Embrace single-tasking: Using the Pomodoro Technique to improve productivity

Ian Barbour/Flickr

I'll admit it. I am a master procrastinator. I have a huge tendency to put things off. It can definitely be an issue. Plenty of people suffer with me. But even if you aren't a procrastinator, it can be difficult to focus in today's modern working environment. With email, texting, messaging apps, meetings, and phone calls, it can be difficult to find the time and space to get things done. This is exactly what the Pomodoro Technique was built to counteract.

The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity method intended to improve concentration. When you're faced with a big task or series of tasks, break them down into smaller time blocks. These blocks are called “Pomodoros" and are spaced out by short breaks. The traditional time period is 25 minutes of work followed by a short 5 minute break. But you can set your sessions to any length you like. The main goal of these timed sessions is to hyper focus on one specific task. This is much more effective than constantly flipping between tasks. Multitasking actually hurts your productivity. The Pomodoro Technique is a great addition to a single tasking methodology.

So, let's see how this thing works in real life. Before I opened up this document to write this piece, I went to my favorite timer app Forest (but there are plenty of other apps more suited the technique on the marketplace) and set up a Pomodoro session. (I usually work for longer periods, around an hour.) As I write, the clock ticks down on the amount of time I have left. When the session is up, I usually have a new piece finished. If I don't, it's no sweat. I just set up another session and continue after a short break.

As someone who was intensely stressed about timed multiplication tests in elementary school, this method at first seemed counterintuitive to me. But beating the clock isn't the point of the system. The point is to set aside a specific amount of time to completely focus on a single task. Knowing that I don't have anything else going on lets me zero in on what I need to do and actually get it done. During a session, your only goal is to get as much done as you can. This is your time to work. Turn off all your social media and messaging apps and just focus. If you need more time after your session is up, take a short break and then set up another session. I cannot tell you how much more productive I have been with the Pomodoro Technique than without it.

So Pomodoros can increase focus, but how does the technique beat procrastination? Well, the best way to beat procrastination is to just start on your task— even if it's just for five minutes. Setting up a Pomodoro session allows me to get over the hurdle and actually begin. And I often find once I've started, I am propelled forward to finish. Every time. If the Pomodoro Technique can work for me — a serial procrastinator — then it can definitely improve your own workflow.

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