Learn how to use the Pomodoro Technique to reach peak productivity and improve your time management skills. Discover the pros and cons of this method.
Navigating the bustling world of freelancing business ownership often means wrestling with a sea of distractions. From incessant emails to the magnetic pull of social media, the modern age presents challenges that can sap your focus.
Luckily, there also exist many tools and techniques for regaining focus, like the Pomodoro Technique. In this guide, we’ll uncover the magic behind this productivity tool, its transformative benefits, and its hands-on application. We’ll also explain how to use the Pomodoro Technique effectively by following four crucial best practices.
What’s the Pomodoro Technique, and how does it work? 🤔
The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management method developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. The technique got its name from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo used to track his time spent on tasks.
How does the Pomodoro Technique work? It’s simple — you break down your work into manageable intervals of 25 minutes separated by a five-minute break. Here’s a step-by-step guide:
- Choose a task (or several) you want to complete. Big jobs will take multiple Pomodoros, and you can group smaller tasks, like sending a few emails, into one Pomodoro.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes — this is one Pomodoro.
- Work on your focus task(s) until the time runs out.
- Take a five-minute break, and then continue with the next Pomodoro.
- Take a 15–30-minute break after completing four Pomodoros.
The Pomodoro Technique emphasizes quality over quantity, meaning you should avoid doing anything unrelated to your task during each interval. If you’re working on a project-work-focused Pomodoro and receive a few emails, answer them in a Pomodoro focused on this task work.
When should you use the Pomodoro Technique? 🗓️
As excellent as this technique is at improving focus and helping with task time blocking, there are situations where alternatives might suit better.
If you’re a creative who needs to get into a flow state to be productive, a timer at 25 minutes might interrupt your great work. And if emergencies often crop up in your line of work, the fixed schedule isn’t practical when trying to address situations that require your immediate attention.
That said, this technique is well suited to the following situations:
- You get distracted easily by different tasks and make no progress on any.
- You feel overwhelmed by the work you must do and aren’t sure where to start.
- You tend to procrastinate to cope with work-related stress due to a large workload.
- You have inconsistent work habits — you work hard one day and procrastinate the next.
- You struggle to allocate time to complete tasks, which results in missed deadlines.
And finally, people commonly ask whether the Pomodoro Technique is effective for studying — and that’s a yes. Students and upskilling Independents often have various subjects they need to focus on, and breaking lessons into shorter, more focused intervals is a great way to avoid mental fatigue and get your studying done while feeling less overwhelmed.
What makes this technique so effective? ⭐
You understand what it is and when to use it, but why does the Pomodoro Technique work? For certain situations, it’s effective because it offers various benefits that help workers feel less overwhelmed by and more focused on their work. But in other scenarios, it actually doesn’t work — at least not as well. Here are some of the pros and cons of using this method.
- Easier to get started: A key cause of procrastination is avoiding negative emotions like stress and feeling incapable. But these emotions often stem from working on daunting and overly complex tasks. The Pomodoro Technique creates molehills out of mountains, making completing a big project much more manageable. This makes it easier to start working since you’re far less likely to put off a small, simple task than a big, complex one.
- Reduces distractions: This technique schedules breaks where you can check your phone or go for a walk, helping you focus on the task at hand for 25 minutes. At first, you might find it difficult to go the whole Pomodoro without distracting yourself, but with time and practice, it becomes easier to make it all the way.
- Improves time management: Trying to imagine how much time it takes to complete a task isn’t easy since many of us suffer from the planning fallacy, where we vastly underestimate how long something takes us. As you practice using the Pomodoro Technique, you learn to convert the abstract idea of time into measurable units or Pomodoros. This helps you improve your time-management skills and gives you a better understanding of where your time goes.
- Is reward-based: Taking breaks is at the heart of this time-management technique, and these breaks primarily serve to leave you mentally refreshed. But they also act as rewards, making work more fun. After some time, you’ll be excited to tick off Pomodoros to enjoy your break before starting the next task.
- Strict intervals can be stressful: If you’re too strict with each interval and don’t complete work within the allotted time, you might feel stressed. To combat this, evaluate your allocation of Pomodoros at the end of each day to either make more time for a task or see which items you can break down further.
- Intervals can feel rigid: On some days, working for 25 minutes can feel like an hour, and on others, working for an hour can feel like five minutes. The regimented nature of intervals might feel rigid, which could negatively affect your creativity and drive. To mitigate this, adjust the intervals and breaks to find a sweet spot that works for you.
- Doesn’t account for external interruptions: The Pomodoro Technique is good for eliminating self-inflicted distractions but doesn’t account for a coworker wanting to chat or an unscheduled work meeting, and these external interruptions can put a wrench in your planned-out day. Avoid overstuffing your day with Pomodoros to accommodate for external interruptions.
- No guidelines for completing tasks early: If you often finish task work before a Pomodoro ends, track this extra time and adjust your Pomodoros to ensure you’re using your time productively.
How to use the Pomodoro Technique: 4 tips ✏️
Technically, the above five-step guide is all you need to try this technique — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be effective. Keep these four tips in mind and consider checking out Pomodoro Technique books to further improve your experience with this method.
1. Plan your Pomodoros 📑
To succeed with this technique, you need to know how to list, group, and prioritize your tasks. You might start each day and week organizing these items into specific Pomodoros you can alter (but not too much — try to stick to your plan unless you must make changes).
2. Make your breaks rewarding 😌
Your breaks should leave you feeling mentally refreshed, and that can’t happen if you go from working on a screen to watching YouTube videos. Make the breaks rewarding by going outside, stretching your legs, or having a small snack. And avoid using these breaks to complete smaller tasks, like replying to emails, because — that’s not a break. By rewarding yourself with an appropriate rest, you’ll feel renewed and determined to continue working.
3. Experiment with Pomodoro lengths 📏
While the Pomodoro Technique suggests 25-minute working intervals and five-minute breaks, only you can determine what works best for you. Adjust the working interval accordingly if you have a lower or higher concentration span.
Similarly, some types of work, like creative jobs, require you to be engaged for extended periods. In this instance, adjust the Pomodoro to an hour and have a 20-minute break. At the end of the day, the main goal is to boost your productivity levels, so adjust the intervals and breaks to achieve this.
4. Don’t overschedule 😩
Trying to stuff as much work into a workday as possible when using the Pomodoro Technique can be tempting, but this is counterintuitive. The structure of this time-management tool aims to reduce stress by breaking work down into more manageable chunks — and maxing out your Pomodoros is counterproductive to this. Always set realistic goals and workloads when using the Pomodoro Technique to maximize its effectiveness and avoid being stressed and left with many uncompleted tasks at the end of each day.
Stay motivated by joining a productive group of freelancers 🤝
If you found this article helpful, consider joining Contra’s Slack community, where you can find freelancers like yourself, access advice and resources, and ask questions to improve as an Independent. And check out our blog, The Contrarian, which contains everything you need to improve your productivity and freelancing services, like articles highlighting everyday tools for Independents and tips for mastering client management.