Do you find yourself staring into space when you should be working? Fidgeting with a pen when you should be focusing? Stressing at the last minute because time has just flown by? Most of us can relate to these scenarios. After all, procrastination is a very widespread phenomenon, but it's definitely not something you want to partake in regularly.
Occasionally when we find ourselves procrastinating, it's a sign that we need to step back and refuel our creative juices. Other times, though, we need a strategy that can help us buckle down and put our focus where it really counts. That's the only way for us to stay productive throughout the day and ultimately finish the things we need to get done.
Of course, beating procrastination isn't as simple as snapping your fingers (or snapping rubber bands at your coworker's desk). That's why the Pomodoro technique has been studied time and time again as the most effective strategy for stopping procrastination and reclaiming your productivity.
What Is The Pomodoro Technique?
This highly effective technique has been voted the number one productivity method on multiple occasions and comes top-ranked by entrepreneurs and websites alike. But, what is it?
The Pomodoro Technique isn't as old as you may think. It was actually created in the early 1990s by Francesco Cirillo, a developer, author, and entrepreneur. He named the system so because of the tomato-shaped timer that sat on his desk during his days as a university student. It was that same timer that he used to track his most productive minutes.
The Methodology Behind It
The methodology behind the Pomodoro Technique is actually quite simple. When you find yourself faced with a large task or a series of tasks, simply break that work up into short, timed intervals. Cirillo called these intervals Pomodoros. You should include a short break between each one.
This method basically trains your brain to focus for a few minutes at a time, which helps you stay on top of your deadlines and duties. It can even help you improve your concentration and attention span over time.
What makes it different, and more effective, than simply sitting down at your desk with a pile of work in front of you is that, with Pomodoros, there is an end in sight. You tell yourself, "Okay, I'm going to focus for _____ and then take a break."
Your brain is going to be able to commit to that better than simply sitting down to a full day of work where you'll likely fail to see the individual duties (and how much time they'll take) and probably get overwhelmed by just how much stuff there is to do.
The Pomodoro Technique is a cyclical system. Your brain commits to working in short sprints, which boosts productivity ten-fold. Your regular breaks will help bolster motivation and also foster creativity while still giving you plenty of time to reserve your title as number one office chair racer.
How To Use The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is extremely easy to implement, and that's another reason why it is so effective. Unlike other productivity methods where you may need to spend a lot of time in the planning phase, looking at your day planner and figuring out what has priority, the Pomodoro Technique can be kept incredibly simple.
All you really need to get started with the Pomodoro Technique is a timer. You don't need an app, a book, or any tools to get going with it. Here are five steps to get you going with the Pomodoro Technique in no time at all:
1. Choose a task to complete.
2. Set the Pomodoro (your timer) to 25 minutes.
3. Work until the timer rings, then put a check on a piece of paper.
4. Take a short break. Keep it for around 5 minutes.
5. With every 4 Pomodoros (intervals) you complete, take a longer break of up to 30 minutes.
Now, when it comes to choosing a task to complete, here’s a tip: Just pick one. You know you have to get it all done, so don’t overthink it. If they have to be ordered in a certain way or if one really does have top priority, select them first, but there’s no reason to sit there and plan out the order and time commitment of each task. That’s over-complicating the process and ultimately making you less productive.
It's also important to note that a Pomodoro should not be broken up in any way. If a meeting, or co-worker, or an emergency of some kind interrupts a Pomodoro, you need to end it there and start a new one later. So, you can't leave 10 minutes in and then come back later and say you only have another 15 minutes until you take a break. It would simply work against the uninterrupted, highly productive focus you're trying to train your brain to commit to.
Interruptions will happen, of course, so always try to delay the interruption until after your Pomodoro is complete. For instance, if someone calls, ask if you can call them back in about 15 minutes. If it can't be postponed, stop your Pomodoro and start a new one when you get back.
Process vs. Product
When you are working on something, what are you thinking about more: The process you're following to complete it, or the product/outcome you'll see at the end of it?
While everyone looks at things a bit differently, most people find themselves becoming demotivated when they have a product-focused approach. If you are just focused on the outcome, it can devalue the work you are doing.
Instead, focusing on the process you're following to complete a given task will help you build a habit. This is important because it completely changes your source of commitment and motivation.
When you are taking a product-based approach to something, you are just concerned with the outcome. You are working towards that outcome and not thinking about the process you're following to get to it. It's easy to get demotivated and your entire work process relies on you maintaining the willpower to reach that outcome.
This is especially troublesome with larger tasks and with processes that may have a very far-off product or outcome to them. You'll be focused on the product itself and quickly lose motivation as you put more time in yet don't really see yourself getting closer to that end result. While you are making progress, you aren't focused on the process that you are moving through. You have tunnel vision and you're only thinking about the end product.
On the other hand, when you take a process-based approach, you don't have to rely on your willpower or motivation to reach the end product. While you may have some, a process-based approach isn't inspired by the end product. Rather, a process-based approach is building good habits that encourage productivity throughout the process, regardless of how close or far off the end product may be.
It is always more reliable to be fueled by habit, something you're willing and able to do without much thought than to be fueled by the desire to reach an end goal. This applies to everything in life. It's why athletes turn their exercise routines into habits. It's why successful entrepreneurs turn fundamental business activities into habits. It's why you should be turning your day-to-day work process into a habit.
Reclaiming Your Work Day
With the Pomodoro Technique and a process-based approach, you’ll quickly begin to see your attitude shift. No longer will you walk into work with a big wall of to-dos in front of you. Instead, you’ll walk in and instantly pick out one or two tasks you need to get done, sit down, and start working on them.
You’ll be motivated to keep going throughout the day because of the short, well-timed breaks you are allowing yourself. You’ll have plenty of time to get up, get coffee, and make small talk while ultimately becoming one of the most productive workers in your office.
As you complete your Pomodoros, you’ll find that your focus will improve greatly, perhaps even to the point where you’d prefer to sit down for 30 or 35 minutes at a time. As your focus improves, you’ll also find it easier to sit back down and get back into the zone even after interruptions occur in the middle of an interval.
By the time your work day has ended, you’ll find yourself being ahead of the curve rather than trying to keep up with it. That’s the power the Pomodoro Technique holds!
You don’t really need anything to get started other than a timer, so what’s your excuse? The first Pomodoro session is always the toughest, but once you begin to form a habit based on this technique, you’ll find your focus and productivity improving ten-fold.