Staying productive with the Pomodoro Technique

For anyone looking for a way to manage their time better and stay focused in the office, all it can take are a few simple rules, a timer and 25 minutes. That’s the idea behind The Pomodoro Technique, a dead simple concept that’s made a noticeable change for the better in my day to day workflow.

Distractions and productivity manifestos

Like many, my normal “plugged in” work environment is filled with distraction; Emails, instant messenger and questions from coworkers often compete with my attention on the task at hand. To stay focused I’ve tried many different productivity techniques with little success. Getting Things Done, one of the most popular productivity techniques among tech circles, never really clicked; the startup work and the perceived day to day complexity were a stumbling block. I struggled with how to fully organize my projects list, and clearing off my inbox of actionable items was a chore that took longer than I wanted.

Timers and simplicity

Enter The Pomodoro Technique (the moniker is derived from kitchen timers of the same name and shape) discovered after a late night Google search binge. The rules are at its core refreshingly simple:

  1. Set a timer for a defined work period, usually around 25 to 30 minutes.
  2. While the timer is running, work uninterrupted on a single, definable task. Abstain from even minor distractions like a quick email or IM check.
  3. After the timer finishes its countdown, unconditionally (even if in mid task) stop and take a quick non-work related break around three to five minutes in length.
  4. Repeat steps one through three until the work is done.

I’ve found this technique works best for shorter bursts in more distractable environments or during projects that require intense concentration. For those that prefer a bit more structure, an official Pomodoro Technique manual exists as a free PDF e-book. It recommends more measurements, to do lists and repeated Pomodoro cycles of work intertwinned with short breaks as the backbone behind a full work day. For me, while the book was a great read the additional structure was a bit much and took away from the zen-like simplicity of the technique’s centerpiece: a timed cycle between focused work periods.

Additional resources

While an old school egg timer or stopwatch works, I prefer my Pomodoro countdowns with what’s always around me: my iPhone or my Mac. For that I find the simple windup Pomodoro Timer iPhone app works best. For on the Mac or PC Focus Booster is a nifty little timer that, with its slick combination of soft gradients and Helvetica, looks great.

For further reading, the Pomodoro Technique official website (with the aforementioned free e-book) is an excellent starting point. I also liked a few interesting variations on the Pomodoro theme by popular writer Merlin Mann.