The Pomodoro technique, to be precise.
It might sound like some exotic form of bedroom Olympics or something that a chef might do. Tonight I am pan frying a fillet of beef with a pomodoro ragout on a bed of …
It is actually a time management technique.
No, no, don’t switch off. I know that time management techniques can be incredibly boring and/or complicated. It seems as if the science of time management was invented so that people who don’t actually do anything can make a fortune writing books. Books that will be read by people who do actually do something, but not as well as they would like.
This one is different. This one seems to work.
The idea is simplicity itself. The only equipment you need is a timer. The classic is the plastic tomato kitchen timer, hence the name. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, and this was invented by an Italian who happened to choose a tomato timer. But you can use any old timer. The timer on your phone or computer will do just fine.
No, trust me. I will be fine. More on that later.
Set the timer for 25 minutes. Other time periods are available, but 25 minutes is a reasonable standard.
Now work solidly on your chosen task until the timer runs out. Ignore all distractions. Don’t check your emails. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t go looking at the BBC News website or the cricket scores or playing a song on itunes. 25 minutes of pure and unadulterated concentration.
When the timer rings, stop working. Give yourself 5 minutes of break. Get up from the desk, if you were down at a desk. Sit down if you were standing up. Walk around. Stretch.
At the end of your five minutes of break, have another 25 minutes on the timer followed by another five minute break. When you’ve done four of these cycles, give yourself a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.
Get to the end of the day and realise just how much more you have achieved.
I’ve tried it for a few days and it does work. You spend less time being distracted and more time being productive. And it’s nice and simple, with no silly forms to fill in.
It is particularly useful for writing. No more gazing out of the window having dreamy thoughts. The little red tomato is your beefy drill instructor barking at you to drop down and give me thirty push-ups.
That’s it. That’s all you need to know. Get into the kitchen, pinch the timer and try it for yourself. You don’t need to buy anything else. I am not trying to sell you a book or a video or an app. You already have all the tools that you need. Think of it as an easy shortcut to willpower.
I suppose I ought to give a couple of disclaimers at this point.
There are a bunch of people who liked to knock the Pomodoro technique. It’s no good for a brain surgeon, they say. It won’t work for an airline pilot, they add. I don’t need it because I’ve got willpower of steel and rock-hard abs, they boast.
That’s just silly talk. It’s like criticising a screwdriver for not being a spanner. The Pomodoro technique works for some jobs. It doesn’t work so well for others. It’s great for an individual sitting down to a large task that they have to do largely on their own. It’s less good for team working or for activities that don’t neatly fit into twenty five minutes.
I wouldn’t advise taking it into the bedroom. For some people 25 minutes is not long enough. For others twenty five seconds would be quite an achievement.
The second most deflating thing a woman can say to a man is “have you finished?”
The most deflating thing is “have you started?”
Ahem. I digress.
There are also some people who criticise the Pomodoro technique because it is more or less the same as a technique they already use. They throw around terms like “timeboxing” and “Agile”.
Yawn. Not interested. If it works, use it. If it doesn’t, don’t. If it is similar to something else, then whoopy-do.
While we are talking about critics, I have to point out that the inventor of the technique, a certain Francesco Cirillo, doesn’t do himself any favours. If you google the Pomodoro technique you’ll find a free ebook where he describes it. Unfortunately, this falls into what the internet calls “TL;DR” – too long; didn’t read.
I have read it and I have to say … don’t bother. He makes it much more complicated than it needs to be.
Apparently, it has to be a mechanical timer and not a phone app because it’s more tactile. And the ticking noise is good because it reminds you that you should be working. Nonsense. A phone app works just as well.
Apparently, you have to stop exactly when the buzzer sounds. You can’t carry on for a few more seconds to finish a job off. Again, nonsense.
Apparently we have to fill in forms before and after each 25 minutes. More nonsense. Form filling might work for some people, but for others it’s a huge turnoff. Keep it simple, stupid.
There’s a lot more, but I won’t bore you with it. There are dozens of books out there expanding on the technique. Apps written specifically to do the timing and the tedious form filling. I doubt you need any of them. All you need is a timer and then 25 minutes on followed by 5 minutes off. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Why not try it? It works for one simple reason. The timer is a simple and highly visible prompt which stops us from getting distracted. It says that it’s okay to get distracted, but do it in the five minutes allocated in every 30 minute period. And spend the rest of your time being more productive than you ever thought possible.
I would love to hear your experiences of the Pomodoro technique. Useful or no?