The Easiest Productivity Hack of All Time


By Alan Henry / LifeHacker

Getting stuff done is hard, especially if you are self-employed or need to do things for yourself that you usually put off, like paying bills. There always seems to be something else to do: a drawer that could be organized, a phone call to your sister or checking flight prices on a trip you have no intention of taking.

Enter the Pomodoro Technique. This popular time-management method can help you power through distractions, hyper-focus and get things done in short bursts, while taking frequent breaks to come up for air and relax. Best of all, it’s easy. If you have a busy job where you’re expected to produce, it’s a great way to get through your tasks. Let’s break it down and see how you can apply it to your work.

We’ve definitely discussed the Pomodoro Technique before. We gave a brief description of it a few years back, and highlighted its distraction-fighting, brain training benefits around the same time. You even voted it your favorite productivity method. However, we’ve never done a deep dive into how it works and how to get started with it. So let’s do that now.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique was invented in the early 1990s by developer, entrepreneur, and author Francesco Cirillo. Cirillo named the system “Pomodoro” after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student. The methodology is simple: When faced with any large task or series of tasks, break the work down into short, timed intervals (called “Pomodoros”) that are spaced out by short breaks. This trains your brain to focus for short periods and helps you stay on top of deadlines or constantly-refilling inboxes. With time it can even help improve your attention span and concentration.

Pomodoro is a cyclical system. You work in short sprints, which makes sure you’re consistently productive. You also get to take regular breaks that bolster your motivation and keep you creative.

Pomodoro Technique

How the Pomodoro Technique works

The Pomodoro Technique is probably one of the simplest productivity methods to implement. All you’ll need is a timer. Beyond that, there are no special apps, books, or tools required. Cirillo’s book, The Pomodoro Technique, is a helpful read, but Cirillo himself doesn’t hide the core of the method behind a purchase. Here’s how to get started with Pomodoro, in five steps:

  • Choose a task to be accomplished.
  • Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)
  • Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
  • Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
  • Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break

That “longer break” is usually on the order of 15-30 minutes, whatever it takes to make you feel recharged and ready to start another 25-minute work session. Repeat that process a few times over the course of a workday, and you actually get a lot accomplished -- and took plenty of breaks to grab a cup of coffee or refill your water bottle in the process.

It’s important to note that a pomodoro is an indivisible unit of work -- that means if you’re distracted part-way by a coworker, meeting, or emergency, you either have to end the pomodoro there (saving your work and starting a new one later), or you have to postpone the distraction until the pomodoro is complete. If you can do the latter, Cirillo suggests the “inform, negotiate and call back” strategy:

  • Inform the other (distracting) party that you’re working on something right now.
  • Negotiate a time when you can get back to them about the distracting issue in a timely manner.
  • Schedule that follow-up immediately.
  • Call back the other party when your Pomodoro is complete and you’re ready to tackle their issue.

Of course, not every distraction is that simple, and some things demand immediate attention -- but not every distraction does. Sometimes it’s perfectly fine to tell your coworker “I’m in the middle of something right now, but can I get back to you in... ten minutes?” Doing so doesn’t just keep you in the groove, it also gives you control over your workday.

How to get started with the Pomodoro Technique

Since a timer is the only essential Pomodoro tool, you can get started with any phone with a timer app, a countdown clock, or even a plain old egg timer. Cirillo himself prefers a manual timer, and says winding one up “confirms your determination to work.” Even so, there are a number of Pomodoro apps that offer more features than a simple timer offers.

Who the Pomodoro Technique works best for

The Pomodoro Technique is often championed by developers, designers and other people who have to turn out regular packages of creative work. Essentially, people who have to actually produce something to be reviewed by others. That means everyone from authors writing their next book to software engineers working on the next big video game can all benefit from the timed work sessions and breaks that Pomodoro offers.

However, it’s also useful for people who don’t have such rigid goals or packages of work. Anyone else with an “inbox” or queue they have to work through can benefit as well. If you’re a system’s engineer with tickets to work, you can set a timer and start working through them until your timer goes off. Then it’s time for a break, after which you come back and pick up where you left off, or start a new batch of tickets. If you build things or work with your hands, the frequent breaks give you the opportunity to step back and review what you’re doing, think about your next steps, and make sure you don’t get exhausted. The system is remarkably adaptable to different kinds of work.

Finally, it’s important to remember that Pomodoro is a productivity system -- not a set of shackles. If you’re making headway and the timer goes off, it’s OK to pause the timer, finish what you’re doing and then take a break. The goal is to help you get into the zone and focus -- but it’s also to remind you to come up for air. Regular breaks are important for your productivity.

Mind Power NewsAlso, keep in mind that Pomodoro is just one method, and it may or may not work for you. It’s flexible, but don’t try to shoehorn your work into it if it doesn’t fit. Productivity isn’t everything --it’s a means to an end, and a way to spend less time on what you have to do so you can put time to the things you want to do. If this method helps, go for it. If not, don’t force it.

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