Pomodoroing your way to productivity!

John Burgess FAUA | Resource Administrator, Lord Ashcroft International Business School, Anglia Ruskin University

“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”
                                                                                                      Thomas Edison

Ever feel like you’ve been busy all day but glanced down at the to-do list before heading home and not been able to tick anything off it, or at least not as much as you would like to have? Ever find yourself procrastinating over stuff instead of just getting it done?

The Pomodoro Technique could be for you!

The Pomodoro Technique is a time/work management method that involves, at its deceptively simplest level, breaking down ‘activities’ (think items on your to-do list), into half hour chunks of
time. 25 minutes to work on the task in hand, followed by a five minute break. Then repeat!

I have been implementing this technique for approximately a year now and have found the following benefits:
• Increased focus when working
• More awareness of how I work and time itself passing
• Getting more things finished quicker
• Reduced worrying around getting things done (i.e. less stress)

The method is effective because over time it allows you to get better at:
• Cutting down on interruptions
• Estimating the time needed to get a particular task done
• Reviewing your work as you’re actually doing it
• Planning your weekly timetable

You will need:
• A pomodoro (a timer, pomodoro = Italian for ‘tomato’. The inventor of the technique, Francesco Cirillo was Italian and used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato)
• An activity inventory sheet (a to-do list)
• A to-do-today sheet (to-do list for today)
• A records sheet (to record how many pomodoros an activity has taken in total).

Once you’ve planned out what you need to get done it’s really just a case of setting aside a block of time, picking an activity from your to-do-today list and getting started on it, and then pomodoroing your way through it until it’s done, while diligently protecting the time from 

interruptions that come your way. I often listen to some music (that doesn’t have distracting lyrics) through headphones when I’m undertaking a pomodoro. Not only does this block out off-putting background conversations/noise – it’s a signal to colleagues to not interrupt unless urgent. They’ve ‘learnt’ this over time!

There are a few rules to follow:
• A pomodoro consists of 25 minutes plus a five-minute break
• After every four pomodoros comes a 15-30 minute break
• The pomodoro is indivisible. There are no half or quarter pomodoros
• If a pomodoro begins, it has to ring:
++ If a pomodoro is interrupted definitively (i.e. an interruption isn’t handled) it’s considered void, never begun, and it can’t be recorded
++ If an activity is completed once a pomodoro has already begun, continue reviewing the same activity until the pomodoro rings
• Protect the pomodoro. Inform effectively, negotiate quickly to reschedule the interruption, call back the person who interrupted you as agreed.
• If an activity lasts more than 5-7 pomodoros, break it down. Complex activities should be divided into several activities
• If it lasts less than one pomodoro, add it up; simple tasks can be combined
• Results are achieved pomodoro after pomodoro

What to do in the five minute break?

Stare out the window, do some exercises/stretches, make a cup of tea, have a chat with a colleague about last night’s television, anything but ‘brain’ work. Try to avoid checking your e-mail/social media streams as this is still working the same part of the brain that you’re trying to give a rest to!
Here’s what a typical work week might look like once you become experienced at using the technique, it’s not a case of doing pomodoros 24/7; you intersperse them with your other commitments.

If this short article has piqued your interest then I’d recommend you read the following:
• The Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo (the full technique is fully explained over about 30 pages)
• blog.trello.com/how-to-pomodoro-your-way-to-productivity (five minute blog article)
• How To Be A Productivity Ninja by Graham Alcott
• Make Your Brain Work by Amy Brann

Finally, some top productivity tips for the modern PC dependant worker:
• Visualise your day hour by hour in your head early in the morning (it only takes a few minutes)
• Use the Sticky Notes function (Windows users, it is available from your ‘start’ button) to note down reminders/interruptions/thoughts you have whilst in the middle of a pomodoro
• Switch off desktop alerts e.g. email, instant messaging etc.
• Hide your taskbar or at least the time on it
• Leave your phone out of sight/reach

john.burgess@anglia.ac.uk | linkedin.com/in/johnburgess1/ | @squireburgess

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