It's the first weekend of 2017 and I'm sipping coffee while writing at Irving Farms. Writing one entry per week is one of my goals this year, and I'm excited to take on this challenge.
Roughly half an hour ago, a girl sat down at the table next to me. I’m pretty sure she came to work on a project because she’s set out two different books and a laptop. So far, she hasn’t actually made any progress though. She picked up the book a few separate times, but within a few minutes of reading, she put it back down to either respond to a text message, or to scroll through Facebook, or to watch a YouTube video.
I’m willing to bet that by the time she leaves, she won’t have done more than 20 minutes of actual work.
This makes me cringe because just a few years ago, I was where she is. There were so many things I wanted to get better at, but I was constantly frustrated because I’d procrastinate by spending the better part of each hour browsing Reddit or Facebook even though I was supposed to be doing work.
Not anymore though. I’ve found a technique that super charged my productivity. Now, for each hour of time I put into something, I spend 50 minutes actually doing work, and then 10 minutes of time to relax and surf the web guilt-free.
Effectively, this means my productivity has shot up significantly from 20 minutes of work per hour to 50 minutes per hour! And it’s all because of the Pomodoro technique, named famously after a tomato shaped kitchen countdown timer.
I want to show you how you can apply this to your own life right away because I’m confident your productivity can go through the roof as well.
What is the Pomodoro technique?
On the surface, it’s just a countdown timer. When the timer is on, you work. When the timer goes off, you take a break. It’s that simple.
When I first heard about it, honestly, it sounded too trivial to be effective. But boy oh boy was I wrong.
I was wrong because at it’s core, the Pomodoro technique is a tool that removes distractions so you can focus and get shit done. It’s widely used because it is so easy to adopt into your routine, flexible enough to handle different types of tasks (see below for specific examples), and works each and every time you use it.
How do I use it?
You’ll need a countdown timer (on an iPhone, it’s the timer function on the default Clock app), or you can download apps such as Focus Keeper (that’s the one I use).
The next time you need to crank out some work, set the timer for 25 minutes and begin working. That means you only do the task at hand and don’t mindlessly surf the web or answer text messages or go search for snacks. It also means you don’t switch tasks and start working on another project in the middle of a 25 minute countdown.
Then, at the end of the session, you earn a 5 minute break for recovery. During your break, surf Reddit, swipe right a few times on Tinder, or post your next selfie!
What kind of tasks can I use it for?
The bigger the task, the better the Pomodoro technique works. As an example, if you only have a few dishes to put away (assuming this only takes a few minutes to do), Pomodoro won’t be that effective.
But let’s say you want to read a book (assume it would take you longer than 25 minutes to read from cover to cover), then Pomodoro can work wonders.
I’ve used it to help me write, brainstorm project ideas, and clean my apartment. I’m sure there are so many more applications I haven’t even thought of yet and would love to hear what you try it with.
What happens during the 25 minutes?
You commit to take care of the task at hand without any interruptions.
That means as soon as the timer starts, you get to work. No more answering text messages, watching YouTube videos, or scrolling through Facebook / Instagram / SnapChat. Put those distractions away and commit to work for 25 minutes straight.
Even though you might not consider it a distraction, you will also need to put away other projects too. So let’s say you had both a reading assignment and a paper to write, you would only pick one of those to work on during a specific Pomodoro session.
How do I get rid of distractions?
My advice is to remove the potential digital distractions entirely. This for me has been much more effective than to see my phone light up with a notification but not check it.
For me, that means first turning my phone on “Do Not Disturb” mode (this means that text messages and app notifications will be silent - don’t worry, you’ll still see them if / when you look at your phone later). It also means physically putting my phone in a different place so that I can’t see or hear it. Right now, my phone is tucked away safely in my backpack under the table.
This way, it makes is that much easier to resist the urge to check Facebook in the middle of a session. Plus, I know that in a mere 25 minutes, I'll be able to get my "fix".
What happens after the 25 minute session is over?
Now you get a 5 minute break! Go on Facebook, browse Reddit, or do anything else you want to do that isn’t related to the task at hand. You’ve earned it.
But after your break, assuming you have more to do, set the 25 minute timer again and repeat as needed.
What's the psychology behind it all?
The main reason the Pomodoro technique works is because it allows you to focus on only one thing at a time. It asks you to be disciplined and remove all the distractions so that you can focus.
These uninterrupted blocks of time are really important because it allows you to make actual progress on whatever task you intend to work on. Our brains take time to get warmed up. And each distraction is enough to throw it off so that it needs to start up again.
It’s pretty hard to fully comprehend how an innocent 5 seconds spent answering a text message derailed me just a few years ago, but it did. Even though the interruption was just five seconds, my brain had already switched over and now needed time to warm up again. You now see how an interruption every 10 - 15 minutes apart could easily mean that I never really get into the right state of mind in order to make a dent on the task at hand.
Any other tips you can share?
Tip 1: One of the keys for me has been focus on the effort and not the outcome of any Pomodoro session I do. So if the task at hand is to write, I’ll set my intention to just write for 25 minutes straight (effort) and not to worry about completing the article (outcome).
Tip 2: throughout the day, I use the same Pomodoro technique across different tasks. On any given day, I might do one session to read, three sessions to write a blog post, and a few sessions during the work day after I catch myself procrastinating. Overall, on days when I have been most productive, most likely, it’s correlated with me doing more sessions.
What should I do now?
Start small. Try out the Pomodoro technique for one 25 minute session today on any task you want. Set the timer, get to work, and don’t stop until the 25 minutes is up. You’ll be surprised by how much you can get done in such a short amount of time!
If you really want to give it a shot, commit to do at least one Pomodoro session each day for the next month. At the end of it, you very well could be writing your own email / blog post to tell everyone you know about this magic trick too.
If committing to 30 days alone sounds kind of intimidating though, let Tribe of Five help out!
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and if there is enough interest, we’ll host a custom 30 day challenge and pair you up with four other accountability buddies who are also each interested to test out the Pomodoro technique.