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We all suffer from the fear and anxiety created by pending deadlines, due dates and the like. The majority face this fear by either procrastinating or staring blankly at their computer screen or empty piece of paper in hopes that that report, paper or blog post will write itself. Either way, the only thing we’re accomplishing is building our own anxiety and distress. To worsen the scenario, the same people are also giving up time for the things they really care about so they can sit and stare at the computer screen a little longer, convincing themselves that their self-sacrifice is somehow getting something accomplished.
Enter the Tomato
In the late ’80′s a, then college student, Francesco Cirillo sat in a University classroom unable to concentrate on studying for a fast-approaching exam. Looking around, he noticed a high number of distractions and an overall low level of concentration and motivation.
So I made a bet with myself, as helpful as it was humiliating: “Can you study – really study – for 10 minutes?” I needed objective validation, a Time Tutor, and I found one in a kitchen timer shaped like a pomodoro (the Italian for tomato) – in other words, I found my “Pomodoro”.
Step One – Understand how you Relate to Time
The first step in defining the new “Pomodoro Technique” was to truly understand time and how the human mind perceives time. According to the philosophers, Bergson and Minkowski, there are two coexisting aspects of time perceived by the human mind:
- Becoming – the dimensional aspect of time which allows us to measure time and comprehend the duration of an event and the concept of being late (and the accompanying feeling of “being” late).
- Succession of events – the understanding of temporal order, a succession of events that completes an activity. For example, one might understand that getting ready in the morning consists of showering, getting dressed, brushing teeth, etc.
The “becoming” component of the human mind’s relation to time is the one that generates anxiety. At some point we’ve all said to ourselves,”Oh my God, I’m going to be late,” or, “I’m never going to finish this assignment in time.” It’s this very distress that interferes with our ability to create the succession of events necessary to complete an assignment on time or show up to a scheduled event on time.
The Goal of the Pomodoro Technique
The goal of the Pomodoro Technique is to:
- Alleviate anxiety linked to “becoming”
- Enhance focus and concentration by cutting down on interruptions
- Increase awareness of your decisions
- Boost motivation and keep it constant
- Bolster the determination to achieve your goals
- Refine the estimation process, both in qualitative and quantitative terms
- Improve your work or study process
- Strengthen determination to keep on applying yourself in the face of complex situations
Step 2: Gather the Pomodoro Technique Ingredients
1) A Pomodoro – any simple kitchen timer will do
2) A “To-Do Today Sheet” – the sheet should include:
- A heading – place, date and author is recommended (Just adding the date is fine -Shawn)
- A list of things “to do today” in order of priority
- A section labelled “Unplanned and Urgent Activities” – this is where you put important items (aka “interruptions”) that crop up during the day
3) An Activity Inventory Sheet – a list of things that you could do but aren’t mission critical
4) A Records Sheet – this sheet basically tracks how many Pomodoros each activity took to complete and is usually updated at the end of the day
Step 3: The “To-Do Today” List
At this point you should have an “activity inventory,” a list of to-dos that you could undertake. Prioritize this list by creating a smaller, REALISTIC list of activities that need to get done today. Ideally, your list of things to do today will be at the top of the page and your activity inventory will be at the bottom of the page. Next, fold the page in half lengthwise so you can only see the things to do today.
Step 4: Start the First Pomodoro
Set the Pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes and start on the first to-do list item.
Here are some rules to keep in mind while using the Pomodoro Technique:
- The remaining time on the Pomodoro should always be visible.
- A Pomodoro can’t be interrupted, if an interruption occurs the Pomodoro doesn’t count and must be started over.
- There are no fractions of a Pomodoro, only a complete Pomodoro may be counted.
- When the Pomodoro rings make an “X” next to the activity you were working on and take a 3-5 minute break.
- DO NOT keep working after the Pomodoro rings, no acceptions.
- If you complete an activity, simply cross it out.
- Every four Pomodoros take a longer break (15-30 mins.).
Note about breaks: The idea of a break is to mentally separate yourself from the item you were working on. It’s not a good idea to continue thinking about it or talk to a colleague about it. In fact, it’s not a good idea to do anything that requires any degree of mental effort (reply to emails, make phone calls, etc.). Simply take a quick walk, have a snack or just sit idly and take a few deep breaths.
Step 5: Repeat Step 4
Continue this process throughout the day (or night) until all of your “to-do today” activities are complete. Don’t forget to mark “X”s next to the activities that have completed Pomodoros (Again: incomplete Pomodoroes do not count).
Step 6: Record Your Progress and Reflect
At the end of the day transfer all of your completed activities to a spreadsheet (or piece of paper) and write the number of completed Pomodoros (“X”s) next to their corresponding activity. Reflect on each activity and whether or not you could complete each using less Pomodoros without compromising the quality of your work. Think about how many Pomodoros can you shave off of work activities and appropriate for leisure activities?
Step 7: Become a Pomodoro Master
Okay, so this step isn’t totally necessary to use the Pomodoro Technique but for those who want extra credit you can:
- Read the full Pomodoro Technique PDF
- Become a Pomodoro Master (see, I wasn’t kidding)
- Become a citizen of Pomodoro World (some people take this pretty seriously!)
Have you tried the Pomodoro Technique? Or maybe you have a different method for managing your time? Either way, let’s hear about your thoughts in the Comment Section, below.