For My Fellow Procrastinators & Unfocused Folks: Try The Pomodoro Technique

If you're anything like me, you might be a procrastinator who has a hard time focusing on tasks. I have epic episodes of mind wandering, and unless it's a task that I REALLY want to do, I end up doing a million other things at the same time. On a good day, I'll feel like a super multitasker, and on other days, I get a whole lot of nothing done. A lot started, but nothing finished. 

When I recently had my performance review at work, one of my personal goals was to create a better organizational system for myself. Part of that organizational system includes finding a better way to focus, and while wasting time on Twitter today (shout out to Luvvie Ajayi), I may have found something to help! It's called the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique was created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo to assist with improving time management skills. While he was in university, he had serious productivity challenges. He'd have the best of intentions to study for that exam, or write that paper, but distractions and interruptions continuously hampered his efforts. Sound familiar? Once he actually began looking at how time is constructed, and how he could make it work for him, he came up with the Pomodoro Technique (named after the Italian word for tomato, for one reason or another).

The technique is pretty simple. All you need is a to-do list created in order of priority (including separate sections called 'Unplanned & Urgent' and 'Activity Inventory' - more on those later), a timer, and motivation. Time is broken down into blocks called pomodoros, which equals 25 minutes. Take your task list, set your timer to 25 minutes, and once that timer starts, you work on the first task and ONLY the first task for 25 solid minutes.

Once 25 minutes is up, put an X beside your task, and take a 3-5 minute break. This should be a real break - get a drink, go to the bathroom, crack a joke or two with your coworker, but ensure to disconnect from your work. It's important to do nothing mentally strenuous. Once break time is up, start the next pomodoro and either continue your first task, or move on to the next one. Take a 3-5 minute break after each pomodoro, and after the fourth one, take a longer break (15-30 minutes). Keep it going until you're finished!

TO DO – Bee’s List Jan 2, 2012
        Organize client reports X X X
        Create next week’s schedule X
         Respond to emails X X
         Read new policy binder X


What happens if you get interrupted during a pomodoro? With internal interruptions (ones we create ourselves, like having a sudden craving for pizza or wanting to check a text that just came through on your phone), the key is to ask yourself if it needs to be attended to right now. The answer is usually no - the task can wait until your next break. Put a small comma beside your task to note the potential interruption, and document the task in "Unplanned & Urgent" task list (if it needs to be done today), or in the "Activity Inventory" if there is no deadline. Get to them later, and continue with your pomodoro!

TO DO – Bee’s List Jan 2, 2012
        Organize client reports  ' ' ' 'X X X
        Create next week’s schedule  ' 'X
         Respond to emails X X
         Read new policy binder X
        Check voicemails  Next break
        Review new emails  In 2 hours


What about external interruptions, like phone calls, emails, and other people? Put your voicemail to good use. Mute your computer so that you can't hear that special ding when you have a new email. Tell your friend, sister, or coworker that you're in the middle of something right now - can it wait a few more minutes or until later in the day? The Inform-Negotiate-Call Back strategy is always helpful: inform the person effectively (and politely) that you're busy; negotiate with them to reschedule their needs; and ensure to "call-back" at the negotiated time. Use a dash to mark the external interruption next to your task, and add the external interruption to either the "Unplanned & Urgent" (if it must be done today) or "Activity Inventory" (if it can wait until tomorrow) lists as applicable.

TO DO – Bee’s List Jan 2, 2012
        Organize client reports X X X
        Create next week’s schedule X
         Respond to emails  - - -X X
         Read new policy binder  - -X
        Follow up with Rowena re: Saturday
        Call back Colin and Megan re: Mother's Day
        Respond to Erin's email


If an interruption MUST be handled, then you have no choice but to void the current pomodoro, handle the issue, then start over. Two things to remember: pomodoros cannot be divided (there is no "half a pomodoro"), and as Cirillo coined, "Once a pomodoro begins, it has to ring!"

I tried this out loosely today while doing some household tasks, and will put it to the real test once I'm back in the office. My problem with focus is that instead of breaking tasks down into chunks of time, I looked at the task itself - this became overwhelming to say the least, and led to my procrastination when the task became too daunting to complete. Using the pomodoro breakdown, having the timer to make my accomplishments audible, taking a real break to disconnect, and having my list to track not only my completed work but also the number of interruptions I have each day - these things all made a difference in how I approached getting things done.

Want to read more on the Pomodoro Technique? Check the official site, and be sure to click "The Book" to download a free copy of Cirillo's e-book (link near the bottom of the page). The e-book covers much more detail to the technique, but the good thing is that you can tailor it as you see fit. Begin with the basic steps as I've mentioned here, and build on the technique once you're more comfortable. You'll be an over-achieving work machine in no time!

Bonus: For you iPhone users, there's an app for that!

Do you struggle with focus and/or procrastination? Do you think the Pomodoro Technique would help? Are there any other tips or tricks you use to stay on track and get things done? PLEASE do share..I need help, y'all! If you decide to give Pomodoro a try, let me know how it works for you!

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