17 Jan 23 / Blog

The Pomodoro Technique – a productivity hack for your To-Do list

It’s a New Year. A time when everyone around me is setting goals and hitting their productivity hard. I have big goals too, and I’m motivated to get going. But the problem is that there is just so much to do! Big goals mean lots of tiny steps. But how does the Pomodoro Technique help when it comes to achieving goals and being productive?

Well last week the realisation dawned that I was putting in the hours but still going nowhere. The goals were sitting untouched on the page. I was in full blown procrastination mode – and didn’t even realise it.

I realised all of a sudden that doing lots of work and achieving the outcomes you want are not the same thing.I had so much to do that I was ignoring it all and choosing to tackle tiny insignificant tasks instead. I was giving myself the illusion of productivity. Because putting a line through a task is so satisfying! So I decided to try something new to help me to focus.

I called on the Pomodoro Technique.

Let me explain how it works. The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity hack that is deceptively simple. It works by breaking your time up into short productivity sprints. You allocate a defined time, the same amount of time very time, to the task in hand. And this is what forces you to get disciplined and makes you aware of where your time goes during the work day. All you need is a timer – on your phone, or on your browser. Here’s he step-by-step guide to the Pomodor Technique:

• Pick your task
• Set a timer for 25 minutes. Work on your task and nothing else for the duration of the timer. No getting distracted by answering emails, scrolling on your phone, or checking TikTok. This discipline is what makes the Pomodoro technique work so well.
• When the timer goes, take a 5 minute break. I recommend you use this time to move about. Added bonus – you keep your Apple Watch happy and cut down on the ‘move now!’ notifications.
• At the end of your break, sit down, set another timer for 25 minutes and start your next task.

Here’s how it worked for me. I have four goals that I want to achieve by the end of January. But they require thought and brainpower. So I found myself putting them off, because there was always something easier to do. In a bid to get them done, I blocked out just 2 hours in my diary. So that I could make a start on each one, in discrete 30 minute chunks. Two hours isn’t a lot of time. Allowing two hours is a lot less daunting than tackling four open-ended projects.

The result? I now have four projects that no longer seem so big. I’ve made a start. My brain has kicked into gear, and I have a sense of what needs to be done to get them done. It means I’m no longer dreading the idea of making a start. I can start to break those big goals down into achievable tasks and get on with them.

And in case you’re interested, here is a little bit of the science behind the Pomodoro Technique. for this we have to thank Gazzely & Rosen with their book The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World (MIT, 2016). Our brains just aren’t wired for the types of constant distraction that we all experience. These distractions erode our decision-making ability and get in the way of our goals. Humans aren’t designed to multi-tasks, instead we function best as ‘switch-taskers’, tackling one task at a time. The Pomodoro Techniques allows us to take back control of our time and play to our brain’s strengths.

For me the Pomodoro Technique works well as an anti-procrastination device. I also love using it at times when I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work I have on – it helps me to fight the bad habit of distractions – ‘oh I’ll just answer this email’, ‘I’ll jut check how many likes my latest post has gotten’. It’s also brilliant if you’re working on a big, open-ended project which will consume as much time as you give it – exam revision say, or writing up a PhD thesis.

And if you’re like me and sometimes find yourself sitting for long periods doign what you think is focussed work – well, it’s quite likely you’re working way past the point of productivity. The Pomodoro Technique can help you to stay refreshed and achieve more.

It was Michael Bungay Stanier who said ‘we unlock our greatness by working on the hard stuff’. Maybe the Pomodoro Technique can make the hard yards that little bit easier for you this New Year.

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