Effective time management with the super-simple Pomodoro Technique
Time management is one of the most important soft skills an employee can have. As anyone who's ever sweated nervously as they rushed to meet a deadline can tell you. But if you're struggling to complete tasks on time, figuring out how to improve can be a real head-scratcher.
Updated 5th November 2023
But don't worry. Today, we'll be looking at how to achieve more effective time management with the super simple, and highly-effective (for many) Pomodoro technique!
The importance of effective time management
Before we start detailing effective time management with the Pomodoro technique, we should go over why managing your time matters so much in the first place. Time management may be a so-called "soft skill." But it has a subtle yet significant impact on our day-to-day working lives. You might take a few minutes longer on something than your colleagues. But when you have a lot of those tasks a day, by the end of a working week, you can end up losing whole hours in comparison to the rest of your coworkers.
Poor time management can really ramp up the stress in an office. It can end up forcing you to work late to complete your responsibilities for the day. Or it can spill over onto your colleagues. Which means they have to work harder as a team to compensate for your weak link. As such, time management plays a key role in an employee's ability to effectively engage with their job. This means it is essential for productivity.
Effective time management means being able to assess how long a task will take. But also how important it is. And how it should be prioritised in relation to anything else you need to do. Time management is particularly important for flexible workers. But especially for remote workers, who are entirely responsible for keeping themselves on task, as well as those working compressed hours.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980. It's charmingly named for the tomato-shaped oven timer he used to pioneer said technique. Put simply, it's the idea of working for measured bursts of time with small breaks of a few minutes between each burst. Kind of like a Joe Wicks HIIT workout for your work!
If you're wondering whether a technique invented in the 80s is still worth practising today, it might help you to know that many adults diagnosed with ADHD manage to achieve reliable, effective time management with the Pomodoro technique. But even without a medical diagnosis of ADHD, Pomodoro is a very useful tool for maintaining concentration throughout the day.
Done correctly, the Pomodoro technique can allow you to get a lot of work done very quickly. But remember, what this technique isn't is a way of working at full tilt forever. So, you still need to mind your stress levels and be sure to look after your own wellbeing.
How to use the Pomodoro Technique
We very briefly summed up the Pomodoro technique in the last section. And it honestly doesn't get any more complicated than that. First, you should get set up and be ready to go at the drop of a hat. Then start a timer for 25 minutes on your preferred device.
It doesn't have to be an oven timer unless you're just that much of a traditionalist. There are also quite a few free planning and self-care apps that include Pomodoro timers.
The important thing is to work solidly for that entire time. If you catch yourself pulling out your phone on the sly, remember you'll have time for that soon. When the timer goes off, stop working (but remember to hit save!) and take a small break. With the Pomodoro technique, this shouldn't be too long. Five minutes rounds you out to a nice even half an hour. Once your five minutes are up, sit down, start the timer over, and get back to it. Then lather, rinse and repeat as needed to stay engaged until your task is complete.
Some people find it helps to mark down each successful Pomodoro on a checklist. You need to be able to stay engaged on a single task until it's finished. If you realise there's something else you need to remember to do while the timer is running, quickly make a note of it and carry on.
After you've done a few Pomodoros, you should take a longer break. Francesco Cirillo's website suggests taking a 20-30 minute break every four repetitions, but your mileage may vary. If you're a manager encouraging your team to use this technique, remember that making sure they take the proper breaks is an important part both of utilising this approach properly. It's also part of an empathetic approach to boosting productivity.
Why does the Pomodoro technique work?
There are so many dubious "productivity hacks" there are floating around the internet. So, you'd be forgiven for wondering what makes this one any different. When advice ends up being so simple, it's easy to wonder if it's too good to be true. But often, the simplest advice really does end up being the most effective.
A case study by the entrepreneur, coach and writer, Chris Winfield found that the Pomodoro technique enabled him to do the equivalent to a 40-hour work week in less than seventeen hours. Effective time management with the Pomodoro Technique works for three reasons:
It reduces distractions
It's easier to commit to doing something for less than half an hour than it is for most the workday. One reason that effective time management with the Pomodoro technique is possible is that it allows you to put everything else to one side much more effectively. It's much easier to ignore your phone, emails, social media and the nagging worry of other responsibilities when you can put them on a list and leave them until your timer runs out. Studies have shown that brief diversions (like the ones baked into the Pomodoro technique) can significantly improve focus.
It helps to manage burnout
As it happens, the human brain good at concentrating for long periods of time. Or, at least, it's not as effective as the traditional eight-hour workday might have you believe. The numbers vary. But for example, a 2017 study put the attention span of the average Brit at just 14 minutes. More workplace-specific research from the US-based Bureau of Labor Statistics found that on average, US employees working full days of over eight hours were only productive for less than three. But you can have more effective time management with the Pomodoro technique. Simply by giving yourself an incentive to focus for short bursts of time. And, of course, letting yourself switch off at regular intervals.
It improves work/life balance
Chris Winfield's case study presented very compelling results. It effectively reduced the amount of time it took him to complete his objectives for that week by over 50%. It may well be an extreme example. But, if employees can manage to use the Pomodoro technique even a fraction as effectively, then it stands to be massively beneficial for those struggling to balance work commitments against their personal life.
As shown by Gallup's State of the Global Workplace report, global employee stress is at record-breaking levels. So, an effective time management technique which incorporates regular breathers is very important.