Let’s face it. Your attention span has shrunk to lower levels, and distractions are constantly battling around you to grab your attention. What can you do to stay productive and on top of your game every single day? There must be a hack that makes it so much easier for you to get things done!
I searched for that hack and stumbled across the Pomodoro method for productivity. I did try it in the past when I first heard about it, and I vaguely recall not following the allowed time of work intervals or breaks.
But different times require different experiments. So, for the most up-to-date accuracy, I have tried the Pomodoro technique again while (trying) to write these lines. Let’s see how it went.
What is Pomodoro?
The Pomodoro technique is a time management concept invented in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo during his university years. It consists in breaking tasks into four 25-minute work intervals with 5-minute breaks in between set by a timer. Different times can be set for individual needs, for example, 50-minute work sprints with 10-minute breaks.
It is thought to improve time management and prioritization of tasks, enhance focus and concentration, increase motivation, and reduce procrastination. It also prevents you from dreadful multitasking since it lets you do focused work on a single task at once. The short breaks allow your mind to reset so you can focus better on your work.
I tried the Pomodoro method for three days with diverse tasks to see how it works under different requirements. I first started with four sessions of 30-minute work intervals, separated by 5-minute breaks. I was pleasantly surprised as everything started pretty well. I felt like I worked at a faster pace in a structured way.
On day 2 of the experiment, I tried doing 50-minute work intervals and 10-minute breaks. I thought it would help better with my lengthy creative project that day. For this type of work, it didn’t go that well. I was too focused to stop what I was doing, and the breaks annoyed me. After two 50-minute sessions, I abandoned the method for the rest of the day and worked following my own schedule until I was done.
On the third and final day, I returned to my initial cycle of 30-minute work intervals with 5-minute breaks. I had a longer break around noon, and then I started another cycle of Pomodoro in the afternoon until I was done.
Let’s break down the pros and cons I found while experimenting.
➔ It is suitable for monotonous tasks, things you don’t want to do, or that require less thinking.
It is ideal for outlining, doing light research, and taking notes. I also found it appropriate for the final phase of editing and proofreading.
It is easier to focus quickly on those tasks without entering a deep focus state, so I don’t mind the short breaks too much. It does give the mind a quick pause to reset before finishing all of the “light work.”
➔ It creates a sense of urgency to finish the task within the deadline.
It forced me to work faster because I only had a specific amount of time to complete the job. I usually don’t look at the time once I get focused, but in this case, I had to look occasionally to track what I was doing with the time left. But as we’ll see in a moment, it didn’t necessarily benefit me on all occasions.
➔ It gives structure and discipline.
If you need extra motivation to get to work, this system can give you the necessary structure and discipline to stay on track. The time pressure of the method forces you to organize and strategize your work differently.
Usually, I take notes quickly and think of an outline while writing, but somehow, this method forced me to adopt another strategy so I could compress my job in the assigned time. A full summary seemed like the fastest way to get things on paper.
➔ It forces the mind to focus on a single task at a time.
If you’re a jack of all trades consistently doing a million things at once, this method keeps you focused on a specific job.
The task division allowed me to tackle one thing at a time, even if it was something I enjoyed doing less, instead of drifting away towards a more exciting task.
Now for the counterproductive side: I did find more cons, but don’t be afraid to try it yourself and find something different!
➔ Even if you work faster, you end up more stressed and frustrated.
I started researching why I felt worse as time progressed, even if I thought I had worked faster during the work intervals.
Turns out it’s not just me. Studies have examined three groups of participants who were each given a task. One group was allowed to do it on their own time, while the others were interrupted during their work.
After only 20 minutes of interrupted performance, constant interruptions induced more negative emotions, such as stress and frustration, and increased mental workload. Subject to constant work disruption, participants had to modify work patterns, strategies, and mental states.
So, I worked faster, but at what cost? Perhaps I would have written even better without those negative feelings pressuring me to finish at all costs before the timer rang.
➔ It doesn’t suit projects where you need longer periods of sustained concentration.
I found it the most challenging when reading or writing long-form content and creating videos. Being in the middle of reading research and then stopping at the timer’s sound eventually tired me. That’s when I started looking more at the timer so I wouldn’t start something lengthy and get interrupted.
Likewise, being in the middle of writing an idea and having to interrupt it made me lose my focus. I couldn’t write for long effortlessly because I felt rushed and preferred to wait and get it done at the beginning of the next session.
Creating videos for The Writer’s Ambience was also challenging, even with 50-minute work intervals. This type of work is not compatible with the time disruption of Pomodoro. It hinders creativity and stops the much-needed flow state in those moments.
➔ The traditional 5-minute breaks are not long enough.
I couldn’t think of anything short enough to do to fit into a 5-minute break. I avoid using my phone too much while working, so scrolling on social media at each 5-minute break was a no-no for me. In fact, the technique itself advises against this behavior.
When I take a break, I usually go outside to take a long walk with my dog since I find that nature helps my creativity. But I can’t fit this into 5 minutes, so the rushed process left me feeling more stressed and in a hurry to get back to my desk to finish work.
➔ It is hard to regain focus.
The more I dive into a subject, the more it is difficult to interrupt my flow. So, as I advanced in my work, the constant interruptions exhausted me and hindered my concentration.
When I had to return to work, I wasted time trying to regain my focus. Add to that the feeling of being rushed, and I was not in the clear mental state needed to focus as quickly and easily as initially.
➔ A strict schedule cannot fit all types of work.
As I experienced on day 2, when I couldn’t follow through with the method, the productivity system must be adapted to the type of work to execute.
Creative and analytical jobs require a more flexible and personal approach than routine jobs. But otherwise, it could be suitable for less complex tasks, given that you also work well under the time-structured method.
➔ The work environment has to be prone to individual work.
Just as the type of work impacts the effectiveness of the Pomodoro technique, the work environment also plays an important role. Distractions-prone environments may hinder your ability to focus during the time needed.
In my case, being home didn’t interfere with the method. I was able to have a quiet, distraction-free zone, but I couldn’t imagine using this method in my past office jobs.
Studies have shown that the average worker gets interrupted every 11 minutes while it takes around 25 minutes to return to work. So, Pomodoro isn’t the proper method if you work in a noisy, distraction-prone environment. It is more suitable for individual work where you can respect the allotted work times and breaks.
Alternatives to the Pomodoro method
Now you have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t. But what can you do to make any productivity method work for you?
➔ Don’t try to fit into rigid systems that don’t suit you
The more you try to fit into a method that isn’t suitable for you, the less productive you are. Just as you can’t run fast if you have full-blown wind in your face, you won’t be able to tackle your job efficiently if interruptions are constantly slowing you down.
➔ Adapt it to your lifestyle
The type of work you do is strongly related to your personal goals and the way you want to live. If you need more freedom in what you do, the Pomodoro method may not be efficient for your lifestyle. It is fine to do your work freely whenever and however you want if this works for you.
➔ Eliminate distractions
It goes to say that the fewer distractions you have around, the less interrupted your work is, and the better you can focus. Finding a quiet place free of distractions can help you stay productive as long as you feel like it, without the need to chronometer your job.
➔ Prioritize tasks
You can make a list of similar tasks and group them to tackle them all in priority order without imposing on yourself the time pressure the Pomodoro technique relies on.
➔ Track your time
If you want to keep track of the time you spend on each task to improve your speed, write down when you start and finish each one, and remember to note down the duration of your breaks if you took any.
Be productive on your time.
By the time I finish writing these lines, a new productivity hack might be on the brink of becoming the best technique that promises you to complete your work faster than a lightning bolt.
But no technique expert knows you better than yourself and what works for you. The path to productivity is one of experiment and failure, but ultimately, you find success when you can look at the work you’ve accomplished based on your terms.
Efficiency varies from one person to another. Individual differences can make some things work wonders for some and not too much for others. Go ahead, do your own experiment, and keep what works for you.