If you’ve been reading most of the articles in our blog, you’ll notice a common trend whenever we talk about how to get through big, important tasks. To make them more doable, we always say to break them into smaller chunks. Not only does it make the task at hand less overwhelming, finishing it part by part allows us to zoom in on certain details as well as see our progress as we go along. As far as techniques go, the perfect method to use in order to apply this practice is the Pomodoro Technique.
To kick start our new mini-series of trying out different journaling, productivity, and creative methods and techniques, we’ve decided to start with the Pomodoro for a five-day firsthand feel of how it works and will include pros and cons based on our experience so that, should you want to try it, you’ll have an idea what you’re getting yourself into.
But before we dive into the Pomodoro experience, first, we need to ask an important question.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
Developed by Italian university student Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980’s, the Pomodoro technique is a time management method meant to help with focus in a very specific way: working nonstop for short bursts of time. The original period is 25 minutes with each interval separated by short breaks that are 5 to 10 minutes long. Every interval is called apomodoro, or tomato in Italian, with the method earning its name thanks to the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as he studied. After fourpomodoros, you can take a longer break (20 to 30 minutes) in order to give your brain time to process information as well as rest.
So how awesome is this technique? I tried it out for writing so I can let you know if it’s worth giving a shot yourself.
The Set Up
To ensure every session was as distraction-free as possible, I picked out a quiet spot at home and brought only the essentials with me: my laptop (offline), the timer on my phone (set to Do Not Disturb), my Field Journal where my Planner and Ruled Refills are, and the Quattro for my colored pens (for color-coding certain things).
Quick Note: Notice that all electronic devices have been disconnected from the Internet. Time management methods and techniques will only work if we help ourselves out; this includes being proactive when it comes to keeping temptations that could distract us far away. If you think you’ll be tempted to use your phone, consider a digital or even an analog timer. For more ways to eliminate distractions, check here.
Field Journal Refill
There’s something about Mondays that inspire creativity and thinking. Maybe because, as the first day of the week, it counts as a fresh start. Or maybe new ideas, trapped in our heads the entire weekend, simply spills over the first chance it gets. Whatever the case, ideas are abundant during Mondays which is why it’s the day of the week where I list them down, brainstorm with Chris about them, and decide which ones are worth creating a blog post for. And then, right after, is the most exciting part: research.
Unfortunately, research required me to have an Internet connection so I had to turn the laptop WiFi on. I’m glad I did: doing so was very insightful. With my digital timer ticking away, I began researching using Google, Google Scholar, and YouTube. The first two pomodoros were unsuccessful since I was hardly focused (I kept checking how many minutes were left), but the novelty of trying something new wore off by pomodoro number three. The fact that my Ruled Refill was devoid of notes was encouraging too: a couple of 25-minute intervals with nothing written down was concerning and felt like a waste of time. Not wanting my Field Journal to be nothing more but a prop, I tried my best to focus on the task at hand.
And so time passed: I went through articles and studies, watched videos, took notes, didn’t realize how much time was passing, and would get interrupted by the timer. It was tempting to keep going instead of taking a break, but that would defeat what I was trying to do. So I took breaks as required and went back to my research as soon as it was over—only to find myself having to return to certain sections or articles to retrace the train of thought I had prior to the break.
Overall, it didn’t feel like a great start.
With a lot of research done despite what I considered as “interruptions” every time I had to take a mandatory break, by Tuesday, I was ready to get started on my article. I almost forgot to turn the timer on—already wrote one sentence before I remembered—but as soon as it started counting down, I was on a roll.
Every time the timer beeped to signal the end of a pomodoro however, things felt a little different: I felt relieved. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was still grasping for words to form the article I had in mind: after all, it wasn’t just about writing it down but also making sure it made sense andwas informative. With that, I started to look forward to breaks—and so began the same thing that happened the day before. I frequently checked how many minutes were left. At this point, I had to put my foot down. This didn’t seem like a technique problem—this was about me. Figuring out the issue took a while, but it was as I was completing other tasks that it became clear.
I kept looking forward to breaks because I was at a loss. I was not yet ready to write this article.
I decided to revisit my notes and do more research, this time without using the Pomodoro technique. Instead, I would use it during the writing process alone. Things weren’t perfect of course—there were instances where one article led to another until I was falling down an irrelevant rabbit hole—but my research time worked out better than it did on Monday.
By the time I closed the Field Journal to call it a day, I felt more prepared to tackle my writing task.
Wednesday was definitely more productive for writing. The words didn’t necessarily flow—though they sometimes do when something is exceptionally interesting to write about—but it was easier compared to Tuesday. There wasn’t really any time to look at my digital timer, not until it started beeping, since there was an urgency to type down the words before I lost them. Unfortunately, the first couple of intervals felt like I was being interrupted once again, but this was not a Pomodoro problem as usual.
In the end, I adjusted my pomodoros from the original 25 minutes to 30-minute intervals, then 35 and 40. There was much writing done in between increasing the minutes, but at the very least, it felt like I was going somewhere compared to the first two days.
After trying 45 and 50-minute intervals as Thursday rolled around, I realized that a 40-minute pomodoro was the perfect interval for me. It was the right amount of minutes to keep my attention span on the task at hand, and by the time the timer beeped to signal a break, I was usually either ready to zone out or wasn’t very bothered about having to stop writing. Thankfully, I finished the first draft of the article before lunch time and was able to go back and read through it near the end of the day. Even with editing and rewriting, 40 minutes was preferable.
I spent Friday morning finalizing my article and had it ready for further edits and approval within the first two hours of the day. After finishing other tasks, I did some research for an entirely new article and knew what I had to do this time: adjust the amount of minutes I assigned for my every pomodoro. For this research round, I set it for ten minutes longer: 50.
It still wasn’t enough, so perhaps, doing the Pomodoro technique for this specific task may not be for me. Still, it worked out for writing—all I had to do was figure out the best interval to work with.
Here are my takeaways during my five-day Pomodoro experience:
It helps you focus. Just like any other job that requires employees to time in or clock in, starting your Pomodoro timer feels official and shifts your mindset from playtime to work mode.
It gives you time to rest and recover. Sometimes, we’re so caught up in what we’re doing that we forget to take breaks, which is important if we want to keep being productive. This technique takes care of the need to pause and take a breath before going back to work.
It encourages you to just start. Often, the problem with finishing tasks is not because we’re doing something wrong and can’t move forward. It’s because we’re not doing them at all. By hitting start on our timer, the Pomodoro technique forces us to begin—which is the only thing we really need to do if we want to get any closer to getting things done.
It’s not for everyone or for everything. Though it worked out for my writing session, I found it distracting while I was trying to get my research done. I may try it again in the future. However, with this experience in mind, I think it’ll take some trial and error to figure out which tasks the Pomodoro technique will work well with. Depending on the individual, it may not be a great fit for everything.
You need to figure out which interval is right for you. This isn't really a con per se, but it may be frustrating for other people to figure out how long they should assign each pomodoro. Just keep trying though! Focus on a task and keep adjusting the timer in increments. You'll figure it out!
Many people use the Pomodoro Technique to improve both their focus and productivity. By tweaking aspects of it—like the interval or which task to use it for—you can enjoy the benefits of working distraction-free. I’ll be using it for future writing sessions and other tasks too, that’s for sure!
Have you tried the Pomodoro technique yourself? How has it helped you focus and maximize your time in order to get more important things done? Share it with us in the comments below!