Maximize Effeciency With Pomodoro Mastery5 min read
Time management is a crucial skill for success in any field, and the Pomodoro technique has become a popular method for improving productivity and reducing distractions.
What are Pomodoros
The technique involves breaking work into 25-minute intervals, called Pomodoros, followed by a 5-minute break. After completing four Pomodoros (approximately 2 hours of focused work), take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. This extended break helps further rejuvenate your mind and ensures you can maintain productivity throughout the day.
During the Pomodoro session, focus entirely on the chosen task. Eliminate distractions, such as email, social media, or unrelated tasks, and concentrate solely on the work at hand. If you’re interrupted or realize you need to do something unrelated, write it down and come back to it later.
How I use them
Instead of a 25 minute work session with a 5 minute break, I prefer to work for longer with 12 minute “reminders” in between.
I have a digital kitchen timer on my desk that remembers the last timer interval I set. I quickly double tap the start button and it starts counting down. When the timer is done, I set it to flash instead of making a noise. I do not want a significant disturbance, just a light nudge.
Before I begin a task, I usually set a time budget for it. However many Pomodoros I think it will take, I usually double it to get a range estimate. Examples:
- I want to read an article in 1 Pomodoro, so I’ll give myself 1-2 Pomodoros of time to finish it.
- I have a work task to complete that I estimate can be done in 3 Pomodoros. I’ll give myself 3-6 Pomodoros to complete it.
Doubling the estimate is important becuase humans suck at estimates and random things often happen that cause tasks to take longer.
After each Pomodoro
Every 12 minutes, the kitchen timer starts flashing. This is my wake up call. I tap the stop button and take a couple seconds to check if I’m making progress as expected, based on the time estimate and task complexity.
This is also a good time to check if I need a break. I usually physically take a break every hour. I’ll take more frequent breaks if my energy/mood is low or if the task is too challenging/boring.
If I don’t need a break and I’m not making progress at the pace I expected, I stop and reassess my strategy and time estimate. I try to change my strategy to gain time (brute force solutions, 80/20 solutions, skim the article faster, etc.). I also accept that I may have underestimated the task and need to add additional Pomodoros next time I do a similar task.
After each Pomodoro, I check if I’m
X percent (or fraction) complete. Using the examples above:
- After the first Pomodoro of reading I hope to be done or at least half done
- After each Pomodoro of the task, I quickly check, “Do I feel I am 1/6 complete? 2/6 complete?…” etc.
When I take a physical break I usually go for a walk around the house, grab a snack, and/or do some yoga. Sitting or standing in one place for too long is no good for your health. Getting up to get blood flowing will help you with your tasks so it’s a win-win.
Helps avoid rabbit holes
The reason for doing Pomodoros like this is that we all get stuck in rabbit holes. Pomodoros help you stay on track. These check-ins may seem like extra work, but I can’t tell you the amount of times I spent hours going down interesting rabbit holes while my task remains incomplete.
The power of the Pomodoro comes from the times when I catch myself going down a rabbit hole. Example would be I’m trying to work on a task, my timer goes off, I look at what I was last doing, and I see that I was investigating something interesting yet tangentially related to what I’m working on. This is a good time to write this idea down for later exploration. Thankfully I only wasted 12 minutes, rather than several hours.
Helps avoid social distractions
Slack, email, and social media are special forms of distractions. Some are necessary for the job, while others are not.
If you need to stay connected on other tasks such as Slack and emails, after a Pomodoro is a good time for this. Rather than having constant notifications that take you out of flow state, you can give yourself 5 minutes to respond to the most urgent messages in between your Pomodoros. All other non-urgent messages can be batch processed during designated times. I’ve been doing this for almost a year and no one has complained that I’m unresponsive.
This is how I’ve been using Pomodoros for almost a year now. Your mileage may vary. Some things to consider:
- Your Pomodoro duration is up to you. The standard is 25 minutes but depending on your personality and the task you may find it too long or too short. Experiment until you’re comfortable.
- You don’t have to Pomodoro every task. For writing this blog post I estimated 2-4 Pomodoros. It took 4 Pomodoros. I wanted to focus on getting all the high level details written out quickly. When I was editing, I did not set any timer. At this point I care more about quality than speed.
- Take breaks as needed. The standard is every 25 minutes you take a 5 minute break. Depending on the task, this might break your flow. Currently I can go 4-6 Pomodoros (48-72 minutes) continuously on most tasks, I can do 2 hours if I’m in a flow state. Writing and editing this blog post took about 2 hours with only 1 bio break. I stood for the first hour, then sat for the second. Keep a snack and water nearby.
- When in flow state, you can disregard the timer or just do a quick “Am I on task?” mental check-in each time you reset the timer. At the end of each task, you should reflect on how the task went and how much time was spent. You only need to change strategy if you feel you were inefficient (spent too much time or worked on the wrong thing).
- Reflect on what works and what doesn’t. After each task or after every few tasks ask yourself questions like:
- Was I focused enough?
- Was I fast enough?
- Do I need to get better at estimating?
- Do I need to make smaller task chunks to improve speed or quality?
- Do I need to put my phone in a different room? Do I need some “distraction free” browser plugins that use a timer?
I was skeptical when I first started using Pomodoros a year ago. It just wasn’t working for me. I tried 25, 45, and 90 minute Pomodoros and the 12 minute version has been working best for me for the past few weeks. I encourage you to continue experimenting to find the setup that works best for you.
The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect any individual or organization from my past or present.