Have you ever reached the end of your workday, only to feel you didn’t have much to show for it?
I’ve felt the same way. Since I recently took my freelance writing business full-time, I’ve had to figure out a better way to manage my work hours.
One strategy that’s made a huge difference in my workflow is the Pomodoro Technique. Breaking my work into manageable chunks using this method helps me accomplish more in a day than I thought possible, while keeping me focused and preventing burnout.
Here’s how I use the Pomodoro Technique to improve my writing productivity — and how you can, too.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
This time-management method was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.
The idea behind the technique is people can only stay hyper-focused on a task or subject for a finite period of time — generally about 90 minutes. Instead of trying to sit at your desk from 9 to 5 (or whatever hours you currently keep), it makes more sense to break up your day into sections. The technique calls these chunks of time “pomodori,” and each one is known as a “pomodoro.”
Each pomodoro includes 25 minutes of focused time, followed by a five-minute break. Most sources suggest linking three or four pomodori together (with those five-minute breaks in between sessions), and then taking a longer break of 20 to 30 minutes. Lather, rinse and repeat.
Set your timer using your phone, a stopwatch or a regular clock, or download one of several dedicated Pomodoro Technique apps and timers. I’ve used and like this free timer, though I’ve had to mute its annoying ticking sound.
How to get started with Pomodoro
Before launching into your first pomodoro, list your tasks for the day, with the most important ones at the top. Select your two or three most important tasks (MITs): the ones whose completion would make your day a success, regardless of what else you accomplished.
I always make sure I spend my morning hours (or pomodori) writing, whether I’m working on client work or my own blog posts. I try to leave email and social media work until later in the day, as challenging as that can sometimes be.
Here’s a sample schedule for an eight-hour workday, with 12 defined tasks (or pomodori) and a lunch break. Remember, each pomodoro includes 25 minutes of work time and a five-minute break.
9:00-9:30 Write article
9:30-10:00 Write article
10:00-10:30 Write article
10:30-11:00 Long break
11:00-11:30 Check email
11:30-12:00 Blog outreach
12:00-12:30 Search job boards and pitch new clients
12:30-1:30 Long break for lunch
1:30-2:00 Social media promotion
2:00-2:30 Write article or brainstorm new post ideas
2:30-3:00 Write article or brainstorm new post ideas
3:00-3:30 Long break
3:30-4:00 Check email
4:00-4:30 Coursework or nonfiction reading
4:30-5:00 Social media promotion
Document your accomplishments
This isn’t an essential part of using this method, but it’s a great way to see how your efficiency and hard work are paying off.
If you’re using an app or web-based timer, you may be able to track your tasks within its interface. For example, freelancer and entrepreneur Brennan Dunn loves that his app of choice encourages him to write down what he did during each pomodoro.
Tracking could also be as simple as making a check mark next to each pomodoro on your schedule, or writing a few quick notes in a Word or Google Doc. Either way, looking back on your day and seeing what you achieved can help keep you motivated and productive.
What to do with your five-minute breaks
Since many of us spend too much time in front of our computers and not enough time being active, use these five minute breaks to get up, move around and stretch your body. They’re a great time to take a bathroom break, get a cup of water, coffee or tea, or make a quick snack.
Since I have two toddlers and find it hard to fit exercise into my day, I use many of my five-minute breaks to do this no-equipment-necessary workout. I’ve found exercise helps me recharge before starting my next pomodoro, but you might also want to try meditating, journaling or having a quick conversation with a friend.
Avoid checking email or social media during your five-minute breaks. Both tasks can become black holes, and it’s easy to slip into a “just five more minutes” mentality when you’re facing an overflowing inbox.
However, checking your email or Twitter feed means you’re not necessarily taking a break from work (or your computer screen). Instead, use the five minutes to walk away from your work and do something that helps you recharge.
Shoot for progress, not perfection
Using the Pomodoro Technique to manage the structure of your day can help you cross more tasks off your list.
Aim be more productive overall, rather than trying to be perfect. Ending a pomodoro a few minutes early or working a couple of minutes past your timer isn’t the end of the world. Neither is finding that you can only complete one or two pomodoros in a day before having to switch to another strategy to complete your tasks.
If you’ve found yourself at the end of your day with little to show for it, why not give this method a try?
Have you tried the Pomodoro Technique? How did it work for you?