Firstly, I'd like to apologise for the misleading title.
I'm not suggesting that eating tomatoes can somehow increase the amount of work you're able to do. What I'm suggesting is that using something called the pomodoro technique (pomodoro is Italian for tomato), can greatly increase your productivity.
A pomodoro is a pre-defined period of time (usually 25 minutes). The idea is that you completely focus on one task, and only that task, for a single pomodoro before you allow yourself to have a break or do anything else.
This is the basis behind working with the productivity planner, which I spoke about in this post.
The technique was popularised by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, and named after the tomato shaped kitchen timer that he used to focus his attention.
How to use this technique for maximum effectiveness
The pomodoro technique is a great way to tackle those tasks which you have been resisting working on.
Tim Ferriss says that your Most Important Task is usually the one that has been most procrastinated upon and "punted from one list to the next".
By promising to yourself to work on a task for just 25 minutes, it makes it much easier to start and gain momentum.
- Decide on your most important task.
- Set your timer for 25 minutes.
- Work on the task until the timer reaches 0. If you find yourself becoming distracted, gently bring yourself back to the task. If you get completely distracted and begin working on something else, that pomodoro doesn't count and you need to start again from 25 minutes.
- After each block of 25 minutes that you manage to work on a task, put a tick next to it on your list.
- Take a break for 5 minutes. Get up, walk around, make a cup of tea, or use this time to check in on your emails - but don't get sidetracked for too long.
- Start again. If you manage four of these in a row, give yourself a longer break - 25 or 30 minutes.
The Benefits of Using this Technique
By using this technique, you'll always make some headway on the tasks you most want to put off. It's not too difficult to focus on something you don't really want to do for 25 minutes, so even if you're dreading the task you should still be able to make progress on it instead of putting it off again.
By scheduling yourself mini-breaks and just working in short sprints, you prevent burnout and continue to do your best work throughout the day - without burning yourself out.
By making a commitment to focus on just one thing, you manage distractions and stop yourself from being dragged into reactive mode - the "busy trap" that results in no meaningful work being done. For this reason, you should close your emails while you focus on your most important task.
A Tip for the Easily Distracted
The pomodoro technique is a great way to get started on boring tasks that just have to be done.
However, we are often easily distracted from these tasks once we begin them because our brains think of other more interesting things we should do instead. We welcome the distraction from boredom and start persuing that task instead.
If you're easily distracted and find yourself thinking of more interesting (but perhaps lesser priority) tasks to do instead of your current, important one, then it can be a good idea to write the thought down before you continue working.
Once you've committed it to paper, it's out of your head so you don't feel like you have to work on it straight away. It will still be there when you finish your pomodoro. There's no fear of forgetting it. If you remain strict with yourself, you can reward yourself with that more interesting task if you complete your current task first.
If you do this often, you'll end up with a list of distractions which you can order by priority. You'll realise that some of them aren't that important, and you probably shouldn't elevate them above anything on your main list. The ones that are important can be scheduled in at a time suitable to their level of priority - not taking precedence over the thing you had already decided was your main priority now.
The Surprising Effect of the Pomodoro Technique
When I worked with the pomodoro technique for a few days, I was startled by just how much I was able to get done in 25 minutes. When working in the usual unstructured way, welcoming distractions like email and my own thoughts, tasks took much longer to complete.
As I log each of my completed pomodoros, I'm able to gain a better understanding of how long certain tasks take. I now know roughly how much work I'm capable of fitting into different amounts of time.
This tracking of my output and time has resulted in much greater self awareness. When you know how much work you can and should fit into a given time period, it motivates you to ensure that you do that.