How to Focus using the Pomodoro Technique
I want to share an important tool I use to focus to get work done: the pomodoro technique. I walk through why it is useful, how I apply the technique to get work done, and situations I use it in.
If you want to learn a technique to focus longer in a sustainable manner, this article is for you.
This article will take you about seven minutes to read.
I have found with the Internet, it’s hard to stay focused. I work on a computer and it’s connected to the Internet, source of both useful AND distracting information. I have solved the problem: how do I stay focused, even when I have to be on the Internet, using the Pomodoro Technique.
The pomodoro technique is a simple technique to work or break based on a timer at set intervals. The originator of this technique was Italian and used a tomato timer and in Italian, pomodoro is tomato.
I have found pomdoro technique to be a tool that can help me focus, even with everything on the Internet!
If you want to have a system to “focus” on work, pomodoro is a tool that will support you in achieving that goal.
Why use a technique to Focus?
Ever wonder why it’s hard to focus? Have you found when you want to focus, you’re just distracted? Is it because you’re not disciplined? Partially. I have found that understanding more about my brain is important to learning to focus more.
I realize my brain is a muscle and focusing is a job it does. Unfortunately, even though the brain is a “muscle”, unlike a muscle when it gets sore when working too hard or too long, the brain doesn’t get “sore”.
The brain has other defense mechanisms when it gets sore, basically, it distracts you from focusing. Bringing up random thoughts all the time. That’s one reason keeping you from focusing on work. Sometimes it’s legitimate: you’ve been working too hard, too tired, or more immediate issues you do need to deal with.
Like a “muscle” you need to train your brain to focus for long periods of time on a task, especially new tasks or open ended tasks. Training your brain takes specific exercises, effort, and time, just like working out real muscles.
Out of desparation or stress, just let my wander and wander then I have just “powered through” the night and got all the work I needed done. That was my study style in University, especially right before exams. Using this style for work doesn’t work so well. There’s deadlines that are not at the end of the semester and projects take more than a night to finish. (Don’t ask me about the results of my lab assignments in University.)
How to Focus using Pomodoro
This is how I implement the pomodoro technique. I go over:
- items needed
- steps to a session
- handling specific situations
- Pomodoro session - a session where you spend 25 minutes on work and 5 minutes on break.
- Work - the item you want to focus on for work.
- Break - the items that are not related to work.
- A timing device - the more dedicated it is to timing, the better. The key idea: you don’t want to distract yourself when checking remaining session time.
- A scratch pad - to record when you start, stop, and what you worked on in the session and record non-work thoughts during work session.
- A work item - something to work on, it can be work or personal, anything you want to focus on (and avoiding!): taxes, researching work issues, personal server setup, writing blog post, etc.
Steps to a Pomodoro Session
- Start your timer for 25min and record start time on the scratch pad.
- Work on specified item until timer finishes.
- Set timer for five minutes.
- Take break, do anything that is not work, like review your scratch pad, until timer finishes.
- Record end time and topic worked on.
- Repeat steps 1-5 four times, then take a 15minute break, start over again.
Simple six steps, right?
The scratch pad is important to handle non-work items: thoughts, distractions, etc. The timer to give yourself an objective sense of time. “How long have I been really working?”
Handling Specific Situations
If it was as easy as six steps to be productive, everyone can do it, especially the first three steps.
There are situations that are distracting and this is how I handle them:
- When a distracting thought arrives during a work session:
- goto scratch pad and write down the thought.
- go back to work.
- When someone communicates with you during a work session:
- politely ask: “Can I get back to you in 30 minutes?” - most things can wait for 30 minutes.
- if not, stop session and address person’s needs. Start new session afterwards.
- otherwise, record person’s name on scratch pad and return to work.
- When you notice you are not working on the specified item:
- look at timer at remaining time.
- go back to work.
Benefits I found when I use pomodoros:
- I am able to focus longer and deeper at regular intervals than doing an all-nighter.
- Pomodoros Regulate how much I work at an even pace.
- Work on larger problems over a long period of time. Even if I cannot see the end goal of larger problem, continuous effort gets to a goal.
- I can always answer: “what are you working on?” accurately by looking at my pomodoro sheet
I can measure how “focused” i am by looking back and seeing the number of pomodoros I have done. For work, if I accomplish six pomodoros, four in the morning and two after lunch, (which is only three hours!) I am accomplishing a good pace at work.
Lessons from Experience
These are lessons I learned when going through the pomodoro experience over a year:
It’s important to take your breaks seriously, just as seriously you want to take your work times. By taking breaks seriously, You create a contract with yourself saying: this is work time and it is only for a break.
Otherwise, there’s no dilineation between work and break, then your mind will play during work. At the same time, how often have you found you’re “working” during play?
Productivity per Hour
With pomodoros, I have found a great way to push out the distractions while still accomplishing work:
- every non-work distracting thought goes onto the scratch pad during the session
- during the break, I can follow up on that distracting thought
- when getting a pomodoro done, I would only have 10 minutes of non-work time and 50 minutes of work. That’s 80% of productivity in every hour using pomodoro.
Number of Pomodoros one should do?
The number of pomodoros one should do varies on the job and the task. On average, I try to get at least six pomodoros done for work. The most I have done is 14 and I definitely felt exhausted!
Starting out, use the scratch pad to record the number of pomodoros done during a day. Challenge yourself the next day to do at least the same or more pomodoro sessions.
When I see myself not doing “work” and near the end of my pomodoro session, if it’s the end of the day, I start my break earlier. It’s my brain telling me it’s tired. If it’s early in the day or early in the pomodoro session, I would write whatever’s in my head on the scratch pad and go back to work.
Pomodoros in work day
Strict pomodoros have this pattern:
Four in a row, then 15min break, repeat.
The way I adopt pomodoros in my work day, I go for:
Four in a row, lunch, then repeat.
I use lunch as my extended break, it gets two things done at once.
The pomodoro technique is a valuable tool in my arsenal. Even after using it for years, I come back to it, even when I need to focus on a specific topic.
I like pomodoro technique because it’s simple. I can do it almost anywhere I have a timing device, a scratch pad and something to work on.
While the pomodoro technique is simple, how to handle situations that distract you from work requires using the scratch pad and timer. The strict rule of taking a real break also alleviates the tension of random thoughts my mind comes up with when I am working.
That’s what makes pomodoro technique effective for me.
Do you use the pomodoro technique? What’s your experience? Any tips you have? Do you want help getting started with pomodoro technique? Running into problems? Please contact me - I would love to hear from you and help out.