Find out how the simple Pomodoro Technique can increase your performance, reduce stress, and raise your energy level.
The Pomodoro Technique revisited
Are you spending most of your day in front of your laptop? And are you experiencing tiredness and stress? There is a very simple productivity and well-being tool which most living souls overlook: The Pomodoro Technique. Whether you have heard of it or even tried it, you are likely unaware of its true power. And yet, cleverly practised, the Pomodoro Technique could change your day, your well-being, and your life. Overstatement? Read on…
The inventor of the Pomodoro Technique is an obscure Italian software engineer by the name of Francesco Cirillo. It’s a little-known fact that many amazing inventions come from Italy, including the bicycle, the radio, the telephone, the thermometer, the piano, and even banking. Elon Musk should be worshipping daily Alessandro Volta who invented the battery in 1800, without whom there would be no electric cars and no Tesla. And though Cirillo is no Volta or Leonardo da Vinci, his invention’s simplicity makes it magic. In the 80s, Francesco Cirillo was a university student struggling to focus on his studies. One day, he tried to use his kitchen timer to break his work into intervals of 25 minutes, separated by short breaks of 5 to 10 minutes. He called these intervals Pomodoros, after the tomato-shaped timer he used for cooking his pasta. Why did he choose 25 minutes? Well, not totally randomly.
While 25 minutes may sound arbitrary (why not 20 or 30?), various studies point to 20-40 minutes as the optimal amount of time a person can maintain focus. For people with low concentration skills, it can be even less than 15 minutes, whereas it can reach well over an hour for experienced meditators. The ability to concentrate is a skill that can be improved with practice.
How to use the Pomodoro Technique
The basic idea is to use a timer to take a break every 25 minutes or so. It doesn’t have to be precisely 25 minutes, and you can experiment to see what works best for you. Starting at 20 minutes and gradually increasing the interval can be helpful. Other factors may also influence the ideal time, such as whether you are a morning or afternoon person. Adjusting the intervals accordingly can help optimise your productivity.
As for your breaks, they should be short, but not too short. The original Pomodoro Technique recommends 5 to 10 minutes, but some flexibility exists. Similarly, the recommended 15-30 minute break every 2 hours can be adjusted based on your needs. Plenty of research highlights the benefits of having a break every half an hour or so. Again, it’s really up to you. The idea is to experiment until you find the ideal intervals for you.
The secret sauce
While you are undoubtedly clear on what to do during your Pomodoros, you can also use them to work on things you are reluctant to do. This technique can be especially powerful for tasks you keep putting off. I will illustrate that point later in the use cases. However, the real secret sauce of the Pomodoro Technique lies in what you do during your breaks. Planning your breaks is what makes the whole experience exciting, rewarding, and efficient. Well designed and executed, you’ll be looking forward to enjoying your breaks, and at the end of each break, you’ll be reenergised and ready to get back on the horse.
What can you do during your breaks?
Your break is a chance to recharge, a kind of pit stop, your “me time”. You can do whatever you want during those breaks – it’s your life, after all – but it’s pretty obvious that scrolling social media or playing games on your phone won’t do much good for you in terms of refreshing your mind and activating your blood circulation. So beware, and avoid screens. For some people, this may be the hardest part. If you find it challenging at the beginning, start by having at least one break in the morning and one in the afternoon without screen time. When you realise how good it feels, gradually increase the number of screen-free breaks. I’ve conducted this experiment with a few of my coachees, and the results in focus and well-being speak for themselves. They finish work less exhausted, more positive, and with increased alertness. For some people, this simple technique is a game-changer.
You can use this time to do some mild stretching and exercises, meditate, contemplate flowers, pet your cat, scratch your dog, do a bit of shadow boxing, joke around with a colleague, watch the clouds passing by, reflect on the beauty of the world, or feel gratitude – whatever works for you. The idea is that these regular breaks will refresh your mind, get your blood flowing and your body moving, and you’ll become much healthier and happier. Is it that simple? Yes.
