Earlier I wrote that an effective way to manage our time is using the model of long walks. The core idea was that we just do not need time free of distractions but we also need it long enough to be effective on a particular task. Smaller chunks of time here and there can never be as effective as a single contiguous block of time.
What Pomodoro suggests is to work in chunks of 30 minutes. Every 30 minute ‘Pomodoro’ is divided into 25 minutes of actual work and 5 minutes to reflect and reenergize. The key is that in each of such 30 minutes, you should just work on a ‘single’ task. All distractions and deviations should be eliminated.
For example, if I am writing this article, I can dedicate 30 minutes to come up with the first draft. I make sure that I do not check email, attend a phone call or wander in my thoughts to the upcoming vacations. I need to laser-focus on the task I defined before I started.
The 5 minute reflect and reenergize period in the end is important too. Doing a quick reflection when the execution is fresh can be useful in correcting mistakes and planning next steps. The relax and reenergize (sometimes achieved through quick meditation) can help in the next pomodoro.
This obviously requires practice. We are naturally tempted to distractions – both external and internal. Without conscious effort, our mind will wander off thinking what is irrelevant to present or do something of little value. Techniques like pomodoro are meant to instill a conscious effort and discipline to ensure that we get the most value out of our time.
Some variations and subtleties that I have found helpful in Pomodoro:
- Try playing around with the length of Pomodoro. For me, 25 minutes is too short for some complex tasks, specially those that require thinking and analysis. I can effectively work up to an hour. It can vary for person to person so you will have to find your own sweet spot. However, anything above 90 minutes would probably start getting ineffective.
- As you are in a pomodoro, you will continuously be nagged by your unconscious to distract you – check Facebook, read that new email, check your cell for new messages, think the most irrelevant thing. Thats natural. What is ineffective is to give into these. One way to avoid it is to note down any distractions that come your way – externally or internally – and keep moving with your Pomodoro. Once your Pomodoro is done, you can go through the list of items that you were pestered with. You will realize they were not really worthy to do at that time. Secondly, you can attend to them now without missing out on any. You may consider reading my series of GTD posts.
- It is important to clearly define your Pomodoro objective before starting it – write the first draft of the post, collate the data to generate the quarterly report, think about the two options for the company event, review and comment on the document sent by Alex. It has to be specific and clear. The more vague you are, the less effective you will be.
- Schedule the Pomodoros on your calendar.
- Pomodoro is just like any other habit. It takes practice and persistence to develop it. Keep at it – it takes on average 21 days to mature a habit.