As a result of the pandemic COVID-19, many employees were thrust into the virtual world with little to no warning, we adjusted to this new reality, but for some of us we are having trouble focusing at home. I know I am, though some days are better than others.
In the office, we are able to step into a physical space that is different than home which helps us to separate work life from home life. Now, many of us don’t have that luxury. My work life IS my home life. Working from home has busted the myth that the two ever operated separately. I think we were just good at pretending they were separate, that we were capable of only existing in one or the other at a given time. I’ve realized that’s simply not true. Being able to recognize that as true has helped me to feel a sense of relief.
The sheer number of distractions when working at home are tumultuous. For some, family members are walking by or working near you, talking on the phone, or children are trying to play with you, maybe your children are learning from home and so you have to be a teacher and an employee… For others, roommates are entering the room and operating on a schedule that is different than yours and making noise at inconvenient times. Let’s not forget pets who need love, attention, and long walks. And for anyone who doesn’t have a roommate, or family members or pets sharing their living space… we ALL have household chores. The dreaded household chores!
So, I needed some kind of method to help me stay focused on my work, but allowed for breaks to tend to the other needs of my day. I discovered the Pomodoro Technique as a way to be intentional with my time, schedule in breaks, improve productivity, and regain focus.
These past three weeks, I tested out this technique and have been journaling about my experiences so I could share them with you.
WHAT IS THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE?
It’s a time management technique. It breaks your work into 25 min chunks, separated by breaks. It was invented by an Italian man named Francesco Cirillo and he named it after a tomato shaped kitchen timer, as “pomodoro” is Italian for “tomato.”
My coworker used this technique as a team effort and shared a bit of that experience with me. He said,
“Our team was going through some system upgrades, and our manager suggested using the Pomodoro Technique as a way to manage our testing plan. One teammate would work on testing for 25 minutes, and then hand it off to the other teammate for 25 minutes, and we would send our results to our support staff on the I.T. team. The I.T. teams would respond in 25 minutes to the next team, and so on. We were able to create a nice parallel structure for our days, and we were able to keep things moving. “As a project manager, having an agreed upon time management technique helped plan out our days. But after a couple of weeks, the team adopted a different time management tool for the project.”
I can see how that would make assigning a task to each pomodoro easier as well as create a sense of urgency behind the task, I like that. I asked him if he preferred using the Pomodoro technique as a team effort or if it was equally as effective as a solo effort?
“Good question, McCayla, if everyone adopts the technique equally, it’s a very good team tool. It puts you into a mindset that makes you focus, avoid multi-tasking, and reducing those “squirrel” moments. I also like the way it forces us to think about breaking your projects into achievable tasks. Can I create an entire eLearning project in 25 minutes? No, that’s ridiculous. But I can create the storyboard in 25 minutes. I can have a 25 minute meeting to communicate my design ideas. It also keeps me from getting bogged down in the analysis phase, and overthinking everything.”
I love that the pomodoro forces you the break your projects into achievable tasks! I’ve never had that team experience, but in comparison to my productivity prior to using the Pomodoro Technique, I noticed some new areas for improvement in my ability to be efficient.
Honestly, I run a pretty tight ship when it comes to my schedule, I bought a planner (Full Focus Planner) that is designed to keep my daily goals my top priority, and my favorite podcast (Focus On This) talks about how to use that planner effectively…. Go ahead and judge me, I don’t mind. I love productivity!
So, I thought I was going to love this technique. But, what I learned about myself by using the Pomodoro technique is that I don’t typically organize my days in this manner of focusing on one task before I move onto another one. It completely surprised me that my focus was being spread out over a variety of tasks at any given moment of my day. I was putting in just as much thought into the task at hand, as I was thinking about what other tasks I could be doing, followed by an internal conversation of which tasks I should be doing. So, the structure felt unnatural to me. Although, beneficial.
The pomodoro technique reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Chuck Close (an American painter, artist, and photographer) where he suggests that,
“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work… inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”
What I mean is that with the Pomodoro technique I found that rather than waiting for inspiration to strike me to get started on one of the many tasks on my list, I simply scheduled time to work on them. This helped the tasks feel much smaller than before, and created a standard timeline for completion that I can use to set deadlines for those tasks in the future.
ASPECTS OF THE TECHNIQUE THAT I DIDN’T LIKE?
I didn’t like the pressure of checking the clock to make sure I was on track and taking breaks when I was supposed to. So, I did some research and found an app called Focus To-Do, it’s free, where you can add in multiple projects, break those projects down into achievable tasks, and schedule your pomodoro’s before the day begins, and then you just press start. You could assign the tasks priority or due dates and then mark them complete.
So, throughout my day, my phone would sound an alarm for when it was time to start working, and a different alarm for when it was time to take a break. The app also had the option to play white noise while in a pomodoro, I chose to play “Nature sounds” but there were options of “classroom” or “café” which had muffled talking, “library” which just played muffled movements and footsteps, an “ocean shore” with crashing waves, “rain,” “bonfire,” and then for some reason you could also choose a ticking clock. I really liked this feature of the app, it fueled my productivity more than I anticipated. Overall, this app took away a lot of the pressure I was feeling to follow the structure of the technique appropriately.
I also had to rethink how to document my achievable tasks into those pomodoro’s, especially so that I could put them into the app I mentioned. One tip that I heard from the creators of my personal planner, is that it helps if you batch your tasks by category. For example: You have your “On stage” tasks, these are the tasks that create deliverables, these largely make up your job description, then you have you “backstage” tasks such as admin work or research, and finally you have “Off-stage work” and this is what you do on a personal level, so that could be related to your personal life, or your personal development plan.
WOULD THIS TECHNIQUE WORK IN THE OFFICE?
Well, working with people who are not practicing the same time management technique would create inconsistency in my day, and I’m still struggling with how to navigate that. At home, for the chunks of time that I needed that laser focus, during that “on-stage” time, I close out of all background applications (email, Teams, Outlook, Skype, etc) so that it wasn’t possible for those to interrupt my work and I was amazed at what I could accomplish in that period of time. For me, I think just knowing that I have some time coming up, a light at the end of the tunnel if you will, designated for distractions allowed me to ignore them temporarily.
I’d love audience feedback on this. Have you used it? If yes, how so? What benefits have you seen from using this technique?