The Pomodoro Technique - kitchen timer

The Pomodoro Technique

Have you heard of the pomodoro technique?  Not heard of it?  The chances are it could help change the way you work. Whether you are a freelancer working at home or part of a team in an office it can often be hard to focus on an individual task for any length of time, particularly ones we are trying to avoid!

Between endless notifications and questions from colleagues it’s hard to do anything without interruption. Even working solo in the garden office, it’s easy to get distracted by what we call ‘can you just?’ emails.

These are the very simple requests that we often act on while it’s on our mind as they only take 2 minutes but could easily be saved up and completed in a dedicated session at the end of the working day. In most cases, they’re sent with no expectation that they’ll be dealt with immediately and the pressure to do so is entirely of our own making.

How to avoid distractions and work more productively

The most obvious solution is to simply ignore non urgent notifications but that takes a level of self-discipline that not many of us possess and the only way to determine the urgency is to read them which defeats the object.

Another is to use an accountability partner.  Jane Espenson, a screenwriter, regularly facilitates writing sprints on Twitter, usually an hour of focused work on one task whether it’s writing, cleaning, tidying or anything else you need to do for an hour really.

I was introduced to online co-working sessions by Ruth Gilbey in her fantastic membership.  You meet for an hour, say what you’re going to get done and then it’s audio and video off while you work on the task.  At the end of the session the group gives an update on how they got on.

I find personally that an hour is too long for most tasks, and it can be difficult to keep up levels of concentration for that long.  For this reason, I prefer the Pomodoro technique.  Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s it uses a timer to break working time into 25-minute intervals, separated by short breaks. These intervals are named ‘pomodoros’ after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.  The technique helps you to focus, avoid distractions and procrastination and is said to improve your concentration span over time.  25 minutes is also not too long to turn off all notifications without risking missing anything important.  These are the recommended steps:

  1. Decide which task you are going to work on.
  2. Set your timer to 25 minutes
  3. Work solely on that task until the timer finishes.
  4. When the timer sounds, finish work and log your progress.
  5. Take a short break of 3–5 minutes and repeat.
  6. After every four pomodoros, take a longer break of 15–30 minutes.

A kitchen timer works well for this as it has a bell, so you won’t go over the time and it dissuades clock-watching.  Personally I like this little clock from IKEA which has a countdown setting with an alarm.  I have it set for 20 minutes and try to re-start the timer up to three times if I’m working on a larger project.  It also works well for keeping track of time if you are working for clients on an hourly rate.  I wouldn’t recommend a stopwatch as you will simply spend most of your time watching the seconds tick by.

Top tip: When you take your 30-minute break, leave your desk. Go for a walk, make a drink, and clear your mind ready to refocus. Gemma likes to take a 20 minute walk on the beach and make a coffee ready to refocus on the next task, I tend to grab a drink and either pop to the local shops or read a chapter of a book.

If you need additional help concentrating, there are apps like Brain FM which are very effective or even just noise cancelling headphones which would also work well in an office environment.

Whether it’s co-working, Twitter accountability or a tomato shaped kitchen timer, hopefully one of the above techniques work for you!

Keep an eye on our blog for more freelancing tips and secrets.