The Pomodoro Technique: The Life-Changing Time-Management System by Francesco Cirillo was a life-changing book for me. I discovered the Pomodoro technique almost a decade ago while studying in university, and since then, I have been consistently using this technique for doing any kind of focused work.
Not many people know that the creator of the Pomodoro Technique also wrote a small book outlining their technique and philosophy. Although the Pomodoro technique is very simple and can be explained in one sentence, this book offers a complete framework for becoming more efficient at your work and handling distractions using the Pomodoro Technique.
It’s a very short read that I would definitely recommend. The main ideas are captured in the following summary.
The Pomodoro technique is summarized by the following points:
A Pomodoro consists of 25 minutes of focused work plus a 5 minute break.
Every four Pomodoros, take a longer 15 to 30 minute break.
The Pomodoro is indivisible and represents the smallest unit of focused work.
If a Pomodoro begins, it must be completed. If it is interrupted, then it is considered void and not counted. If the work is completed before the end of a Pomodoro, then the extra time should be spent reviewing until the end.
Pomodoros should be protected - any potential interruptions should be anticipated and redirected before starting a Pomodoro.
If an activity requires more than 5 -7 Pomodoros, then break it down into smaller tasks.
There are five objectives that define the philosophy of the Pomodoro technique.
An “Activity Inventory Sheet” contains a list of activities that must be completed. At the beginning of each day, prioritize and choose tasks from this list and add them to a “To Do Today” list. Choose a task from this list and complete Pomodoros until that task is completed, after which the task will be crossed off. Mark how many Pomodoros were done in order to complete that task. This can be used to estimate how many Pomodoros it took to complete a certain task.
If interruptions occur during a Pomodoro, then write down that interruption in an “Unplanned & Urgent” list, mark that there was in interruption next to your current Pomodoro, and continue focusing on the current Pomodoro. Afterwards, review your list and determine if the new task needs to be done now or if it can wait for later.
True emergency interruptions are rare - for example, phone calls can go to voice mail, or you can defer a request from a colleague until after your Pomodoro. People will eventually trust you when you promise to get back to them and value your time.
For each task, estimate how many Pomodoros it will take to complete that task. If it takes more than 5 to 7 Pomodoros, then break that task down into smaller tasks. If it takes less than one Pomodoro, then combine similar tasks together into one Pomodoro.
Each day, choose tasks so that the total number of Pomodoros does not exceed the amount you can do in a day. Usually, this is eight Pomodoros a day. If you go over your estimate, then mark the extra Pomodoros to indicate this.
Within each Pomodoro, you can use the first few minutes to review what was done in the previous related Pomodoros, and the last few minutes to review what was done in the current Pomodoro. You can also structure entire sets of Pomodoros similarly.
Be mindful of how your productivity changes throughout the day, and order your tasks such that the ones that require more effort are done during optimal times. During a break, ensure that you completely detach from your work.
Set limits on how much time you spend working in a day. This motivates discipline during your working day to ensure you complete the work you need to do. This also allows you to separate between work and free time, in order to avoid burnout. This will also allow you to measure your results for the day - whether you achieved what you had planned or not - and provides a good indication of how many Pomodoros you can reliably complete in a day.
Reinforce a regular routine as much as possible and focus on one Pomodoro at a time. Ensure that you don’t go over 30 minutes during your break, but also make sure you are taking a break for at least 5 minutes.