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How a Tomato helped me get more done

Sometimes I have a hard time starting a task.

I’ll check email, get a drink, get a snack, start cleaning my desk–all things that are NOT the task at hand.

Once I get into “the zone” I can be very productive, but getting there can be a challenge.

What if there was a shortcut to get yourself started on a task, finish it quicker, and feel more rested afterward?

Let me introduce you to the Pomodoro Technique developed by Francesco Cirillo.

Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, inspired by a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato.

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If you are serious about wasting less time and finishing more things I highly recommend you take 30 mins to read his original publication about the Pomodoro Technique. It’s an easy read and you will get a much better understanding of the details of the technique.

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Some objectives of the technique are:

1. Observe and find out how much effort an activity requires

2. Cut down on interruptions both internal (yourself) and external (other people)

3. Estimate effort for activities

4. Make the Pomodoro more effective

5. Set up a Timetable

Most of what you see people write about when they talk about the Pomodoro Technique only focuses on #1 and #2 on the list of 5 objectives. Items 3-5 are also very powerful for increasing your overall productivity.

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Basic Steps:

1. Decide on 2-3 tasks for the day that you think will take between 30 mins and 3 hours each. If you think a task will take more than 3 hours then you should break it up into smaller tasks.

2. Set a timer for 25 mins

3. Focus in on a task for the entire 25 minutes. The timer should count down and be visible to you and others that may try to interrupt you. Watching it count down also creates a sort of “game” – can you finish before the clock runs out?

4. Write down interruptions that come up during the 25 minutes (respond to text, answer phone, check email, watch cat video, order lunch – all of the things that are NOT the task at hand) and WAIT TO DO THEM – don’t let it interrupt your work on the current task for more than the few seconds it takes to write it down.

If something interrupts your focus from the task for more than a few seconds then go back to step 2. An interrupted Pomodoro doesn’t count and you start the timer over.

This could mean you have some days when you don’t finish a single Pomodoro because they were all interrupted. That’s ok.

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5. At the end of 25 minutes when the timer goes off STOP WORKING. Just stop. If it’s not done you’ll work on it another 25 minutes after your break (next step)

6. Take a 5 min break. 25 mins focused work + 5 mins break = 1 Pomodoro. Or if you get sick of explaining what “Pomodoro” means just call it a tomato.

7. After every 4 Pomodoros take a 30 min break

Practicing the Pomodoro Technique has helped me focus and finish things in less time than when I try to “just plow through it”. There are also physical benefits from standing up from your keyboard every 25 mins and giving your eyes a break.

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During the 30 min break, I like to walk around outside and get some fresh air.

Often while I’m walking or when I get back from a break I’ll get an answer to a problem that I may have been looking at for a while.

Your brain is smart. Let it do its job by turning off your conscious effort on a task so your subconscious can kick in and do some heavy lifting.

This is especially important for creative tasks.

I also like how it combats procrastination (internal distractions). When I sit down, instead of checking all of my email accounts, arranging my icons, closing unused browser tabs, etc. I just start my timer and get to work on the first item for the day.

I know that 25 minutes later I’ll get 5 minutes to goof off. 5 minutes that I’m required to goof off and tend to all of those distractions.

If I’m really fried, I’ll schedule an entire Pomodoro to goof off. This ends up taking less time than if I watch “just one more” funny video.

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 I cannot boast that I waste nothing, but I can at least tell you what I am wasting, and the cause and manner of the loss

-Seneca

For external distractions, if someone comes up to me in the middle of a Pomodoro I’ll just ask, “Can it wait 10 minutes?” (or however long is left in my Pomodoro). I make it a point to follow up with them before my next Pomodoro if it truly is urgent, or I just put it in my “maintenance” Pomodoro toward the end of the day.

When you respond to people they will tend to respect the tomato more. Especially when you are getting things done faster because of it.

You can download apps to help you track tasks and have a countdown timer. I like Be Focused by Xwavesoft.

Be Focused

Some project planning/task tracking apps have it built in like Kanban Flow– they have integrated a Pomodoro timer with their task board. You can even tie a Pomodoro to a task on your board which helps track how long it actually took.

You can also use good old fashioned pen and paper.

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The point is sometimes you are your own biggest distraction. This is one way to get around that so you can get more done without necessarily spending a lot of extra time doing it.

Give the Pomodoro Technique a try and comment below with your experience or any questions that come up.

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