My job, complete with a restate-hoarding work station, has become my new roommate since March 17, 2020. Although I am grateful for employment during these times, the honeymoon phase is over! Work-life balance has gone astray.
On average I sit at my desk in front of my work’s iMac Pro for roughly 8 hours a day. After I “get off work”, I rotate towards the other half of my desk where my MacBook Pro is and proceed to work on my projects. Gradually, I’ve noticed a decline in my focus. Despite being surrounded by all my computers and tech gadgets, I fell into a pattern of staring blankly into the screens with only vapid thoughts. I’m not as productive as I’d like to be and the quality of life outside of work hours has also suffered because of this. To fight back, my friend (Fred Cheung) introduced me to The Pomodoro Technique.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is a time interval system invented by Francesco Cirillo and named after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. The idea is to break down any task into smaller pieces, then tackle the pieces in bursts of work intervals (called “Pomodoros”) with breaks in between. The goal is to work in short sprints to keep yours focused and give yourself breaks to keep yourself motivated and fresh.
How to Pomodoro
- Decide on the tasks you want to work on
- Set up a timer for X duration of focus time followed by Y duration of break time. (Traditionally it’s 25:5 mins.)
- Keep a running tally of how many Pomodoro cycles you complete.
- Take a longer break (10-15 mins) for every four Pomodoros you complete.
- Repeat until the designated end of the workday.
How the Technique Works for Me
My day is spent broken into 25-minute work sprints and five-minute breaks of doing whatever I want –but it’s mostly working out. Between 9-5 I work as a retoucher and then after those hours, I’ll hop to my laptop to continue to sit for additional X hours to work on my projects. The Pomodoro Technique has helped me combat the weight of sedentary work life. When it’s time for a break I now immediately get up perform some form of bodyweight exercise, stretch, or simply walk to the kitchen to make some tea.
My Time Timer
Over the years I’ve discovered that the most effective way for me to learn a new skill is to have a visual and tactile connection. That is the reason why the original Time Timer works for me and the Pomodoro Technique. I like this timer a lot. It’s a physical, analog timer that also visually displays the amount of time left like a pie chart. To begin a Pomodoro session I have to pick up the Time Timer and manually wind it to the amount of time that I want to track. Once I’ve started the timer I’ll keep the Time Timer within my peripherals so that I can visually see the time passing. The physical stimuli of setting the timer signal a mental commitment to focus and visually seeing time pass triggers reminds me to not be distracted.
This timer also works perfectly for my quarantine life because it’s quiet. The ticking is barely audible and timer features a mute switch for the alarm sound. I’m currently working from home with three housemates who are also working from home. Between 9 – 5, there’s always a steady rotation of conference calls and video meetings.
Apps are Available (But They Don’t Work for Me)
There are several mobile Pomodoro apps (you can even ask your Google/Siri/Alexa to start a timer for you), but I’m not successful with them. I’m confident that the lack of visual and physical components are the reasons why they don’t work for me. Apps tend to live on a phone and display the countdown as digital numbers. To set the timer the user taps the phone’s screen, which delivers the same physical sensation I’d get from doing everything else on the phone. It feels like texting! It feels like social media! On top of all, this phone screens will dim or turn off with a lock screen, which then requires touching the phone to wake it up. Again, bring me closer to temptation. I’ll stick to the little time on my desk.
Pomodoro Apps that are free to try:
There are even versions of the Pomodoro Technique available as YouTube videos:
Bonus Benefit: Learning to Say “No”
Because you can’t let yourself become distracted during a Pomodoro cycle, the technique has helped me to better say “No.” I’ll be doing myself a disservice if I yield to the very enticing distractions that pop up during a Pomodoro cycle. Instead of giving that email, text, or other lingering things my time and energy I instead:
- Say “No” to the distraction, this may take a bit of willpower until resilience has accumulated.
- Reschedule and negotiate a time better time to address said distraction.
- Attend to the distraction during the five-minute break after I’ve completed my current Pomodoro.
Being stuck inside for every moment of life has proposed new challenges that I feel can be solved with habit and mindset changes. I hope that the Pomodoro Technique will condition me to fall into a state of flow on command and make taking breaks a habit to avoid burning out.