“Pomodoro” is indivisible
The rule about the 25-minute “pomodoro” session is that it is indivisible. You can focus only on one thing during this time.
So if a thought or an urgent “to-do” comes into your mind, you cannot interrupt the “pomodoro” session. You may take a few seconds to write down in your to-do list what it is so you can review it later.
It sounds simple, but it is not easy to discipline yourself like this. Especially if you have been used to allowing yourself to get distracted previously.
As I already mentioned, focusing on one thing only has been one of the hardest things. I had gotten to the point where I would sit down and try to focus only for a few minutes, and my brain was already searching for a stimulus — to check something (messages, statistics, etc.), to write someone, to fix something, get tea, etc.
Of course, when I started using this technique, my addiction to multitasking and allowing myself to get distracted did not disappear right away. In fact, I felt this addiction stronger than ever. It was challenging to break it.
To fight this addiction to get distracted, I decided to follow one of the rules in F. Cirillo’s book The Pomodoro Technique — the “pomodoro” session is indivisible.
Whenever I let myself get distracted — open up an email or Messenger, talk to a friend, etc. — I would not count that “pomodoro” session. I would need to start this session all over again.
As you can see in the image below, I have crossed out four “pomodoro” sessions in a row. I either allowed myself to be interrupted by talking to someone or thought of an email or a message I needed to check. Breaking this habit was not easy.
Crossing out and not counting the “pomodoro” session was a good motivator because I didn’t want to feel like I only had two successful “pomodoro” sessions at the end of the day.
After a couple of times crossing out and not counting “pomodoros,” I had learned my lesson. When I got interrupted by somebody again, I politely said that I would be available to answer the question in ten minutes.
This rule really helped me to discipline myself to focus on one thing only.
At first, it was difficult because the brain, by default, searches for distractions (the result of the multitasking habit). But the feeling that you control your attention instead of letting your subconscious mind run the show increases confidence.
The more I developed a habit of being devoted to one task at a time, I found out how it helps me get more done and be more creative and less stressed.
And it is important to add for this paragraph that, of course, you turn off any notifications (or at least the sound notifications) on your phone or laptop while you are in the “pomodoro” session.
I had turned off several notifications permanently already before starting the Pomodoro Technique. And I turned off all notifications when I started this technique.
But what can you do if you get interrupted by someone? I have always found it hard to say “no” to people, and it was hard for me to say to my friend, “I will answer this later.”
However, I realized it is better to give my full attention to something. When I am working on a task, I can accomplish more that way. When I am talking to a friend later, I can be more focused and present then.
If you are working in your own office or a room, you may put a sign at the door “Leave me a post-it note, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” And then, during a longer break, you may check those notes and get back to them. Or you can just put a sign, “Genius at work.”
Writing down everything that comes to mind
A big part of why something like a Pomodoro Technique is needed is because our brains are constantly looking for stimulants. Addiction to social media means that you are addicted to the dopamine that increases each time you see a new notification, message, comment, or email.
And I was so addicted to this kind of dopamine. When working and focusing on one thing, I would remember I had to do another — a completely different thing. I was suddenly even interested in checking some people’s or company’s profiles that I never check because otherwise, I would count it as a waste of time.
Here is something that helped me with getting my mind decluttered. Another great principle regarding the Pomodoro Technique that I learned from Rob Dial’s podcast I mentioned earlier was writing down any thought that comes to mind during these 25 minutes.
To track my thoughts, I started to write down everything else that comes into my mind during my 25 minutes of complete focus. Most of the time (as you can see in the image below), it is just trivial things that don’t even matter after the “pomodoro” session is over.
Also, I got a lot of nagging thoughts to check Instagram, email, or news.
It’s funny, but literally, when I just sat down and started to focus, a thought crossed my mind, “What if this person answered me?”, “I need to ask this question to that person…”, etc.
