How the Pomodoro Technique can help improve your focus
Keeping the focus throughout a long project such as a dissertation or thesis is certainly not an easy task. When we have a long project in front of us, but the end of it seems unachievable, we tend not to start.
We avoid every task for the same reason: Taking action will cause us a certain amount of pain. (Phil Stutz and Barry Michels)
Recently one of my favourite tools to fight the procrastination cycle has been the Pomodoro Technique which I have been using for the past 6 months. The main idea is to break a bigger task into small ones to keep focused. The Pomodoro Technique is based on 4 main principles:
- Work with time – not against it
- Eliminate burnout
- Manage distractions
- Create a better work/life balance
The Pomodoro has to encourage consciousness, concentration, and clear-minded thinking. It’s been proven that 20- to 45-minute time intervals can maximize our attention and mental activity, if followed by a short break. (The Pomodoro Technique Book)
To start using the technique you will have to:
- Decide the task to be done
- Set the timer for 25-35 minutes
- Work on the task (and nothing else) until the alarm sounds
- Take a short break (5 minutes) and go back to your task
- Take a longer break of 15–20 minutes after 4 pomodoros
The first impression is usually that not much can be accomplished in 25 minutes. The surprise though is we tend not to realize how distracted we are by ‘short’ interruptions, such as emails, phone calls, etc. The beauty of the pomodoro is to recognize, right from the first time, how much can be done in 25 minutes of focused work, and after 3 or 4 pomodoros how hard it is to keep focused without controlling it somehow.
Another common thought is that 5 minute intervals are not enough. But they are enough to make a cup of tea, have some snacks, scan your emails to make sure the world keeps safe while you are immersed in your important task. These are all we need. Remember 25 minutes also go by quickly and another 5 minute break will come soon, so get back to the task. These 5 minute breaks serve the purpose of relieving your mind from the task and not doing anything that requires more deep thinking, such as replying to more complex emails, writing short letters and so forth. The 15-20 minute breaks can be used for that if you like.
The pomodoro can be measured using a simple kitchen timer, but there are many apps available if like me you are into tech findings. I have been using the Grandfather Deco, which is a Google Chrome plug-in. I chose this app because it allows notes on what task will be done for the next 25 minutes – I set it up for 25 – and it keeps a record throughout the day. By the end of the day you know how long you spent on each important task. An extra advantage is the chance to grasp how long each task took to be completed, which after some practice helps better plan your time.
In reality the technique is just one more tool and you can adapt to benefit from it according to your working practices. I do think it helps focusing when reading and writing, and those are the tasks to which I would generally apply pomodoro. I believe it is valid to stick to 25 minutes, as it keeps your brain ‘fresh’, however I sometimes don’t do the 5 minute break if my writing is going well and I think I can handle 25 minutes more. My main guide is the 25 minutes, as they are the important part of it, so skipping the 5 minute break does not mean I can pause the pomodoro before the next completed 25 minutes – unless an unexpected interruption happens. So keep in mind that a pomodoro is 25 minutes of focused work with no interruptions. If the phone rings, pause it. This is the only way to confidently evaluate the time of ‘real work’ by the end of the day.
I would love to hear from you about the techniques or tools you use to keep focused. What have you been using to keep focused?