All my life I’ve had trouble concentrating and staying on-task. When I need to focus, there always seems to be some shiny bauble destined to lure my novelty-seeking wandering eye. I struggled with this all through high school and college with this, and as you could imagine the advent of the infinite novelty hole called the Internet has made this tendency even worse.
Over time, I’ve tried several time-management systems. I was a big fan of “Getting Things Done” for a while. But, as is often the case with self-help-type things, the wagon was eventually fallen off of.
Then, one day in the recent past, while once again seeking novel baubles of memage when I should have been working, I came across a post extolling The Pomodoro Technique.
The way it works is pretty simple. You just break up your day into 25-minute windows called Pomodoros. During each Pomodoro (or Pom, for short), you set a timer for 25 minutes, shut out all outside distractions as much as you can, and work with complete focus on one task. After you complete the Pom, you take a 5 minute break. Every four Poms, you take an extended break, which works out nicely into either your lunch hour or a coffee break. If you go to the website, there are all kinds of online resources for using the technique, but the only thing I use (besides a pencil and paper to keep track of my Poms) is a free 25-minute timer program called Focus Booster.
Naturally, I’m a bit wary to write about a new productivity technique, since I’m so prone to chronic gradual wagon departure. However, since I started it a few weeks before my vacation, my productivity really has shot up markedly. One thing that has worked well for me in particular is that it’s very forgiving if I “fail” my Pom and get distracted by a shiny object. Before Pomodoro, I could spend hours down the Internet Rabbit Hole if I got distracted. Now, I can give myself permission to blow off the current Pom and get back to work when the next one arrives. And as a bonus, I have super-granular time-tracking data for free, which is great because before now time tracking was something I loathed and feared more than death itself.
If your job description fits the general category of “knowledge workers who work mostly independently at their computers and are prone to distraction,” I highly recommend this technique. It might not work quite so well for “I attend a thousand meetings a day” people, or “I have a boss who constantly gives me specific things to do” people, but for me it has been nothing short of revolutionary.
Why “Pomodoro?” Because the person who invented it is Italian, and had a 25-minute timer in the shape of a tomato.