Writing these nagging thoughts down was a sort of a ritual for leaving this thought for later. I wrote it down with intention — I’ll do it later, and sometimes it didn’t even feel that important when the break came.
As written by F. Cirillo himself, the “interruptions are often just ways for our mind to distract us, taking us away from what we are supposed to be doing.”
The Pomodoro Technique provides us a way to deal with interruptions because most of the things that come to mind during this focused time can wait for some 20 minutes until the break.
So have a notebook or a piece of paper next to you for writing down everything non-related that comes to mind. After a while, you’ll notice you get fewer thoughts like that popping into your mind.
Why does the Pomodoro Technique work so well?
I think the Pomodoro Technique works so well because it helps find the right balance for productivity by removing multitasking and organizing time in measurable chunks.
I like to have as few different focuses per day as possible because it takes time to switch between various activities. And also, when I have many different priorities for the day, I easily slip into multitasking.
On the other side, if I know I only have one focus for the day, for example, to write a new article, I procrastinate a lot because I feel like I have all day to do that.
And when you feel like you have all day to do that, you feel like you can always do something else first, and then get to it in an hour, a few hours later, in the evening, etc.
The Pomodoro Technique helps to divide the day into measurable chunks and therefore you have a sense of accountability.
The technique kind of reminds me of this principle of a goal card which I am used to already.
During the summers, I have worked a sales job that has been pretty intensive — we put in 12–13 hours per day. (We do that to maximize the time of the summer as far as the earnings and experience.) That’s where I learned the principle of a goal card.
When we think about working 12–13 hours, it seems like an incredibly long day. However, we had a goal card to divide the day into two-hour goal periods. And then we set measurable goals, for example, a certain amount of sales presentations during those two hours that we focused on.
The company I worked for used a funny example to illustrate why this works. It is the example of eating an elephant (of course, no one eats elephants, but, for the sake of an example). Let’s say if you’d want to eat an elephant, it would be impossible for you to eat it all. You would need to divide it into smaller chunks, and then day by day, you could eat it step by step.
That is the same about our time.
Dividing my day into smaller goal periods in this sales job helped me successfully endure the long day and achieve my controllable goals on that day.
I feel that is the same with the Pomodoro Technique when I set a specific focus for the 25-minute “Pomodoro” session. That specific focus alone is what is important at that particular moment. And with these small steps of focused action, I can get a lot done during the day.
And by writing other thoughts and distractions down, I train my mind not to give my energy to ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.
And when I take a break, I don’t feel guilty because it is a scheduled break.
To sum it up, the Pomodoro technique helps me become more present by removing distractions in the external environment and mind. When I am more present, I can be more productive both physically and mentally.
To divide your day into these kinds of goal periods, you need to begin each day (or do it the previous night) by setting the main intentions or priorities for the next day.
Setting daily intentions or priorities
In the original Pomodoro Technique, F. Cirillo suggests planning how many “pomodoros” would be needed for each vital task of the day and draw boxes, just like in this image below.
Since what I often do is creative, such as writing an article, creating worksheets for the coaching program, or preparing a social media post, it is harder to predict the exact amount of time it will take.
Therefore, I found it more helpful to write down my 3–5 main goals/focuses/priorities at the beginning of each day (or the previous night) and start with the most urgent one.
Some priorities might take longer, some less than I think, but at least that way, I am not cutting away my creativity by rigorously focusing on a set amount of time for each activity.
Once one priority is done, I love to cross it off and start the next one. And I could mark down how many “pomodoros” each activity took for my statistics.
Having “pomodoro” sessions also helps switch off one type of work after finishing it and switch on for a different kind of work, since I also work part-time for a company helping with PR management.
Suppose you are also somebody who works on different types of freelance projects, jobs, or businesses at the same time. In that case, you will find the Pomodoro Technique helpful for allowing you not to bring the energy of the previous activity into the new activity you start.
Once the “pomodoro” session is done and the activity is finished for the day, you have a break for recharge, and you can start with a new focus.