Getting stuff done is not easy. Sometimes life just gets in the way of being productive. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy when it comes to killing our own productivity. Writing an article about remote working from home and the techniques that I use to focus, I have found that working in small, goal-driven tasks work really well. As it turns out, there is a whole technique dedicated to this idea. Enter the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo. He had a really hard time with focus during his university studies. He found that using his tomato-shaped kitchen timer, setting a time limit and working on a specific task for the set time did wonders for his productivity. Being Italian, pomodoro literally means tomato. If you follow the steps below you will learn how to implement a life-changing time management strategy.

Break it down

The secret to the Pomodoro Technique is to divide your tasks into smaller bits of between 25 – 45 minutes each. The aim is to work for the entire session without any interruptions.

Set your timer, if possible a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, and focus on the task at hand, no matter what happens. Each bit is called a pomodoro.

When the timer rings, enjoy a 5-minute break or get up and move around. Get away from your workspace to break your focus. This will refresh your mind and revitalise your senses and ready you for your next task.

Stay motivated, get stuff done, feel great

The root of the success lies in the fact that each session is so short that you will be able to maintain focus for that period of time. Also, knowing a break is just around the corner will motivate you and keep you from doing other things. Difficult tasks are often too daunting to take on in a single session. Breaking them down allows you to chip away at the problem, making it more manageable and less frustrating.

Instead of trying to pull a marathon session that saps your energy and motivation, you are doing short sprints and having some recovery time as a reward,

There is no such thing as half a tomato

Well, not in the Pomodoro Technique anyway. The session or pomodoro is always the whole tomato.

Once you’ve started working, do not stop for any reason except a life or death situation. If you get distracted for any reason, the session is over and you have to start again from scratch. No cheating!

The reason for being so deliberate is to create a habit that will become second nature. By being disciplined, you train yourself and develop this positive habit without even thinking about it.

If, for some reason you finish ahead of time, review your work or reflect on what you’ve achieved. Do not stop until the timer rings.

Breaks are non-negotiable

Once you’re on a roll you might be tempted to keep going. If you take this seriously then breaks are compulsory. To maintain focus, you need to step away from the problem, break your attention and relax.

Try to distract yourself with something mundane, got make a cup of tea and don’t think about work. Bask in the glory of your previous pomodoro accomplishment.

After finishing 4 pomodori, treat yourself to a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes. If you find yourself losing focus during a pomodori, remind yourself that the reward of a longer break is just around the corner.

A tale of two lists and a timer

All you need is a stopwatch, a kitchen timer or your smartphone timer app. The sound of the clock ticking is a powerful signal to your brain that it is work time.

Your first list will be a to-do list.

For example:

  • Pay your water and lights bill – 1 pomodoro
  • Create a slideshow presentation – 4 pomodori
  • Research venues for a workshop – 2 pomodori

These tasks are chosen from your other list, called an inventory. This is all the tasks that you would like to achieve at some point in the future.

At first it will be hard to estimate the amount of time needed to allocate each tasks but you will get better as time goes by.

Eliminate interruptions

Even with the perfect working environment there will still be a chance for interruptions.

If your thoughts start to drift to something else, write it down somewhere and get back to the task at hand. When done, you can review this idea to see if it should be included in your inventory list of tasks.

For external interruptions:

  • If your phone rings, let it go to voicemail
  • Turn off your computer notifications and put your cellphone somewhere out of view where it cannot distract you
  • If someone starts talking to you, just say that you are busy and will speak to them in a few minutes.

Most people will be accepting and can wait a few minutes for your attention.

And that is how you hack your attention span, using the Pomodoro Technique and learn a new habit that will not only teach you self-control but also leave you feeling more productive and help you master your own attention.

Some handy links to Pomodoro apps:

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