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- Working from home is full of temptation in the form of innumerable distractions.
- Using the Pomodoro Technique, I started dividing my day into 25-minute chunks with a short break at the end of each period.
- The technique has been around since the 1990s and is now supported by dozens of apps, as well as studies supporting its underlying principles.
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Like many writers – and many people – I’m a procrastinator by nature.
I’ve used many productivity techniques and apps over the years. Mindfulness meditation. Early morning exercise. A schedule book.
Google Calendars with each hour meticulously planned out, Monday through Friday (including time to relax).
But, of all of these, the Pomodoro Technique is the most effective I’ve tried. In fact, I found it so effective that I don’t even need to use it much anymore.
Here’s what the Pomodoro Technique is and how it revolutionized my self-discipline.
Using the Pomodoro Technique, workers divide their days into precise 25-minute chunks
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The Pomodoro Technique was invented by Italian software designer and productivity expert Francesco Cirillo in the 1990s. “Pomodoro” is the Italian word for “tomato,” and the technique is named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo used when he developed it.
The idea behind it is startlingly simple. At its most basic, you create a task – or list of tasks – that you need to get done and set a timer for 25 minutes.
At the end of those 25 minutes, you take a quick break. I usually stop for five minutes or so and read a blog post or check social media.
Once you’ve completed four of these blocks, or “pomodoros,” you take a longer break. Somewhere around 20 minutes to a half hour works well.
You then rinse and repeat these series of 25-minute blocks throughout your workday, breaking for lunch and restarting as necessary.
It works because it’s science
Pomodoro works great for me because it’s easy and caters to my distractible nature. Maybe I can’t get myself to focus on that big project for hours, but surely I can do 25 minutes?
And then another. And then another.
Then I get a tidy break to goof off for a few minutes. That’s self-care!
In truth, there’s nothing magical about the Pomodoro Technique. There are other productivity techniques that follow similar principles, and some of those might work for you just as effectively.
What we do know, however, is that small breaks from work aren’t just desirable – they actually increase focus.
That’s what researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found in a landmark study published in the journal Cognition back in 2011.
Another study from 2011 found that breaks can have profound impacts on judgment (in this case, the decisions of literal judges), while a 2012 study found that distractions can actually encourage creativity.
Baking breaks and distractions into your day, in other words, just might make you a better worker.
More importantly, it’ll likely make you happier too.
There are plenty of apps for the Pomodoro Technique
You can buy a physical tomato timer if you like to kick it analog style, but because we live in an app-oriented world, there is also no shortage of free and paid Pomodoro timers in the Android and iOS app stores.
One I’ve used in the past with great success is Focus Keeper, which lets you break out tasks neatly and tracks your pomodoro progress and habits over time.
Eventually you won’t need the timer
While the Pomodoro Technique was great for discipline, eventually I outgrew it.
But that’s only because the Pomodoro method helped me learn about how I optimally work and become more disciplined in the process.
Eventually, I recognized that my work stretches were better if they were more like 40 minutes with 10-minute breaks, and a longer one to do something else fun and relaxing. People need to experiment with what works for them.
Now, it’s just another important tool in my time-management arsenal.
If I feel myself drifting into unhelpful procrastination, I can pull up my app or a timer and commit myself to a chunk of time where I know I’ll be working.
Procrastination and sticking to a routine are twin beasts I’ll likely wrestle with my entire life. But Pomodoro helped me learn how to fight them off and take more control over my lesser impulses.
Nearly a decade of freelancing later, I’d say it worked.