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More than just my favourite Pizza…

I’m always on the hunt for ways to be more productive. Decent hacks that I can practically apply to boost my output and make me awesome-er.

I’ve been experimenting with a method called the Pomodoro Technique, it’s not new and you may have already heard of it, currently practice it or have become CEO of good productive times because of it. But if you haven’t had the pleasure, it goes a little something like this…

Ahem… The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are named Pomodoros, after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student. The method is based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility.

There are six steps in the technique:

  1. Decide on the task to be done (from a to do today list)
  2. Set the Pomodoro timer (traditionally 25 minutes)
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down, but immediately get back on task
  4. After the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper
  5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 1
  6. After four Pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1

Source: Wikipedia

That “longer break” is usually around 15 – 30 minutes, or however long it takes you to feel reenergised and ready to get back into another 25 minute Pomodoro.

One key aspect of the system is that it’s important that a Pomodoro is an indivisible unit of work. If you’re sidetracked part-way through a 25 minute slot you have to make the decision to either end the Pomodoro there or defer the interruption to complete the Pomodoro.

If it’s achievable to reschedule the disruption, Cirillo suggests using the “inform, negotiate, and call back” strategy:

  • Inform – basically tell the person/s that you’re working on something and you’re keen on completing it, it won’t come as a surprise to them especially if you’re having the conversation at work
  • Negotiate a time when you can get back to them – if the negotiations exceed 3 – 4 minutes, the moment is lost and you have to start again so you may as well just have the conversation with them right then and there
  • Schedule the follow-up and then action it when you’ve completed your Pomodoro

When you break it down, it is behaviour we already use to go about our day, we’re just framing it up within the context of the technique.

It’s not at all confrontational and that’s what the 5 minute break is ideal for, allowing you to follow up those calls, emails and general admin that’s accrued while you’ve been enjoying some of the best workflow ever.

Pomodoro

The first rule of Pomodoro is DEFINITELY tell people you’re in a Pomodoro. This infinitely increases the chance of you making it through the Pomodoro. I always tell my colleagues I’m going into a Pomodoro, and they’re like “cool, enjoy”, and I’m like, “thanks, yeah I will” and then I start my timer.

There are few distractions worthy of breaking out of a Pomodoro, and these would be the exceptions

  1. Actual Emergency – fire wardens do not care about your love of lycopene fuelled work styles
  2. A Courier – unsung heroes of the world of commerce, show them some love
  3. Missing coffee beans – this brings commerce to a messy and screaming grinding halt
  4. The opportunity to improve a nearby conversation with a witty remark or joke – never leave a funny quip unsaid, it causes constipation

I’ve also added a few of my own hacks to my Pomodoro process.

  1. I turn off my emails and use my breaks to catch up on those
  2. I look through my eyebrows to increase the appearance of ultimate focus
  3. I turn my phone onto its face so I can’t see incoming messages and notifications

It works for me because the 25 minute chunk is really doable, I’m not overwhelmed by 8 hours of potential productivity and I don’t even have to Pomodoro all day, I can do it for some of my day and freestyle the rest of it.

It’s a technique that’s been around for some time and has attracted a good amount of followers and fans. I’m talking about it because I’ve found it really easy to apply to my work day and I am more productive on days I use the technique than on the days I don’t.

Disclaimers, of which I have two:

  1. This won’t suit everybody or apply to every industry, the cool thing about being a grown up is you get to decide if you want to give it a hoon or not but I highly recommend trying it for at least 25 minutes
  2. My job, whilst very important and meaningful, doesn’t involve curing cancer so being involved in good workflow for 25 minutes at a time isn’t a big deal in terms of the time it takes to get back to people