more and more.
With that in mind, here are some tricks I’ve found useful for the pomodoro technique.
1. Use an App
I love my electronic solutions, I never kept a journal before I started using an electronic option, I found it difficult and erratic to keep a todo list and calendar until I started using an electronic copy. The same was true of the pomodoro technique, although all you need to do is set a timer for either 25 minutes (of work) 5 minutes (for your short break) or 15 minutes (for your longer break) I found this too much friction to develop the habit. However, as soon as I picked up an app which automatically added these times and tracked how many pomodoros you did that day. This helps tell you when to start, rest, etc. A bonus idea is to track how many pomodoros you do a day in a journal or calendar so that you can see how motivate you were that day/week.
2. Add How Long You Think a Task Will Take to Your Todo List
One of the new tricks I’ve started to do is adding how long I expect a task to take in my todo list. This is easy in most todo list such as Wunderlist with hashtags, Todoist with labels or Omnifocus with contexts (or just using a shortcode in the title of the task). The benefit of adding times to your tasks is you can calculate how many tasks you can fit in a pomodoro season or how many pomodoro sessions you’ll need to complete a task. In general I stick to three levels of timing: 5mins, 20mins, 20mins+.
3. Schedule Time to Pomodoro
Moving on from the previous point, I schedule slots in my calendar for pomodoro sessions, often with a particular focus or topic like “writing”, “email” or “the ninja report”. Thinking about my time slots with pomodoro sessions in mind help me to make sure that I have time during the day to get some significant work done, it also helps me to just get started on some projects (often one of the hardest aspects.)
4. Pomodoro Your Relaxation
If you don’t like using the pomodoro technique for work then you might find this alternative good. You can use the pomodoro technique for relaxation as well. Instead of playing computer games for 3 hours straight, set a pomodoro calendar and then you are told to get off after 25 minutes. You can even use it to promote you to do some exercise (it’s only 25 mins right?) or read a book (just do 25 mins today) and ensure you get a variety of entertainment rather than defaulting to your bad habits [speaking of my own fault here].
5. Pomodoro Your Social Media Time
Social media is possibly one of the greatest time sinks on the internet. I mean greatest in both quantity and quality. Social media can be a great way to establish connections with people on the other side of the world or do amazing thing (hey, we wrote a book about how powerful social media can be for the church). At the same time it can also take up so much time that it is hard to do anything else. I recently set up the “stay focused” chrome extension to only allow me on Facebook for 15 mins a day (after previously being 25 mins) to ensure that I don’t get caught on there all day. Plus it encourages me to speed around rather than slowly scrolling a long. Unfortunately I don’t know of a way to do the same limit on a mobile device, but scheduling time in the evening or morning to process your social media can be a great way to avoid staying stuck online, especially when you add in a pomodoro timer app.
6. Use Your Pomodoro Break to Work Out
If you struggle to find time to go to the gym or keep healthy then using a pomodoro break can be a great tool. It’s easy to just do some light exercise for 5 minutes, and if you do this 10 or so times during your day, you’ve done just under an hour of exercise. PLUS you’ll get blood pumping and help revitalise yourself if you’ve been doing very boring work. And if you need some ideas for exercise to do at your desk, check out these routines.
Do You Use the Pomodoro Technique?
These are just a few ideas I’ve used with the pomodoro technique, I’ve found it to be very useful for myself but I know some people just don’t like it. I’d love to know if you use the pomodoro technique (and any tricks you have) or if you don’t use it, then why you don’t.