Happy 2019! This year, we’re taking a deeper dive into every VA and freelancer’s number one obsession: productivity hacks. First up is a favorite of many (and a recent discovery for Emily), The Pomodoro Technique. Ever heard of it? Get ready to get educated!
I’ll be honest: Time management systems are something I’d stayed away from in the past. In this season of life—living with small children—time is something over which I have little control.
Where is the method that allows for a clingy toddler or early release from half-day preschool due to a water main break?
It seemed like an exercise in futility to attempt to wrangle time. Besides, I have very firm hours each week when I can work uninterrupted, and I power through to do as much of my work during that time as possible, filling in the rest of my hours in bits and pieces throughout the week.
That was always my time management system—“get it done.” And then I chose to read an article on the Pomodoro Technique and realized that perhaps it could work for me.
Given my love of all things tomato—sauce, salsa, tomato sandwiches all summer long—it’s no surprise the time management method that works for me would be tomato-related. The Pomodoro Technique, introduced by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, is named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo used (pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato, in case you missed that).
These days you can find web timers, apps, browser plugins, and a wide variety of physical timers specifically for the Pomodoro Technique. But me? I just set my phone timer.
The basic premise is that tasks are broken down into “pomodoros.” You work on each task for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break. After three to four pomodoros, you take a longer break.
I’ve made a few changes to accommodate my specific time constraints—for example, I allow 20 minutes per pomodoro instead of 25 minutes. That’s the cool thing about this technique: It can be flexible!
Using this system has made a huge difference in what I can accomplish. Here’s why I love it.
Break Down Large Tasks Into Digestible Chunks
Sometimes in my work with DPM, I’m tasked with market research and need to spend five hours per week researching speaking opportunities for clients. That can seem like a gargantuan amount of time as I stare at the search box on Google. But when I think about it as just 15 pomodoros of research, I can easily put that into slots in my to-do list. This way, it becomes more manageable.
Improve Your Understanding of What Can Be Accomplished
Because I have a hard stop when it’s time to head out for school pickup, I used to feel that if I had less than 30 minutes left when I completed one task, I didn’t have enough time to move on to something else. Now I know what I can accomplish in 20 minutes, and even in 10.
Sometimes I break tasks up this way, too. And I call them “cherry tomatoes” because I’m silly like that.
And when a small pocket of my day open up, I know I can knock another pomodoro off my list. (The average kid’s show on Netflix is about 22 minutes long, for everyone keeping track at home.)
There’s a time and place for multitasking, but often it leads to distraction and makes things take longer. By giving each task its own timeslot, I have the chance to complete each one and am still assured that I have time available for the others.
I find this especially helpful when managing similar work for multiple clients. That’s where I fall into the multitasking trap—checking multiple Twitter accounts at once or planning multiple calendars seems like a good idea in theory, as it’s all the same type of work. When each has its own “tomato” though, my work is actually more efficient, and each task gets my full attention.
It also helps control the seemingly constant bombardment of notifications. Not replying immediately on Slack feels okay if I know I can reply after my current pomodoro is up, or I know I’ll answer that email during the longer break after four pomodoros.
The Pomodoro Technique Helps My Work-From-Home Lifestyle
We all know how much of a distraction working from home can be. The Pomodoro Technique has helped me get more household tasks done during my working hours—I use the short breaks to switch laundry or tidy up something and longer breaks to run to the store or put something in the Instant Pot. It’d be great for taking a dog for a walk.
The technique is also helpful if you aren’t home alone. When a partner, roommate, or child asks for your help with something, you can check the timer and tell them when you’ll be available, rather than pausing your work.
Even time that feels beyond your control can be managed with the right system. What about you? Have you tried The Pomodoro Technique? What’s your favorite thing about it? And do I need a cute little timer? Let me know in the comments!
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