I am not somebody who is particularly good at managing their time. I get distracted easily, have too many competing interests, and like everyone else, am being pulled in too many directions at any given time. Determined to GSD, I have tricked myself into being productive by using the Pomodoro Technique.
What does that look like? Well, personally, it tends to look like a perpetually half-cleaned house (as in, I put all my clothes in a laundry basket but forgot to actually wash them), a million half-baked ideas and half-finished projects, and a constant sense that I am always doing something but never finishing anything.
I’ve been like this essentially my whole life. I know that I am capable of managing my time better because I did as a student and I do it as a professional every single day. I have meticulous to-do lists, color-coded calendars and regularly scheduled appointments with myself dedicated to getting work done.
Part of the problem, likely, is that I expend so much time and effort trying to keep my shit together as a professional, that when I have time to do personal things I am tired and have no real reason to want to do better. (Listen—I am nothing if not honest, okay?)
I’ve known, for years, that time management is something I could improve on. But having a mile long to-do list is overwhelming and makes me want to shut down before I even get started. A while ago, I started essentially bargaining with myself. I would set a timer, and if I could stay on-task for 10-20 minutes straight, I would consider that an accomplishment. It turns out, this is an actual time management technique called the Pomodoro Technique.
THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system that encourages people to work with the time they have—rather than against it. Using this method, you break your work into 25-minute chunks separated by five-minute breaks to promote sustained concentration and stave off mental fatigue. These intervals are referred to as pomodoros. After about four pomodoros, you take a longer break of about 15 to 20 minutes.
The idea behind the technique is that the timer instills a sense of urgency. Rather than feeling like you have endless time in the workday to get things done and then ultimately squandering those precious work hours on distractions, you know you only have 25 minutes to make as much progress on a task as possible.
Fun fact: Pomodoro means tomato in Italian. It’s called the Pomodoro technique because in the late 1980s Francesco Cirillo, an Italian college student, was struggling to focus on his studies and complete assignments. Feeling overwhelmed, he asked himself to commit to just 10 minutes of focused study time. Encouraged by the challenge, he found a tomato (pomodoro in Italian) shaped kitchen timer, and the Pomodoro technique was born.
WHY IT WORKS
The biggest reason that this works is because it’s eliminating distractions. Rather than doing a little bit of work and pausing to scroll Instagram, you’re all in for 25 minutes. If you choose to use your Pomodoro to scroll Instagram, that’s okay. But for 25 minutes, the task at hand has your complete and undivided attention.
If you’re like me and your daunting to-do lists inspires procrastination, this works because it breaks everything down into small, practical chunks. A little tidbit of knowledge for my fellow procrastinators: research has shown that procrastination has little to do with laziness or lack of self-control. Rather, we put things off to avoid negative feelings and instead, turn to Twitter or Netflix instead to boost our mood, if only temporarily. However, when I break things down into smaller chunks, it doesn’t feel so overwhelming and I’m not as likely to put it off.
Another reason this works for me is because I am very competitive and this essentially gamifies your to-do list. (I kind of hate saying that because I think “gamify” is a current buzzword and I am finding it increasingly annoying.)
MY OWN TWIST
This works insanely well for me. For one, you’d be amazed at all the things you can get done in 25 minutes when you focus on only one thing and do it, uninterrupted, for that entire duration. However, once the timer goes off, I tend to just keep going. Once I see all that I’ve accomplished in 25 minutes, not only am I impressed with myself and my newfound time management skills, I’m determined to get even more done.
I’m not alone in customizing my pomodoros. If something seems really daunting, I’ll set a timer for 10 minutes. If I know a task is going to require more time, I’ll set it for longer—maybe 30-40 minutes. A DeskTime study found that a 52-minute focus and 17-minute break is the perfect balance. Others prefer 90 full minutes with a 20-30-minute break, based on Ultradian rhythms.
Bottom line: break them up into whatever way works best for you!
The Pomodoro Technique has helped me GSD both personally and professionally, and I hope that it can help you too. If you’re struggling to productive right now, you’re not the only one—and please know that your worth as a human being is not defined by the amount of things you can get done in a day.
If you think you are unable to focus or stay on task may be because of depression or other mental illness, please seek professional help.