What can you get done in 25 minutes using the Pomodoro Technique

IGNITE® - 25 June 2020

Most of us working in our professional settings are already practising some sort of curated to-do list behaviour. Whether that is a physical stand-up stating what you accomplished yesterday and what you will accomplish today, or a digital check-in listing your top 3 or 5 tasks for the day.

We all understand that to actually achieve a decent level of productivity you need to prioritise what can realistically get done each day, rather than this week or this month. Breaking your time down into smaller blocks makes each day seem achievable.

To that end, the Pomodoro Technique goes a step further, breaking your time down into 25 minute intervals.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique simply put is 25 minutes of working followed by 5 minutes of rest, repeated, all day.

When Francesco Cirillo developed this technique his research indicated that despite our best efforts, no one can fully concentrate for more than 30 minutes. While I do challenge that belief (which we’ll get to), the Pomodoro Technique does allow us to mentally break our time into extremely manageable blocks.

Rather than thinking about the 3, 5 or 15 things you have to achieve today, you just think about one thing for 25 minutes. After that, treat yourself to a little 5 minute mental break. Not only does this relieve some of the cognitive guilt we feel when we do take a break, it importantly encourages us to use our 25 minutes as efficiently as possible, with the goal “I need to finish this in 25 minutes”.

We often spend too long working on a task when we think about our full 8 hour work day, knowing we still have hours left to “get it all done”. Invariably this leads to spending too much time on one task and rushing the others, or, just moving the items we didn’t get too to tomorrow’s to-do list.

Obviously going into a Pomodoro cycle you need to give yourself a manageable task to complete in the 25 minutes, but that is something you will get better at over time.

Breaking down your day

If we think about the average 8 hour work day (9am to 5pm) we have around 7.5 hours of “working” time each day. Let’s minus 30 minutes for meetings and adhoc things; that’s still 7 hours to get everything done.

Using the Pomodoro Technique we now have 14 blocks of time and can realistically achieve 14 things each day (while still getting 70 minutes of additional “break time” each day – win win win).

Bend the rules to suit your workflow

As mentioned earlier, I believe some people, especially when they’re in a mental flow state, can concentrate for longer than 30 minutes. This is why I personally work to a modified Pomodoro, whereby I work for 50 minutes followed by a 10 minute break.

This still allows me to complete the same amount of work as a traditional Pomodoro, I just give myself a larger task for each block. E.g. I can write this article in one modified Pomodoro of 50 minutes.

For a traditional Pomodoro I may have broken it into one block for research and article structure, followed by one block for fleshed out writing and editing. Either way, I have achieved the same in the same timeframe.

Stay with the task at hand even if you complete it

Interestingly, Francesco Cirillo’s technique encourages us to keep working on a task even if we finish it before the 25 minutes is up. Utilise that extra time to make it even better! For example;

  • Review that report for grammar and spelling errors
  • Thoroughly comment your code
  • Refine your creative concepts or add movement or animation

Remove distractions and get the right tools

To really effectively implement the Pomodoro Technique, you need to remove as many distractions as possible. Turn notifications off, don’t check emails, don’t check Slack. Whatever it is, it can wait 25 minutes. You also want to know when your time is up, whether that is 25 or 50 minutes. Use a timer such as the Google Chrome extension Marinara to alert you when it’s time to finalise your task and take a break. It’s just another great mechanism to reduce the cognitive load of checking the time, and really allowing you to immerse yourself in the task at hand.

Summary

For me, the Pomodoro Technique is really just reenforcing the basic practices of meditation – concentrate on one thing at a time.

Do you use the pomodoro technique to supercharge your workflow? Let us know your tips in the comments below.

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