Using the Pomodoro Technique to Get Stuff Done
Ever heard of “working in pomodoros”? It’s a system where you set your time to work in hyper-focused stints and you DO get more done.
It’s called a “pomodoro” because the first person to use the concept happened to have a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato… and it stuck.
This article is all about the benefits + how to start working in “poms”.
I made a video about the benefits of using pomodoros - there are alpacas in it too. Click here to watch!
Why do pomodoros work so well (for most people)?
1. Working on a timer keeps you focused
Setting a timer to work on a specific project means there’s not much room for other things.
You know the timer is going off in exactly 25 minutes (or whatever time you’ve got allocated for this task), and you know that’s exactly the time you NEED to do this. Yes, there’s a bunch of laundry waiting and you need to answer emails and maybe you’d like a snack or to go check on your garden… but if you do any of that, you’ll miss the deadline. 25 minutes is all you have, so you’ll need to stay focused.
And you get to do all those other things during the break. Or (if there’s a lot of emails to reply to, or laundry has been piling up) - you’ll do those other things in their own pomodoro slot.
Worst case scenario… imagine you DO get distracted.
You’re working on an email, but then you realise your website needs some updating, and wouldn’t it be great to create a new lead magnet to put on that website?
In normal times, you’d spend the rest of the morning working on that lead magnet. If you had a timer on, that timer will go off… and you’ll realise you really need to answer that one email.
Take a breath, take a break, and get back to your email as soon as the break is over. That lead magnet idea is pretty cool, but you’ll be able to work on it after you did what you were planning to do… just add it to the to-do list for some other time.
2. Great to create some “imperfect action”
We’ve all been there - there’s this small thing we need to do and we KNOW we could get it done in about 20 minutes, but we feel like we’re on a roll and end up spending 3 hours on the thing. A website, graphics, a blog post, an email…
That’s great when you’ve got unlimited time - but when there’s 101 other things on your to-do list, you just need to get that one thing done. So give yourself a specific amount of time to finish it (the duration of one pomodoro… or maybe even 2-3 poms… as long as you think you’ll NEED to get it done). By the end of that time, you’ve got your thing; if you happen to have extra time left at the end of the day you can always go back and improve on it… but at least it’s done.
The other way works as well - those tasks we procrastinate on because we think (or we know) it’s going to cost us so much time. In my experience, just planning to work on it for one pomodoro can at least create a bit of momentum to get the project started.
One example of that is my admin. I don’t enjoy doing finances, invoicing, payments etc. I used to procrastinate on it , and leave it until the day I HAD to file my tax returns.
Nowadays, I’ve got 3 pomodoros dedicated to doing random admin tasks every single week. I still don’t like getting started - but having that time carved out every single week creates a routine and forces me to do something with it… and my admin folders have never been so tidy :-)
3. You can use it for more than just “work”
As mentioned above, pomodoro slots can be used for far more than just “work-work”. Housekeeping and tidying, gardening, random chores; use it for anything that you either get carried away with (like reading a book or playing a game) - or for things you tend to half-ass (like when you decide to declutter the kitchen, and end up sitting behind your desk after only 10 minutes).
How long should you set the pomodoro timer for?
The standard length of a pomodoro is 25 minutes - after which you’d take a 5 minutes break. After 4 pomodoros, you’d take a longer break.
This is usually the sequence I like to stick to when coworking as well; 25 minutes work, 5 minutes break, then we reconvene for a pep talk and start the timer at 25 minutes again.
When working on creative stuff (like writing a blog post, or recording videos), I find a longer “focus time” can be good; I’d go up to 50 minutes. After 50 minutes, I really need to stretch my legs, get a drink, and check my messages.
One variation I like to use on Saturdays (when I technically don’t work, but sometimes need to finish up a few things) goes as follows:
17 minutes “work” (on the computer)
17 minutes housework (laundry, tidying, cleaning)
17 minutes “break” (hey, it’s Saturday after all!)
Doing this for a few hours helps me get LOADS done (you never realise how much housework you can get done in 17 minutes until you set a timer on it!) - and thanks to the long breaks, I still feel like I’ve had a pretty leisurely Saturday morning.
How to get more focused with pomodoros
Here are my recommendations to make pomodoros really work for you. Try it for a few days - and maybe after that, you can tweak it to best fit your needs and situation.
1. Prepare so you don’t get distracted
When using the pomodoro technique, preparation is everything. Before you get to work, make sure everything is set - so you don’t get distracted while you’re working.
A few examples of things to do before you start the timer:
Take a bathroom break
Get something to drink (and maybe a snack?)
Turn off notifications on your phone - or mute your phone completely
Stretch your legs
Let the dog in, or out (so they don’t bother you while you work)
Plan what you’re going to work on (see next)
Muting your phone is pretty important; even if you’re not looking at it, hearing messages coming in makes it hard to keep focused.
What if it’s something important? Urgent? —> There’s rarely something SO urgent that it can’t wait 20 minutes. I usually mute all notifications - but still allow it to ring. If it’s really important, people will call instead of message.
2. Define what you’re going to work on in the next “pom”
You don’t want to start each pomodoro slot with “let’s see what I’m going to work on this time”. If you need to do some planning, do it during one single pom at the beginning of the day (or even better, the day before - you can use this Daily Planning Toolkit to help with that!).
Before you start, know exactly what you’re going to work on during the 17, or 25, or 50 minutes that follow; that reduces the chances of procrastination - and of getting distracted when your first task is done and you still have plenty of time left.
3. Utilise the breaks
Breaks are the most powerful part of working in pomodoros - for me, it was a major epiphany.
Taking a “forced” break (even when you’re on a roll) often ends up being a blessing.
Here are a few things I often do during breaks:
Do the dishes
Do the laundry
Feed the chickens and gather eggs - or feed and water the alpacas
Do some yoga
The fun thing - while I’m busy doing other things, I’ll often get insights on the stuff I was working on, that will make the work afterwards go much smoother. Plus adding in those breaks makes it easier for me to stay focused while I’m working.
Instead of spending your days sitting down and getting up after 4-5 hours of non-stop work, feeling stiff and being shocked at the state of your house - you could work the same amount of time (minus 6-7 breaks) but get more “work-work” done - AND keep the non-work tasks are much more under control on top of that.
Keep on track with coworking
Some people enjoy working alone and are disciplined enough to put on the timer AND take their breaks… for others, a little accountability can be a good thing.
One way of creating some peer accountability when working with pomodoros is to join a virtual coworking community. Some businesses will offer a coworking space to their remote employees and subcontractors - for others, it’s a matter of getting organised.
You can read more about coworking (its benefits, and how to get started with it) in this article. If you happen to be in Europe and are looking for a coworking circle to join, check out this page for more info on mine.