Pomodoro: Your key to a more balanced and efficient YOU?

The Pomodoro Technique isn’t rocket science, nor is it a new idea.

It’s a time-management system developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, when he took a mechanical kitchen timer that looked like a tomato and used it to section out his workday.

Today there are many Pomodoro freemium apps available to help you apply the technique, but you don’t really need them if you have self-discipline. Gather a piece of paper, a pencil and an ugly kitchen timer – it’s just as easy and effective.

What do you want to accomplish today?

Dedicate a small notebook or an Excel spreadsheet to making a quick, daily to-do list (or an overall to-do list that spans most of your week). Now you’re ready to begin.

There are six stages in the technique:

  1. Choose a task you want to complete.
  2. Set a mechanical timer or electronic alarm for 25 minutes.
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings. If you’re monitoring a smartphone or desktop email for messages, etc., and a distraction rears its ugly head or pops into your head uninvited, write it down. Almost anything can wait 25 or less minutes for resolution, so don’t tend to anything less than a full-blown emergency at this time. Then immediately get back on task. If you must respond, the Pomodoro session is abandoned and you start the session over after you answer that email or take that call, beginning from Minute Zero on your timer.
  4. When the alarm or timer sounds at the end of a session, put a checkmark on a piece of paper. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes). While doing something to re-energize yourself is preferred, like a quick walk or a neck massage, if you must deal with that earlier distraction, and can do it in five minutes, now is the time. If it takes longer, it will become your new task that you want to complete. After your break, repeat steps 1-4. However, after four checkmarks (Pomodoros), take up to a 30-minute break. Then reset your checkmark count to zero and start over.
  5. If you complete a task before the timer goes off, devote the remaining time to “overlearning”, which means reviewing the task until you fully understand and have absorbed all of the facets associated with it. For example, if you were to make nine outbound sales phone calls, and you completed them in 18 minutes, use the remaining time to review those calls and add notes, or to expand your call list. If you know you are choosing a task which should only take a third of the time, or complete a quick one for which the overlearning model wouldn’t apply, bundle it together with another short task into one Pomodoro session and move immediately from the one you finish to the next.
  6. Check any completed items off your main to-do list.

The fundamental principles of this technique are sound.

We can focus on most tasks for 25 minutes without becoming mentally fatigued, and checking items off of a “to do” list is a way for us to log our victories, which keeps us motivated to start the next task. The main goal of the technique is to strengthen your ability to focus on, and to complete, work. It also helps you become more mindful of internal and external interruptions, and it empowers you to better manage those interruptions for maximum workflow.

A Pomodoro is indivisible; it lasts exactly 25 minutes. When interrupted during a Pomodoro, either the interruptive activity must be recorded and postponed, or the Pomodoro must be abandoned.

Try it because what have you got to lose – except a muddled workday.

About Jody Glynn Patrick

Jody is President of Glynn Patrick & Associates, which provides management consulting, executive coaching and strategic planning services. She is Publisher Emeritus of In Business magazine, which she published for 17 years. Selected as the “U.S. Business Journalist of the Year” in 2007 in Washington, DC, by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Jody has been a business reporter, editor, radio talk show host , and has won other state and national journalism awards. At the same time, she has helped corporate clients grow their businesses -- the basis for her practical coaching advice here. She also was the 2005 Athena Award recipient for her leadership role in mentoring other professional women. Jody will be talking with you weekly on TDS’ blog to share her insights and tips from the C-Suite perspective. Follow on G+.

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