Pomodoro: A Fairly Simple Technique to Maximize Productivity

In these times of social distancing, many people find themselves working from home, which comes with its own share of challenges that we must adapt to. 

Some may find it difficult to maintain their focus in an environment often associated with calm and relaxation, be it through the increased use of instant messaging tools or the distractions caused by being in confinement with our families. Suddenly, we find ourselves having trouble staying focused, hence the importance of becoming more diligent in managing our time and concentration.

With this in mind, I am going to share with you a time management technique that has proven to be very useful for me in this new remote situation: the Pomodoro technique.

What is the Pomodoro technique?

The Pomodoro technique is a time management technique developed by Franscico Cirillo at the end of the 1980s. This method is based on the use of a timer allowing you to subdivide your working time into blocks of 25 minutes each. These blocks are called pomodoro and are separated by short breaks of 5 minutes, ultimately taking a longer 15 to 20 minute break after 4 work blocks. 

At the start of each pomodoro, we determine the exact task we want to accomplish and at the end we can assess how far we’ve progressed. Each pomodoro is indivisible. In the event of an interruption, it must be abandoned.

What are the benefits of this technique?

I have been using the Pomodoro technique for a little more than a year. Initially adopted to fight procrastination, I soon discovered several other benefits from its adoption:

  1. Simplification of complex tasks: The technique breaks down complex and long tasks into simpler steps that can be completed in 25 minutes or less. This division makes it possible to transform difficult work into a linear series of simple tasks to accomplish, which in turn reduces the potential stress that one can feel.
  2. Timeboxing: Pomodoro is strongly linked to the concept of timeboxing. It is very easy to waste a lot of time trying the same approach to solve a problem. By setting limits of 25 minutes of focused work, this approach allows us to quickly realize if we are stuck on a solution that does little to move us forward. We are more aware of the time we invest in problem-solving methods that do not work.
  3. Better management of interruptions: This technique mainly helps in better management of interruptions during periods of concentration. For example, I'm more comfortable ignoring notifications during a pomodoro, because I know that I will soon have 5 minutes to address them. Likewise, when a colleague interrupts me, the Pomodoro technique gives me an excellent way of handling these interruptions.

How to manage interruptions during a pomodoro?

Interruptions are inevitable. They can come from a call, an email, a notification on your phone, a colleague, or your child who needs your attention. To manage them, the technique suggests two response options. The first consists of interrupting the pomodoro (we cannot take a break because the pomodoro is an indivisible 25-minute block), and the second is to postpone the interruption. 

The strategy of postponing the interruption is referred to as the “Inform-Negotiate-Schedule-Call back” method, which consists of:

  1. Inform: Inform the person who interrupts you that you are in the middle of something.
  2. Negotiate: Negotiate with the person to address the situation later.
  3. Schedule: Immediately schedule the call back with the person in your calendar.
  4. Call back: Follow-up with the person once your pomodoro is completed and you’re ready to deal with the interruption.

These two options allow me to manage all interruptions to my work sessions, whether at the office or at home. Generally, I use the minutes of break between my pomodoros to take a look at my mailbox to check if there is an urgent message, and chat with colleagues if necessary.

As you can see, the Pomodoro technique is a simple but powerful time management technique. It takes a short adjustment period, but as soon as it is mastered, the results can be impressive.

An ideal day for me is to do a minimum of 12 pomodoros, which corresponds to 5 hours of focused work. My short breaks of 5 minutes between pomodoros (one hour in total) are used to answer my emails, respond to instant messages from colleagues on Slack as well as handle interruptions when they do not take more than 5 minutes. My long breaks, which last an hour in total (20 minutes each) are used for dining, talking to my family, taking a short walk or relaxing. The other 2 hours remaining are used for the various meetings of the day related to work. In summary, my day would consist of 5 hours of deep concentration + 3 hours of teamwork + 1 hour of break / relaxation.

I strongly encourage anyone that feels they may have problems with time management and discontinuance in work efficiency to use this technique, which in itself doesn’t require much effort to put in place. Here are some timer suggestions to use: