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Lately, more and more friends and writers I know are having trouble with one thing: focus. At first, lockdown was a new experience and we were all finding our feet in this new normal. It was okay if you were a bit distracted because, well, everyone was. But, life goes on and work needs to get done, and yet, no matter how hard a lot of us try to concentrate, we just can't seem to get into the flow.
There are a few different schools of thought when it comes to nailing a laser-like focus, but one technique that I've been hearing about is the Pomodoro Technique. My singing teacher is currently writing her thesis and was raving about it. It's a focus-boosting method that I used years ago and forgot about until she reminded me of its existence. With deadlines looming, I gave it a try and, for me, as it does for her, it worked—well, sort of. Intrigued? Here's everything you need to know about this technique for fueling productivity.
What is The Pomodoro Technique?
Invented by Francesco Cirillo when he was a student in the late 1980s, it's named after the tomato-shaped timer that Cirillo would use to track his study sessions (pomodoro is Italian for tomato). The idea of the Pomodoro Technique is simple: If you have a large task, you break the time you spend on the task down into short sprints of work called 'pomodoros,' which helps to make a mammoth task seem do-able.
How Does the Pomodoro Technique Work?
The cyclical method works as follows:
- You spend 25 minutes on your task—this is the productivity sprint known as the pomodoro.
- You take a five-minute break.
- Repeat the cycle four times.
- Take a longer 15 to 30 minute break to reset and recharge.
It's up to you how many times your repeat this throughout the day.
Is the Pomodoro Technique Effective?
There are different schools of thought when it comes to focus and concentration. Some believe in deep work, where you get settled into a task with no distractions for a few hours of intense focus—so you physically remove yourself from social media, the TV, the fridge, and whatever else may trigger you to stop working.
Others find the Pomodoro Technique and its bite-size approach to work helps them plow through to-do lists with ease.
I sit somewhere in the middle. If I have lots of odd jobs to fulfill in a day, the Pomodoro Technique is a great way to sprint through them. We all have those days where we have lots small things we need to get done.
The Pomodoro Technique also works well for bigger tasks—tax returns, filing, reorganizing your wardrobe—where if your flow gets broken, it's not detrimental to the task. However, for a bigger task of, in my case, writing an article, I found that the 25-minute alarm would strike when my creative juices were flowing and I would either take the 5-minute rest for the sake of it, breaking my flow, or I would plow through and do two 25-minutes back-to-back.
Over the years, others have found this to be the case too and the original technique has been tweaked and different iterations have surfaced. One is where you work in chunks of 90 minutes instead of 25, which is better suited to those that need to concentrate on a bigger task for longer. A 1993 study of 40 violinists found the best players studied daily in cycles of 60-90 minutes with rests in between. (Interestingly, this same study is where the idea for the 10,000-hour rule, made famous by author Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers, came from. Noting that it takes 10,000 hours for someone to truly become an expert at something.)
I definitely think the Pomodoro Technique is a great tool to have in your arsenal but, for me, it works better for some tasks than others.
Three Timer Apps to Try
Want to give the Pomodoro Technique a go? Try one of these timer apps.
The Tide App is a multi-purpose timer that allows you to focus for your chosen length of time. You can also opt for it to play sounds such as rain and the ocean to help boost your focus. Aside from this, there are sections dedicated to helping you sleep, nap, and even breathe.
Focus Keeper is true to the original technique—it alerts you when your 25-minute session is up and allows you to take the short and long breaks. It records your progress over time, so you can look back at your stats for the last 14 and 30 days to see whether your focus is improving.
If having your phone close at hand is part of your problem when it comes to focusing on your work, why not forgo an app and go analog instead? This traditional tomato timer allows you to time your 25-minute sprints, as well as your five and 15/30-minute breaks. Make like Cirillo in his student days and draw a dash in a notebook after each sprint—once you have four marks or more noted down, take a long break. Simple.