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Lessons learned from trying the Pomodoro Technique in an Office-time scenario

One of the more critical needs among many of the people I know – either my friends or my coworkers –  has to do with time management and productivity. How to seize the day?

A couple of weeks ago I read an article titled:

How to Work 40 Hours in 16.7 (The Simple Technique That Gave Me My Life Back)

16.7 hours instead 40 hours of work? It sounds appealing, doesn’t it?

The Pomodoro Technique

The article talked about a Time Management and productivity approach known as the Pomodoro Technique created by Francesco Cirilio, which is based on four basic principles:

  1. Work with time, not against it. 
  2. Eliminate the burnout.
  3. Avoid distraction. 
  4. Create a better work/life management.

How does it work?

It’s actually very simple:

  1. You need to choose a task (ONE task, avoid multitasking)
  2. Get a timer and set it for 25 minutes (could be your watch, mobile temporizer or any other online)
  3. Work on your task during those 25 minutes.
  4. Take a 5 minutes break (at the end of the break you’ve completed your first Pomodoro)
  5. Repeat steps 1-4. The fourth Pomodoro will have a 15 minutes break.

So, it is 25-5, 25-5, 25-5, 25-15.

Not too complex, right?

Fractus Learning1

Image: Fractus Learning.

From my experience

As a learning specialist, I am always looking for new ways to do this or that activity. So, I decided to try the Pomodoro Technique by myself, not only to see whether it works or not, but also to understand

what a person like me, who is committed to an office time needs to know to make the technique works.

More than trying to find how to work  40 hours in 16.7 hours, I wanted to know how this technique could help within an office time framework. Why?

Because this is the situation that many of us face. Most of the people I know, works from certain hour to certain hour. It is part of our commitments with those who hired us.

So, I took this technique to my office time and this is what I learned.

What is it about?

You may think it is about productivity or time management. And yes, it is about both. However, the point of the pomodoros is to make habits and to improve focusing. How?

By avoiding multitasking, fostering organization, and making tasks and objectives clear. What for?

To be able to work better and more efficiently. What for?

To let you really seize the time you spend at the office. So, this is not to divide a whole day in 25-minutes chunks, but to seize every minute of your work.

Given that, you can do a more significative work and truly advance on your agenda during your time at the office. Then, you can spend your free time really focused on your family and friends. Why?

Because you are doing what you need to do, within the time you have to do it. That is balance.

25 minutes are a lot of time

You may think 25 minutes is not much time. However, try to focus 25 minutes in one single thing avoiding distractions. This means:

  • No phone calls.
  • No texts.
  • No social media.
  • No people.
  • No toilet (not quite so, but somehow).
  • No nothing but the task.

It’s hard.  To be fully focused and productive I suggest you to:

  • Put the mobile away from you or in Flight mode.
  • Close the door.
  • Get a good set of headphones.
  • Define before hand your objectives and tasks. 

The latter is particularly important.

Be clear about tasks and objectives 

Write down your objectives for the day and your tasks beforehand. You’ll know what you want to achieve this day, what to do at every pomodoro and what to do when finishing a task. Moreover, you’ll know when to stop.

Maybe you finish a task in 15 minutes.  You need to be clear about what’s next on your list to fill the remaining 10 minutes. You can even put three little tasks in one pomodoro:

  • 10 mintues to draft a list of objectives
  • 15 minutes to make a call to your stakeholder
  • 5 minutes to sort out documents

Change your mindset about a task

A task could be to write a short story. It could take more than 25-minutes. So, why don’t you try by micro-tasking: write down 500 words or complete the introduction. Transform a large task in many tasks. It will work better.

Distractions happen, suck it up.

In a perfect scenario, you would work your 25 minutes on a row, followed by a 5-minutes break. And this would repeat again, smoothly.

In the real world (specially in an office), distractions happen all the time and we need to live with it.

Many times something came up in the middle of my pomodoros. Either in my 25-minutes work period or during my break. Sometimes it was a very important call. Sometimes a colleague knocking the door. Sometimes my wife needed some help with our daughter.

Distractions are inevitable. Suck it up and live with it.

Find out the magic number is not easy

The technique allows you to be flexible. The author of the article I cited at the beginning says that each one of us must find its ideal pomodoro number. He found out that 8 pomodoros per day were enough.

You could need 6 or 10, or more, depending on your office, or your activities. It took me days to find my magic number. So, be patient.

Be flexible

Be disciplined and flexible. Maybe you have an important family event. Go and leave pomodoros for later or next day. Or maybe you are very into a task and in good pace so, you surpass your the 25-minute work period or even your magic number (12 instead 8).

It is fine from time to time to let it go (work) with the flow.

Think about your 5-minutes break

What are you going to do in those 5 minutes?  You may simply rest, or read that article or report pending, or complete 10 push ups.

Emailing does not count as work

For me, this was one of the hardest to do. I am very tied to my outlook, gmail and so. However, it is important to given them an specific time. Otherwise you end up burning out important time.

E-mailing is part of the job, but do it before or after your pomodoros. Or even include them as a task: 25 minutes for job calls, emails and texts.

Meetings are extra

You must not put a meeting as a pomodoro task. Sorry. As the emailing, it goes before or after. Sometimes, a meeting will be part of the distractions. But, this technique allows you to fit them between pomodoros.

So, does it work?

Yes, it works.

If properly applied, the technique may foster productivity because it allows to focus better. Most important, once you make the habit, it certainly helps to balance work and life.

Even better: works out of the office

It can work at a personal level, with your family, friends and leisure time. The technique may help you to structure your day in order to give them time and seize it.

I have always had an agenda and try to stick to it and I really like to play with it to make it more helpful.

Through this technique I started to be more conscious about the time I dedicated to my free time activities and to my family and friends. And it really helps to focus on them. The technique assists you to structure time, have a clear image of the activities ahead and value every minute spent with your wife or daughter or doing your hobby.

For example, I did this:

  • 2 pomodoros for playing guitar
  • 2 pomodoros for bathing my daugther
  • 1 pomodoro for planning the next day with my wife

Sometimes it works better than others. Sometimes, planning demands more time or I simply decided to spend more time bathing my daughter. It’s ok, the important thing is to focus on those you decided to spend time with. Just as you do in your time at the office with your tasks.

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Important: it depends on you to make it work (of course) and it demands discipline (much at the beginning).