I spend a lot of time working on independent projects and results-based work. The time I put in is less important than the output I create. Distraction and procrastination are my mortal enemies, so I’m always looking for ways to increase my focus and concentration.
One technique I’ve used to increase focus involves time-blocking. You’re probably familiar with the concept: Set an egg timer for 20-40 minutes, work until the buzzer goes off, take a break, and repeat. This is ridiculously simple and, in my experience, quite effective. I like my egg timer so well I carried it with me to South Korea last year.
Recently I learned of the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is a well-defined method for working in time blocks. Each 25-minute block is called a pomodoro, and the tools are minimal: one kitchen timer, preferably the kind that ticks, a pen, and some paper. The Pomodoro Technique is delightfully uncomplicated. Once you know the basics, you can begin to use it immediately.
Time-blocking in general and the Pomodoro Technique in particular are effective ways to increase focus because they
- Provide great clarity. Before each pomodoro, you define your work. You know exactly what you’ll work on and for how long.
- Minimize the temptation to multi-task. When you define your work, you select only one task to work on. This makes it exceptionally easy to focus.
- Provide mini-deadlines. Deadlines work. Having one every 25 minutes makes it easy to stay on-task since the deadline is always immediate and approaching.
- Reduce internal interruptions and enforce self-discipline. When you start a session, you dedicate yourself to work only on your main task. Whenever you feel the need to do go off-task, it’s easy to convince yourself to wait until the end of the current pomodoro.
- Force you to become aware of your attention and focus. The ticking timer is a constant reminder of your current task.
- Give you plenty of breaks. Everybody loves breaks. By working in time blocks, you have one every 25 minutes.
I’m not going to say that this technique is a magic bullet. You still have to put in the work. However, I find this a wonderfully effective way to manage my attention and increase my focus.
How to Get Started With the Pomodoro Technique
Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, and you measure your work in tomatoes. When you define your tasks, you estimate how many tomatoes you’ll need to finish them. So far I’ve spent four tomatoes on this blog post. Fuzzy math? Maybe. Fun? Surprisingly.
As I said, this technique is easy to learn and requires no special tools. Even better, Francesco Cirillo, the creator of the Pomodoro Technique, has made his 45-page ebook available for free. You can read the entire book here
If you don’t want to read the book right now, here are the basic steps to help you get started.
- Define your tasks. You can do this first thing in the morning or before a work session.
- Set your timer for 25 minutes.
- Work on your task until the timer goes off.
- Take a 5-minute break between each session. Stretch, have some water or coffee but conserve your mental energy.
- After 4 sessions, take a 15-20 minute break.
Enjoy! If you’re new to either time-blocking or the Pomodoro Technique, try it out and leave me a comment and let me know how it works for you.
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Photo credit: araswami
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I wondered whether there were online egg timers….
e.ggtimer.com/pomodoro (pity it doesn’t tick)
Guess what I’ll be doing all day today! Will let you know how I get on.
Thanks for a great post – just what I needed.
Pomodoro is an awesome technique. But in some sort of way I don’t really seem to get it. After 5 min, I can’t stop with what I am doing.. Just need more training I suppose!
thankyou so much for this advice. it helped me to stay on-track and stop procrastinating. 😀
I made a tool to help people follow the pomodoro technique and get stuff done, you can give it a try at http://tomatoes.heroku.com