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How I Became a more Productive Writer with the Help of Italian Tomatoes

Today I’m sharing with you a technique that has boosted my productivity by 3x since I started using it. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique and it’s an excellent way to curb to increase our fly attention from that of a fruit fly to at least on par with that of a small mammal (slightly below a devious ferret’s attention span, but above an adorable guinea pig’s focus).

 

This Pomodoro Technique isn’t exactly new, as it’s been around since the 1980’s, but it has gained popularity because of it’s relevancy in today’s noisy, attention-grabbing environment we live in. This time-management method was invented back in the 1980s by an Italian student named Francesco Cirillo, who later wrote a book about it (get the PDF version here for free). Here’s the Twitter version of how Francisco came about his invention (with four characters to spare!):

 

“Student failing. Needed to concentrate on schoolwork.

Used tomato-shaped kitchen timer to track tasks.

Pomodoro is Italian for tomato.”

 

Pomodoro is Italian for Get It Done!

 

How Does the Pomodoro Technique Work?

 

How often have you been working on something when the urge to check Facebook, or whatever social network, nags at you until you’re compelled to take a look? At once you do, you can pretty much *kiss* your productivity goodbye, because three YouTube videos, 10 LOLcat pictures, five status updates, and two email replies later, you’ll have no idea what exactly was it you were working on 45 minutes ago.

 

Basically, the Pomodoro Technique calls for dividing your time into small 25-minute chunks, separated by small, three to five minute breaks. During these 25-minute chunks (called “pomodori”), you’re supposed to focus with laser-like intensity on one task. No e-mail checking, no Facebook peeking, nothing to distract you for even one second from your task at hand. Which is absolutely key for people like me.

 

The Pomodoro Technique takes care of that by putting off that desire to check Facebook, email, or whatever else distract you until you’ve devoted those 25 minutes to the task at hand. After your 25 minutes are up, use your five minute break to peek at Facebook, check your inbox, check your Twitter feed, whatever is gnawing at you. Once those five minutes are up, then it’s time to dive back into whatever task you’re planning to devote 25 straight minutes to.  After four of these 25-minute chunks go by (about a two-hour span), you’re then encouraged to take a longer 25 to 30 minute break. This is the time I use to get up from my chair, get some fresh air, drink water, etc.

 

I love this method because it curbs my need to engage non-critical tasks and focus the biggest chunk of my time in tasks that matter to my bottom line and what I’m trying to achieve. And because Pomodoro allows me to minimally engage in non-critical activities, I don’t get irresistible urges to drop the important stuff I’m doing because I know I can satisfy my curiosity every half-hour or so.

 

Getting Results by Using Pomodoro

 

I use Pomodoro with great success. Using Pomodoro, I was able to finish my free eBook after months of stalling and unfocused writing. One week and BAM!, book done.

 

I wrote this article by using Pomodoro. Normally, it used to take me a day or two to outline and write an article, but now, I just pick a time, set a two to three hour chunk of time, and the post is up. Just like that.

 

An added benefit is that it forces you to prioritize which tasks are important and which are trivial, but time black holes. I’d never consciously schedule “45 minutes of time-wasting on Facebook”, but that’s what I often did without realizing it. By putting non-important tasks inside the context of much more important tasks, you can begin to increase your productivity immediately.

 

How I Use Pomodoro

 

Francisco, the creator of the Pomodoro Technique, encourages people to use an actual timer, pencil and paper to use this method, rather than software, which I totally understand. Gadgets that are often meant to make us more productive often have the opposite effect. Instead of helping us be productive, they often lead to more time-wasting, as it was the case with my iPad until I finally harnessed the impulse to switch from task to task.

 

Instead of using a timer, I use an awesome  iPad/iPod (free!) Pomodoro app called 30/30 (iTunes). This app is sleek and highly customizable. You can set tasks for any length of time and once you’ve got a work rhythm established, 30/30 will display each task in a continuous loop, or pause when all the task in a list have been completed. Below is a screenshot of one of my task lists:

 

30/30 App Screenshot

 

If you have an Android phone, you may want to check out Pomodroido (Android Store). I haven’t personally used it, but other people rave about it so it’s worth a try.

 

Tomato pic: epSos.de @Flickr

 

Have you used Pomodoro?

What are your favorite time-management techniques?

About Rich Polanco

Fan of dogs + all things tech. Love a great pizza. My goal is not to travel to every country in the world. I only want to get to know my favorite ones REALLY well. Check out the big bio here. Follow @RichPolanco and connect on Facebook.
Currently exploring: Guatemala.

Comments

  1. Tamara Swanson says:

    Great post, Rich! Ive read about a similar technique called “micro tasking”, but I like the more specific formula outlined with Pomodoro. It might actually help my ADD/gnat-like attention span! Great work.

    • Rich Polanco says:

      Hi Tamara! Micro-tasking sounds similar. Multitasking is SO overrated. Keeping tasks under one hour helps me focus. The little “tiny” breaks in between help me satisfy my curiosity. I’ve found that the world doesn’t end just because I failed to check email or peek at Facebook every five minutes :)

      -Rich

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