The Pomodoro Technique® just might be one of my favorite time management tools, and not just because it features a lovely vegetable (or wait, is it a fruit?) shaped kitchen timer as its hallmark.
For those unfamiliar, the Pomodoro Technique® is ridiculously simple. The idea is to break your work down into 25 minute intervals with a 5 minute break between. This technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo, who used a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato (or in Italian, a Pomodoro) to time his intervals.
I recently had an ADHD coaching client, Jim, who heard me mentioning the Pomodoro Technique® in passing during a conversation unrelated to our work together. To my surprise, Jim came to one of our coaching sessions shortly thereafter and described to me how Pomodoro’ing his way through an overwhelming time saved his bacon. His job was in crisis mode with a serious and time consuming client deadline, he had a side project that was demanding extra attention, and on top of it all he had to prepare a lengthy and important presentation that he was giving at an industry conference. Everything was screaming for his attention all at once, and everything was equally important.
Pomodoro’ing can help with overwhelm
Jim is phenomenal at what he does, and through our coaching work he had become really good at mapping out a plan for himself for big projects when things are running smoothly. When overwhelm set in and it felt like there wasn’t enough time to accomplish everything, however, he would start to shut down. Too many immediate demands interfered with his ability to develop a comprehensive plan, and without a comprehensive plan he didn’t know where to start.
So, you can imagine how thrilled I was as Jim described his experience with Pomodoro’ing his way through a time of extreme demand. For him, setting that timer for 25 minutes forced him to pick a place to start and to shut out all of the other things that were screaming for his attention as he worked on one thing for 25 minutes. The interval of time was long enough to make progress, but short enough that he wasn’t scared of losing track of other pressing demands.
The Pomodoro is mightier than procrastination
I’ll admit that before hearing about Jim’s experience, I had never used the Pomodoro Technique® myself. I’ll also admit that I am almost the exact opposite of Jim (though we both have ADHD… read about my experience in getting diagnosed here). You see, I am a chronic procrastinator. When I reach a point where I am overwhelmed and there are too many demands on my plate, I am able to focus in and knock out an incredible amount of work. However, getting started on mundane everyday tasks (such as writing this blog post) has always been a challenge.
After hearing about Jim’s success, I decided to try the Pomodoro Technique® for myself.
First, I tried using it like he did… and I failed. You see, I perform best when I’m overwhelmed, so stopping after 25 minutes when I was super focused was counterproductive. But then, I decided to try to use it as a technique to help me get started on routine tasks that I would typically procrastinate on starting. I’m happy to report that it worked. Starting my Pomodoro timer in the morning takes a split second of willpower that helps me get going on routine but important work each and every day.
Pomodoro’ing my way through the day
At this writing, I’m using the Google Chrome extension Strict Workflow for my Pomodoro’ing when I’m sitting at my computer. I love this extension because I can block out distracting websites of my choice during my 25 minute Pomodoro time, which has helped me create awareness about just how much I tend to open a new tab and get distracted when I’m procrastinating. Even better, using this extension has helped me create new habits around being focused when I’m at the keyboard answering emails, writing blog posts, or doing other digitally oriented tasks.
I use a Time Timer when I’m Pomodoro’ing my way through chores and other tasks that take me away from my desk. I have always loved my Time Timer and I use it for a variety of other reasons (some of which I will hopefully blog about during a Pomodoro session), but I find it especially useful for Pomodoro’ing a boring task because I can easily glance over and see how much of my 25 minute Pomodoro is left without stopping what I am doing.
Find your Pomodoro flow
I think that Pomodoro’ing can be useful for anyone reading this post. For Jim, the Pomodoro Technique® is most useful when he is feeling overwhelmed and scattered. For me, the Pomodoro Technique® is most useful when I’m tackling routine and mundane tasks. Your challenge is to try out Pomodoro’ing for yourself. When can a Pomodoro help you be more productive?
Shelly has since left Gateway Productivity to pursue her passion in ADHD coaching. You can find her here.