Simplicity is power. The beauty of the Pomodoro Technique (R), the personal productivity tool developed decades ago by Francesco Cirillo, is that it works. Exponentially.
I was a skeptic at first. A grizzled veteran of innumerable time management strategies and life-hacking ideas, I snootily disdained people who couldn't maintain focus for 25 minutes and needed a tomato egg timer to do so. Then I realised that I had become that person.
We are all drinking from a fire hose of information, in the poignant words of Zen Habits sage Leo Babauta. Since my college days, when I could immerse myself in deep concentration for hours, the world has changed. We are bombarded with incessant, microscopic pinpricks of demands for our time, each of which saps our finite energies to one tiny degree.
We suffer hundreds of daily emails and attachments scrolling through our smartphones and our computers. We mainline on blogs and apps and RSS feeds, secure in the illusion of productivity. It is so much more fun to frolic in the enticing shallows of knowledge and avoid the rigorous challenge of intensive, purposeful thought. Yet twenty five minutes can change everything.
The trick is to focus, intensely and with gusto, on a single topic for a defined unit of time - the so-called pomodoro. The rhythmic cadence of the accompanying tomato timer soothes the mind, allowing your haring and darting thought stream to address itself to a single topic. The rituals become almost compulsive; the process of goal definition, the logging and the setting and re-setting of that little red tomato - I use My Little Pomodoro on my MacBook Pro and Pomodoro on my iPhone. And after 117 pure Pomodoros of lean time, ranging from 25 minutes to 1 hour in duration, my productivity has started to surge.
Yes there are caveats. The secret is goal definition - if your objectives are skewed or in denial, you will simply accomplish more junk, more efficiently. Yet if force-ranking is applied, the most important tasks are set in stone, and the frog is eaten daily, then the results can be quite simply astounding. The Pomodoro works equally effectively for the green and yellow phases of the Yamazumi board - both the leading edge and execution phases, and the essential consolidation and maintenance modes.
The technique sometimes struggles in unplanned, malleable office environments, such as a trading floor, when constant interruptions are the norm or instant reaction is required. But for any manager who has autonomy over task, and needs simple and persistent motivation to knock down obstacles, the Pomodoro is a fantastic technique. I would still recommend additional time after the Pomodoro ends for reflective integration, when we step outside the tramlines of task completion and seek new ideas, connections and insights.
Yet when you need to take a scythe to a swathe of tasks, then Pomodoro is a fine solution. Everyone has lofty goals and ambitious dreams; it is in the mundane, apparently overwhelming steps to achieve them that people lose heart.
Don't. Set that tomato timer and take just one more step.
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