This July, Casper Magazine’s EIC Maria has been showcasing some of the techniques she uses to improve her work productivity, such as the Eisenhower Matrix. But as the month comes to a close, some of our staff will be sharing our favourite strategies for keeping on task.
As a writer, I often find my time getting away from me in one of two ways. Either my thoughts start to wander and I become easily distracted, or I get so fixated on finishing my task that I forget to step back when feeling stuck, ultimately getting less done than if I’d taken time to refresh. When I’m having a bad day, the Pomodoro Technique can help with both of these problems, structuring my time into bursts of productivity and breaks for recovering my energy.
The Pomodoro Technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo while he was at university in the 1980s. Finding it difficult to focus while studying, he grabbed a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato and set himself ten minutes to concentrate solely on his work. This initial brainwave is where the technique gets its name – ‘pomodoro’ is Italian for tomato. When Cirillo found that the timer really helped him, he experimented and refined the idea into the technique known across the world today.
The Pomodoro Technique outlines a way to block out your time so that you can use it more efficiently.
First, define the task you need to get done. For me, that’s usually writing an article, but you could also set out some planning, a research dive, or even string together a series of small admin tasks on a clear checklist. Knowing what you’re focusing on means you know what activities will count as getting off course.
Second, set yourself a timer for twenty-five minutes. Whether it’s on a phone or a kitchen timer, keep the countdown in view of your workspace.
Third, focus exclusively on your chosen task until the timer rings. No side-tracks, no checking notifications, just getting as much done as you possibly can on the job at hand.
Fourth, take a five-minute break. Step away from your work to stretch, check your phone, or get a hot drink. Make sure you have a timer for this, too, so you don’t miss the cut off time.
Congratulations, you’ve just completed one Pomodoro (one block of twenty-five minutes work + five minutes break)!
Fifth, repeat the cycle until you’ve managed three or four Pomodoros. Then, take a longer break of fifteen to thirty minutes.
Depending on your own work preferences and what you’re trying to achieve, you can also alter the timespans. If I’m doing a task where twenty-five minutes isn’t enough to build up momentum, I switch into blocks of forty-five minutes’ work with fifteen-minute breaks. On the other hand, for really short and boring tasks, I cut back to fifteen-minute bursts with two-minute breaks.
The Pomodoro Technique works for me because it takes the guilt out of managing my breaks. When I find my thoughts starting to drift or energy start to deplete, seeing that I’ve got just seven more minutes until I can let my focus run wild helps me power through that little bit more of my task before fully enjoying my time away from it.
And did I mention that the Pomodoro Technique is great for getting work done in the company of friends and colleagues? It’s hard to underestimate the excitement of spending twenty-five minutes in silence as everyone focuses on their own thing before you all burst to life during your five-minute break and chat about everything you were holding back during the work block.
While a plain old timer works just fine to keep track of your blocks, there are also a lot of apps that integrate additional features, like automatically switching between work and break periods. Personally, I’m a fan of Forest, which rewards you with a little tree for every successful Pomodoro and has a program for planting real trees to help save the planet, but this article has a list of apps with other useful features.
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