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How to increase your productivity with the Pomodoro Technique

Do you feel like you’re not being productive enough? That you’re not reaching the goals you set up for yourself? Not utilising your time properly and kind of just… wasting your time?

Well you’re not alone. Organizing and being productive is something most people struggle with. Proper time-management and really making sure you’re setting the right conditions for yourself to succeed is close to impossible. But we’re here to tell you that it’s not actually impossible. There are techniques, structures, and guides to reach better productivity and enable yourself with the right tools to make the most of your time and reach your goals.

One of these techniques is the Pomodoro technique, invented by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s. So don’t feel bad – poor time management has been around for decades and it’s hard. It really is. But don’t fret, we’ll go over the Pomodoro technique together and show you that good time management skills are very achievable and you too are able to reach better productivity.

Time is a tricky concept and many questions its very existence and the part it plays in our lives. So how do we master such an elusive object as time?

The Pomodoro technique is actually a quite simple tool to improve productivity and has the following goals (Cirillo, F. 2006):

  • Alleviate anxiety linked to becoming
  • Enhance focus and concentration by cutting down on interruptions
  • Increase awareness of your decisions
  • Boost motivation and keep it constant
  • Bolster the determination to achieve your goals
  • Refine the estimation process, both in qualitative and quantitative terms
  • Improve your work or study process
  • Strengthen your determination to keep on applying yourself in the face of complex situations

The structure of the technique consists of five stages:

What When Why
Planning at the start of the day to decide on the day’s activities
Tracking throughout the day to gather raw data on the effort expended and other

metrics of interest

Recording at the end of the day to compile an archive of daily observations
Processing at the end of the day to transform raw data into information
Visualizing at the end of the day to present the information in a format that facilitates

understanding and clarifies paths to improvement

To follow the full method of the Pomodoro Technique you need the following:

  1. A timer;
  2. A “To Do Today Sheet”, which you fill out at the start of each day with the following:
    1. A heading with place, date, and author;
    2. A list of the things to do during the day, in order of priority;
    3. A section labelled Unplanned & Urgent Activities where any unexpected tasks that have to be dealt with should be listed as they come up. These activities could potentially modify the day’s plan.
  3. An “Activity Inventory Sheet” with the following:
    1. A heading with the name of the author;
    2. A number of lines where various activities are noted down as they come up. At the end of the day, the ones that have been completed are checked off.
  4. A “Records Sheet”:
    1. In this sheet raw data that is needed to make important reports or graphics go. Depending on your objective for the effort, this sheet contains different elements. Normally, the “Records Sheet” will have the date, description, and the number of Pomodoros worth of effort needed to accomplish a task. This sheet is ideally updated once a day, at the end of the day.

Now that we have got the basics down, the actual technique is as follows:

1) Look at a task, prioritize it, and judge how much time it will take to accomplish.

2) Divide the task into subtasks which take roughly 25min pr. subtask. After each subtask is done you take a 5min break (this 5min break should NOT be filled with thought heavy activity!)

3) After 4x 30 minutes, take a longer break of 15 – 30 min, where you do things like getting coffee, checking your voicemail/ mail etc.

At the start of the day

When you start a day’s work, check your “Activity Inventory Sheet”, prioritise which tasks you will tackle today and write these down in your “To Do Today Sheet”. When you have done so, you start your first Pomodoro. It is very important that you do not interrupt a Pomodoro, this means that you can not cheat. You have to stick to the 25min, no more and no less. It might be that you are “on a roll” and even after your alarms go off and the 25min are done and you want to keep going – DON’T! Take the 5 min break, while it gives your brain the needed time for it to “disconnect” from your work and allows it to assimilate to what it has learned the past 25 min.

If it happens that a Pomodoro gets interrupted by something or someone, it should be counted as a void and you should start it over again. This might be a pain, but trust us, this is the best process.

At the end of the day

When you are done with your day’s work it is time to review your work. You can transfer your Pomodoro’s for the day in a hard-copy archive. As an alternative you can also use a digital database that fits your needs.

What you track depends on what you wish to observe and potentially which reports you have set out to make. Maybe it could just be for you to track how many Pomodoro’s you have done, or maybe how many of your tasks you have successfully completed, it is all up to you. But at least you will be mindful of your productivity. This technique is a great tool for self-observation and decision-making aimed at process improvement (Cirillo, F. 2016).

Interruptions

We all know how easy it is to be distracted, both by ourselves but also by external interruptions. The main difference between internal and external interruptions is that the latter is dependent on communication with other people. The key for dealing with interruptions in general is to set boundaries and framework for yourself.

Internal interruptions can be tamed by techniques such as the Pomodoro, where you set clear guidelines for yourself and only allow interruptions between Pomodoros and being aware of the fact that if you interrupt a Pomodoro it should be counted as a void and the Pomodoro has to start over.

External interruptions are tricky, because how do you control if other people attempt to communicate with you? Maybe you get an email, a phone call, a co-worker walks up to you, you never know when these external interruptions will occur. However, even though it appears as if the situation is out of your control, you can still invert the mechanism and make the interruptions depend on you rather than them. By stating a simple phrase such as “I’ll get back to you in 25 minutes”, or answering the email that said “Urgent” in between Pomodoros, or letting the phone call go to voicemail and get back to the person in an hour or two – simple boundaries like these can control external interruptions and optimise your productivity. You have to protect your Pomodoros at all costs, which means “inform effectively, negotiate quickly to reschedule the interruption, and call back the person who interrupted you as agreed.” (Cirillo, F. 2016).

If it is absolutely necessary for you to interrupt a Pomodoro, make a note of it in your sheet and start over. Remember – your next Pomodoro will always be better.

As a help for yourself, you can plan systematic interruptions, which are Pomodoros for organizational activities, where you handle urgent activities. It is a help for many to have one Pomodoro a day they earmark for urgent interruptions. Maybe you won’t need it maybe you will – but at least you are prepared.

Pomodoros in the future

As you get better at mastering the Pomodoro Technique you can utilise the tool more consciously. You will become more accurate at estimating effort for your activities, you will be able to make your Pomodoros more effective, your accumulated data will become more useful, and you will be able to make alterations to your Pomodoros to fit your working style better.

There are a variety of options when you get into the technique and get a better understanding of how it works. But most importantly you will become more conscious about your work rhythm, efficiency and great time management will increase, and your overall work-life will feel amazing.

Create a better work-life for yourself and increase your productivity by using the Pomodoro Technique.

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