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Getting Started with Pomodoro Technique

Tyler Gianesini -

The schedule gets a bad rap. People who stick to schedules get called boring, rigid, and closed-minded. I've gone back and forth between heavily regimented times in my life and others where I just went with the flow and used the time as it came.

I have always been healthier and more productive during the scheduled times. I eat better, I work better, I sleep better.

And if you get down to it, most of those people who seem carefree, unscheduled and spontaneous... are they getting much done? Are they the most productive people you know? Or are you instead constantly finding yourself waiting for them to show up because they lost track of time again?

The thing is, if you're unscheduled, every time is potentially break time. It's also potentially worked time.

I can't have fun if every time is potentially working time. I feel anxious, as though a couple episodes of something on Netflix means I should feel guilty about. I could be working!

And that's the joy of the schedule. If you schedule your need-to-dos, you'll have also conveniently scheduled in plenty of time for your want-to-dos.

The Pomodoro

The most basic and fun way to get into keeping a schedule is the Pomodoro. You didn't think I'd get around to it, did you? Pomodoros are little blocks of time that you dedicate to a single task. Typically 25 minutes in length, these are strung together until you have an approximate daily schedule.

Here's a basic breakdown of the rules from Wikipedia:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the pomodoro timer to n minutes (traditionally n = 25).
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down, but immediately get back on task.
  4. After the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
  5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 1.
  6. Else (i.e. after four pomodoros) take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.

Here's my basic version:

  1. Work a single task for 25 minutes.
  2. Write down any distracting thoughts, but immediately get back to the task for the duration of the time period.
  3. Take a 3-5 minute break, or a 15-30 minute break only when you feel you need one.

I do away with the checkmark system because I think at first you might need longer breaks more often, and I think eventually you'll be able to easily tell when you're so distracted that you need to take a longer break.

The reason this schedule is awesome is because it has a lot of breaks and you never do anything for very long. It's easy to switch tasks in and out as well.

Say you've got an exercise block of time twice a day. Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays your fourth Pomodoro of the day might be skipping rope while Tuesday and Thursday it's swing a kettlebell around. Same schedule, but it adapts depending on the needs of the day.

How it Works

Why does Pomodoro work? Focus is key. By removing the ambiguity from a block of time, you no longer take any time planning the next step. 11-11:25 is piano practice, plain and simple. No deciding whether you feel more like piano or checking email. No more deciding whether or not to get a fresh cup of coffee.

When you're free from other tasks, you can accomplish one task with focus. That's why it works.

It also works because it is based on how much attention we can naturally give over a period of time to one task. Sadly we're often a bit burned out by tasks after 25 minutes. That's ok. That doesn't mean you can only get 25 minutes of piano per day. You just need to do two Pomodoro's worth, with a break in the middle. Or two Pomodoro's spread throughout the day.

Another major key is the little breaks. They help condition your brain to work hard, then rest and repeat. You also feel a little bit reassured that despite missing out on Facebook for a whole twenty-five minutes, you will get five minutes to catch up with it. Remind me to tell you about why you should stop looking at social networking sites so often in a future post.

Getting Started

Getting started is easy. Sit down and list out the major things you do every day. If you work outside the home, make two lists. One is going to be for your living space, another for your working space.

Now put them in order, from the task you find least difficult to the task you find most difficult.

Now organize your day by these blocks. If you prefer to get the hard stuff out of the way immediately, tackle your list from the bottom. If you find that crushing easy tasks boosts your confidence for harder tasks, start from the top. 

Don't Forget Your Purpose

That's as simple as it needs to be. Remember that you schedule your life so that you can complete all of the tasks to your best ability, and so that you know when to relax. If you know for sure that there is a 25-minute chunk of time to handle emails tomorrow, it makes it a lot easier to enjoy your recreational time in the evening, and that's what really counts.

Also, Pomodoro means tomato, and it sounds cute. Here's a cute tomato so you can remember to Pomodoro:

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