Time Management

Time Management – The Pomodoro Technique

Time management can often prove tricky for some, and yet using the Pomodoro Technique can really help you to manage your time effectively. So, are you one of those people who has endless energy on some days but not on others? Do you find at times you feel as though you can conquer the world, and consequently fly through jobs, tasks etc., yet at other times, no matter how hard you work, you seem to achieve very little?

Working long hours is often confused with high productivity; research has actually shown that working long hours can actually reduce your productivity, while taking frequent, short breaks can actually help you feel energised and focused on tasks at hand. This is where the Pomodoro Technique can help. A simple, yet effective technique which can help increase productivity and further improve your overall sense of well-being, which in turn will make you feel even more energised.

SO WHAT IS THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE?

Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, the Pomodoro Technique encourages you to chunk your work down into 25-minute sessions, with each chunk separated by a short break – this is important!.

It’s a very easy technique to use, and all that is really required is self-discipline! Each 25 session is a “Pomodoro”, after each “Pomodoro” you take a 5 minute break. After 4 “Pomodoro’s” you take a longer break, and re-energise. This is where the self-discipline comes in….it will at first seem counter-intuitive to keep taking breaks. Through habit, you may continue to work beyond the 25 minutes, to finish a task. Yet, as the research above demonstrates, this actually lowers your productivity. You need to retrain your brain, and take the breaks as set out. This will actually increase your ability to concentrate and get the job done!

SO HOW DO YOU RETRAIN YOUR BRAIN?

Step 1: Check Your Daily Routine

First, check your daily routine. Write a To-Do List  and think about what you really need to do today.

Approximate how long each task may take, and allocate the tasks to a “Pomodoro”. If you cannot complete the task in 25 minutes, again approximate how many pomodori (25-minute sessions) it will take you. Once you have completed this, schedule your tasks so that they fit comfortably with your other commitments for the day.

Don’t forget in between each “Pomodoro” you are to take a break of 5 minutes. After 4 sessions (Pomodori) you will need to take a longer break to recharge your batteries.

Step 2: Set Your Stop Watch

So, before you start work check you have everything you need: pens, notepad, water etc., and set the stop watch with Cirillo’s 25 minutes. Make sure you work only on the task you have allocated to that “Pomodoro”; you have only a limited amount of time to focus on the task! You can return phone calls etc., in your break.

Consequently, it is important to try and minimise disruptions, so far as it is reasonably practicable to do so e.g. turn off your phone, block time out in your diary so your colleagues know you are busy.

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Step 3: Stick to the Task at Hand

Don’t be tempted to flit between tasks! Focus all of your attention on the task at hand. If an idea does pop into your mind, note these down on your notepad and return to them later during a break. If you finish ahead of time, use the remaining minutes to complete other short, routine activities. If you find that this happens frequently, make time and reflect on how you have previously allocated time to tasks and use this for future scheduling.

Step 4: Take a Short Break

When your buzzer sounds, take a five-minute break. Even if you are in the middle of something, you must do this to re-energise and return focused for the next “Pomodoro”. Don’t worry that taking these breaks will impact adversely on your work: remember, the short breaks actually help increase productivity. Cirillo submits that energy levels are far more important than time. The Pomodoro technique operates by maintaining your energy, so that you don’t need to waste time working on tasks when you are likely to be distracted.

For the Pomodoro Technique to be even more effective, take your breaks away from your desk. If you need to copy something, walk to the copier. If you need to speak to someone, walk to their desk and have the conversation. It’s just as important to get some exercise throughout the day as it is to stay hydrated.

During your breaks, try not to reflect on the “Pomodoro” you have just completed. Your brain is more likely to absorb the previous learning while in a relaxed state. It goes without saying, to also avoid difficult conversations during break periods too. Try also to not surf the net, use social media etc., as this can strain your eyes. Use the time constructively; have a chat with a colleague, tidy papers, and if you are working from home, do some dusting, put the bins out and so forth.

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Step 5: Continue Your Pomodori and Take a Longer Break

At the end of the break, re-set your stop watch for a further 25 minutes and continue with the task in hand, or if that was completed in the previous session, move onto the next task on your To-Do-List. At the end of the fourth Pomodori take a 20-30 minute break; eat something, go for a walk, drink some water, in fact do anything which takes you physically away from your desk.

It is essential to recharge your energy levels! Don’t be tempted to cut short the 20 – 30 minute break, no matter how pressing the task at hand is! The number of Pomodori is not set in stone…..you know your body best, and if, after 3 Pomodori you are feeling tired take a 20 – 30 minute break at this juncture; our bodies work in 90 – 120 minute cycles and depending at what stage your ultadian rhythm was when you set about your task, will determine at what stage you may need to take a slightly longer break. This may also vary from day-to-day; experiment! You may, on some days, be able to complete 5 Pomodori before needing to take a 20 – 30 minute break. We are all different, so there are no hard and fast rules. Some people, for example, are able to concentrate more in the morning, and vice versa. Work out your own pattern.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Pomodoro Technique

As with all techniques the Pomodoro Technique has its advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include:

  • Using it to chunk down tasks into shorter, highly focused work sessions can help you manage your time more effectively, and makes large projects seem less onerous.
  • It also encourages you to keep disruptions to a minimum, ameliorate multitasking and prevent procrastination – all of which can drain your energy and make you less focused and therefore less productive.
  • Research also confirms that regular short breaks are good for your health and improve your concentration, which raises productivity levels. Cirillo points out that the method is especially suitable for people with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
  • Also, short, frequent breaks enhance your brains ability to absorb information and think through problems and issues purposefully.
  • Short breaks also help you to pace yourself, so you feel less tired in the afternoon.

However, the Pomodoro Technique is not for everyone and it is important to recognise and understand what works for you, and what doesn’t. Some people may find the discipline required difficult to manage, and feel drained by exerting such effort that it actually reduces productivity. It can also be tricky to use such a technique in organisations which are fast-paced or in an open plan office where distractions are more likely.

The 25 minutes Pomodoro sessions may also be too rigid for some or may not fit in with daily meetings etc.

Try it, and see if it works for you!

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