Time management is an ongoing struggle. When I was homeschooled for a couple years in middle school, I had a really hard time sitting down and getting work done without getting distracted, and as a result I finished my year several weeks after my brother finished his in public school. Since then I’ve gotten a little better at self-starting, especially once I got to college and realized that I’d actually have to start studying to keep my grades up…
I’ve tried a number of methods to help keep myself motivated and working productively. Undoubtedly the best route would be to disable the Internet until I’ve worked through my to-do list, but in many cases I need Internet access to get my work done. So instead, I need to manage my distractions in a different way. One tool that’s been really useful has been the Pomodoro Technique.
The idea with Pomodoro is to set aside smaller chunks of time during which you need to be working and not allow yourself to get distracted. Then, split up the work sessions with regular breaks so you don’t get burned out, and can work steadily through the day. The technique also has an element of time tracking and data-gathering that’s very appealing to me.
Step 1: Pick a task you’d like to get done, and resolve to give it your full, undivided attention for a while.
Step 2: Set a timer for 25 minutes (what the inventor of the method called a “Pomodoro”, after the little tomato-shaped timer he used)
Step 3: Work on that task, with no interruptions or distractions, until the timer rings. If you think of something else you also need to do, write it down for later, but don’t switch tasks in the middle of your 25 minutes.
Step 4: When the timer rings, make a checkmark on a paper. This tracks how many Pomodoros you have completed.
Step 5: Take a 5 minute break. Don’t do any work during this time! You need the break to process information and let yourself relax for a bit.
Step 6: Every 4 Pomodoros, take a 20-30 minute break. Again, don’t cheat and do more work! You’re getting enough done during the Pomodoro sessions. Make your rest time count.
So, that’s it. Work for 25-minute intervals, take breaks in between work sessions, don’t let distractions or interruptions stop you from finishing your Pomodoro. It’s not often that something comes up that is so urgent it can’t wait 25 minutes. Just write it down (or if the interruption is a person, tell them you’ll get back to them momentarily) and get back to your work. Let people around you know what you’re doing so they will understand you’re not blowing them off if they interrupt you.
Over time, you can keep track of how many Pomodoros you complete during a day or week, and what you work on. This can make you better at estimating the time it will take to complete a task, because it’s broken up into short chunks that you’ve been tracking.
If you’re working on a longer task that will take several Pomodoros to complete, it might be a good idea to use the first few minutes to review the work you did during the previous Pomodoro.
For me, there are two main benefits about the method that really help. First, I can manage my interruptions so I don’t get distracted by every new link I want to click on, or every person who wants to talk to me. If I’m in a Pomodoro, I’m working on one thing only, and everything else can wait. Secondly, it gets rid of the guilt during breaks. There’s always more work to be done, so it can feel like any time you’re spending not working is being wasted. Here, that break time is essential to processing information and avoiding burnout, so you’re not wasting time, you’re using it more efficiently. And overall, having a clock tick is a great motivator. I told myself I’m doing work, so I’d better be doing it!
In fact, I used the Pomodoro method to write this blog post. I’m at the 20 minute mark right now, so I’ll use the rest of the time to go back and polish what I’ve written.
What methods do you use for time management? Have you ever tried Pomodoro?