You may have heard of the pomodoro technique, but you may not have tried it. And if you haven’t tried it, or don’t regularly use it, you should reconsider, STAT.
Briefly, the pomodoro technique involves setting a timer for 25 minutes and focussing on one task for the duration of the timer. Focussed work. When the timer bings, you get 5 minutes to stretch your legs, get a drink of water, touch your toes, go to the loo, check Facebook or Twitter, whatever. Then it’s back to the next 25 minute segment of work. It’s a pledge to not multi-task.
Even when we know the research all points to the fact that multi-tasking is a whole load of dung, the nature of creative and intellectual work–heck, the nature of work, period–is that we want to look away sometimes. Or we feel compelled to immediately respond to email or texts or social media messages, to signal that we’re plugged in and available. And we can generally find something else that makes us feel busy, even if it isn’t making progress on that one thing we really need to make progress on. But, for 25 minutes, you can probably refrain from clicking on another window and focus on your goal task.
Why is this so clever? I think of it as the HIIT of writing. Writing is hard. Sometimes writing is excruciatingly hard, in the way that real push ups are hard, or a set of 15 Bulgarian squats. In a High Intensity Interval Training workout, you push yourself for 10-15 minutes, doing three or so circuits of four or so misery- and pain-inducing exercises. You suffer, sure, but only for 15 minutes. And, because it’s high intensity, you actually get a lot of benefit for your short-lived misery. A pomodoro works the same way: for 25 minutes you are NOT on Facebook or playing a game (I like a game where I use insects to kill slugs, guilty pleasures) or texting someone; you’re working. Sure, it might suck–but it’ll be over in 25 minutes and then you get a break.
Also, the pomodoro method is clever as heck because it tricks you into being more productive than you might have otherwise been. You can say to yourself: ok, self, let’s do at least ONE pomodoro. ONE pomodoro is 25 minutes more than no writing at all, which is where this day is headed. Once you’ve sat down and completed your one pomodoro, chances are you’ll stick it out for another and another. People who study habits, like Prof. B.J. Fogg at Stanford, tell us that, if we make a desired behaviour EASY to engage in by reducing the barriers to starting, we are more likely to engage in that behaviour and persist with it.
You can find pomodoro timer apps for your smart phone, but I find that they drain your battery AND keep you tethered to your phone. Since my phone is my primary distraction device, I find this to be unhelpful. I use marinaratimer.com, a free web-based pomodoro timer. I only keep one window open and let it bing to tell me when to get up and stretch.
Do you use the pomodoro technique? What’s your experience with it?