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Pomodoro Technique: Time Management for Managers and Their Employees

In the late 1980s, a student named Francesco Cirillo was having trouble focusing on his studies. He grabbed a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, set it for 25 minutes and told himself that once the timer went off, he’d get a break. That’s how the Pomodoro Technique was born.

Named after that kitchen timer — pomodoro is Italian for tomato — the technique has been refined since then. However, it’s still a simple and effective productivity tool used by individuals worldwide to focus on tasks at hand. Pomodoro’s simplicity also makes it a great time management strategy to help motivate your team to greater success.

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What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique is a basic time management technique that can help you focus and work free from distractions. It works like this:

  1. Identify a task you want to complete.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  3. Work for 25 minutes. Don’t allow yourself to be interrupted at all. This 25-minute stretch is called a pomodoro.
  4. When the timer goes off, take a break for five minutes.
  5. After your break, start again.
  6. When you’ve completed four pomodoros, take a longer break of 15-20 minutes.

In addition to the basic method, there are also some rules you should follow to get the most out of the system.

First, a pomodoro is indivisible. That means you can’t stop it halfway through. If you get interrupted, you should either dismiss the interruption or stop the pomodoro and start a completely new one after the interruption is dealt with. Obviously, some interruptions can’t be easily dismissed, but it’s probably possible more often than you realize. Ignore your phone or put it on silent before you start. Close your emails. If someone comes to your desk, tell them you’re in the middle of something and arrange a better time. Then go straight back to your work.

Second, a pomodoro can’t finish early. If you finish your task before the 25 minutes are up, you should spend any remaining time reviewing the work you completed, reviewing the way you worked to see where you can improve or planning for your next focus period.

Finally, you should track pomodoros. Record how many you complete in a day and the work you finished by using the technique. This helps you see how you use your time and understand what you can accomplish in any given day.

You can use the traditional kitchen timer to time your pomodoros, but the timer on your phone works just as well. There are also numerous pomodoro timers available as web-based or phone apps, so you can easily find one that works for you. Many have a lot of bells and whistles, but TomatoTimer offers a very basic timer if you want to give the method a try.

How to use your breaks

In the pomodoro method, breaks are as important as the work. They give your brain a rest and let you come back to the task fresh. Ideally, you should use the break to get your blood moving. Walking around or stretching is a great use of your break time, but checking your email or social media is not.

Some ideas for five-minute breaks include drinking a glass of water or going to the bathroom. During longer breaks, you could walk around the block, eat lunch or do some yoga. People who work from home might find a break the perfect length of time to do the dishes or let the dog out. A five- or 10-minute sprint can be a great way to get past a mental block and actually get started on a task.

Making pomodoro your own

The Pomodoro Technique is a flexible system. Its simplicity makes it easy to customize to suit your working style. For starters, you don’t need to follow all the rules. Some people don’t track their pomodoros, and others stop their pomodoro if they finish a task early.

You can also adjust your time as needed. Some people can focus for longer stretches of time or prefer to keep going if they’re in the middle of a thought when the timer finishes. You can also set your timer for less than 25 minutes.

Remember, you don’t need to split your whole day into pomodoros. This is a great method for focused solo work, but you can’t call a break in the middle of a client meeting just because your timer goes off, so use the technique when it will have the most impact.

Why does the Pomodoro Technique work?

The Pomodoro Technique brings together a number of time management strategies. It:

  • Helps eliminate distractions
  • Allows you to break up big tasks into smaller chunks
  • Gamifies work by recording how much you get done each pomodoro, giving you a goal to beat
  • Prevents you from feeling burned out
  • Gives your work a sense of urgency

Most of all, pomodoro time management helps you overcome procrastination. A 25-minute block seems a lot more achievable than a project that will take 10 or more hours to complete.

The Pomodoro Technique has long-term benefits as well. Over time, you become aware of how long it takes you to finish certain tasks and how you use your time. This helps you better plan your days to ensure you complete projects and meet deadlines.

How can this help you and your employees?

Employees with good time management are more productive. Productive workers are happier workers, and happier workers are more productive, so better time management feeds into a beneficial cycle of increased productivity and motivation. Time management skills also help your team prioritize work, reduce stress and deliver projects on time.

Conversely, distractions are damaging to morale and productivity. In a 2018 study by Udemy, 54% of workers said they weren’t performing as well as they should due to distractions, and 50% said distractions make them significantly less productive. Interruptions also made 34% of respondents like their jobs less. If the Pomodoro Technique only helped your employees remove distractions from their day, it would still have a huge impact on employee happiness and productivity.

As a manager, better time management in your employees means you’ll get more projects finished and delivered on time. Regular breaks and uninterrupted focus also mean your team will be producing better quality work. In the end, this gives you less stress and a happier workplace, as well as a more profitable business.

It’s true that the Pomodoro Technique won’t work for everyone. Time management strategies can be quite personal, and not every employee will like the pressure that comes from working to a timer. The technique also doesn’t fit with every type of work. It can be great for coders or writers who need to concentrate on a single project, but it won’t work for a receptionist who needs to switch tasks regularly to help clients and callers.

However, it’s popular for a reason. It’s simple, it’s flexible, it integrates with other productivity systems and it helps people accomplish more. If you’re looking for a tool to boost productivity and motivation, the Pomodoro Technique is a good place to start.

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