For example, I use these breaks to venture in a mix of push-ups, tai chi moves, strumming my guitar, and more. If you’re at home, it’s easy. If you’re in the office, you may feel awkward doing push-ups in the middle of the room in front of colleagues. But in most places, you can find a quiet room for 5-10 minutes. You could even involve your teammates in this “Pomodoro party”! My son, who works for a fintech company in central London, walks around the block during these breaks. He says it’s a great time to get clarity and new ideas.
How to use the Pomodoro Technique: 3 use cases
Using Pomodoros to tackle unmotivating tasks
A recurring problem for most people is postponing things we don’t want to do. These tasks often linger on our to-do lists, such as writing a sales template, filing our tax return, or paying an invoice. We either dislike these tasks, find them too hard to start, or can’t motivate ourselves to get going. These are perfect candidates for wrapping them up in a Pomodoro. With the Pomodoro, you only commit to 25 minutes, which is manageable. You can even couple that with a reward at the end. Once done, you can agree to give this task another Pomodoro if you feel like it, or move on to something else.
I had a client who was a professional poker player and found it challenging to allocate time to sort out his administrative issues. He had even tried using a to-do list app to enter all the tasks he had to do, but somehow items would stay on his list for weeks or months. After several attempts to reprioritise and use willpower, he had hardly made any progress. One day, I suggested using the Pomodoro Technique. I had a Pomodoro timer delivered to him and gave him the following homework: For the next four weeks, every day, take one item on your list and give it one Pomodoro. Just one! It sounded so easy that he gave it a try. By the end of the second week, he was allocating two Pomodoros a day to items on his list, and by the end of the month, he had purged most of his list. Why? Because the tricky bits are absorbed in small doses. By the time you’ve done your 25 minutes, you will be surprised at how easy it was! And you feel good about what you’ve just done.
Using your Pomodoro breaks to get fitter
What about using the pauses between each Pomodoro to do some workouts? In a typical day of remote work, depending on your workload and meeting schedule, it’s safe to say that at least 50% of your time can be split into Pomodoros. That’s approximately 4 hours generating 8 pauses. If you do just 5 minutes of mild exercise during each of these breaks, it amounts to 40 minutes a day, or over 3 hours of training per week. Not bad for an activity that in itself increases your productivity and reduces your stress. You can do stretches, yoga, short meditations, push-ups, tai chi, or squats. For example, I use some of my Pomodoro breaks to do push-ups. With this technique, 100 press-ups a day is a piece of cake. Standing meditation is also a great way to renew your energy, and Qi Gong and Tai Chi are excellent practices, all ideally suited for those magic breaks.
Using your Pomodoro breaks to play an instrument
This one is more for people who work from home. If you enjoy playing an instrument, such as the guitar or piano, and find it relaxing and rewarding but can’t seem to find the time to practice and improve, playing your instrument is the perfect candidate for a Pomodoro pause. Just set your clock for 5 to 10 minutes and enjoy. These musical practices are even more potent for the longer 15-30 minute Pomodoro pauses you take every couple of hours. In addition to all the benefits of clearing your mind, in no time, you will learn new tunes and reconnect with that beloved instrument. I use some of my breaks to play the guitar and learn new material. Now, I look forward to my breaks to practice, and after 10 minutes of strumming chords, I feel refreshed and ready to conquer a new Pomodoro mission.
Final word of wisdom
Like most things in life, you have to adapt the Pomodoro Technique to your own work style, lifestyle, rhythm, and personality. Experiment and fine-tune it until you find what serves you best. Last piece of advice: I recommend buying a Pomodoro clock and not using your phone timer. Why? Because it saves you time and takes your eyes away from your smartphone screen. It’s also more fun and visual. Your Pomodoro timer becomes your personal trainer, a symbol of breaks and well-being. And it’s cheap; mine cost just £15, is bright red, and it’s cute.
Remember, keep it light and fun; the Pomodoro Technique is your friend! Oh, and I almost forgot… Did I mention I used the Pomodoro Technique to write this article?
Let me know what worked for you and how you use the Pomodoro Technique. What do you do during those breaks? What’s your secret sauce?
Please share it in the LinkedIn comments section of this article