How to Get 40 Hours of Work Done in 16.7
If you’re anything like I used to be, you work a lot – 60, 80, or even 100 hours a week. You let your work be a big part of how you define yourself. You wear those insane hours like a badge of honor, though in 100 years, or even next year, nobody will remember how many hours you worked this week, nor care.
So why do we do it? Looking back to when I worked like that, I realize I used my work to try and fill a void in myself. The problem was that this void was like a black hole. No matter how many hours I worked, it never seemed to fill it up. If anything, it made me feel worse.
One day I’d had enough. Truth be told, I’d had way more than enough. I stopped and reevaluated my life, trying to figure out what was important to me, and what wasn’t. I realized that while work was important, because I want to feel productive, it was just one important thing, and not the most important one at that. What’s more, I realized that working on things I didn’t love was detrimental to my well-being.
That’s when I decided I had to make a big change…
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Searching for the Way
I’ve been on a journey to make that change for ten months now. Since work is important to me, I had to figure out how to work smarter, not harder. I had to optimize my work process, doing more in less time. Of course, I also had to find work I enjoyed, that fulfilled me, rather than work that drained me. By doing this, I have more time to improve myself, be with friends and family, and truly be healthy on all levels – mind, body, and soul.
I love to read. I especially love to read things that help me improve myself. The change I embarked on gave me the perfect excuse to go on a reading binge! I read every book I could find on the subject of working smarter. I read a ton of blog posts on the same topic. Some of what I read actually made the 4 Hour Workweek sound like a lot of work.
Identify the 20 most influential people in your existing network
(most likely to whip out their phone and send the intro of your dreams)
Then, I took the things that made the most sense to me, and implemented them. Some were complete disasters. Some worked partially, but clearly weren’t for me. Then, I noticed that several different solutions each had a piece of the puzzle. I took those parts that worked for me, and combined them into my own system. Slowly but surely, I developed a formula that would forever change how I work.
Enter the Pomodoro
Over the years I‘d heard about a time management system called the Pomodoro Technique. It seemed too simplistic, but as they say, the simplest things often work best. I read the 2006 paper written by its creator, Francesco Cirilio, which explained the technique and as importantly, the psychology behind it. This revolutionary time management system is deceptively simple to learn, but life-changing when applied correctly. The Pomodoro Technique can be broken down into the following four basic principles.
1. Work with time, not against it: Many of us live as if time is our enemy. We race the clock to finish assignments and meet deadlines. The Pomodoro Technique teaches us to work with time, instead of struggling against it.
2. Eliminate burnout: Taking short, scheduled breaks while working eliminates the “running on fumes” feeling you get when you push yourself too hard. It’s impossible to overwork when you stick to the system.
3. Manage distractions: Phone calls, emails, Facebook messages, or suddenly realizing you need to change the oil in your car – distractions constantly bombard us. Usually, these distractions can wait. The Pomodoro Technique helps you log your distractions, and prioritize them for later.
4. Create a better work/life balance: Most of us are far too intimately acquainted with the guilt that comes from procrastination. If we haven’t had a productive day, we can’t seem to enjoy our free time. As a Pomodoro Master, you create an effective timetable and achieve your high-priority tasks, so you truly enjoy your time off.
“All this is great,” you may think, “but what do I actually do?”
1) Choose a task;
2) Set a timer for 25 minutes;
3) Work on your task until the timer rings, then put a checkmark on a tracker;
4) Take a five minute break (you just completed your first Pomodoro!); then
5) Repeat steps 1-4 three more times, followed by a 15 minute break.
Now, you’re probably thinking “Twenty five minutes of work? That’s nothing! This is gonna be easy!” Not so fast… That’s 25 minutes of steady, focused work on ONE task. No multitasking. No emails. No phone calls. No checking Facebook. Nothing! No distractions allowed!
For me, this took some getting used to, and required some tools and hacks. Here’s what I used:
1) A kitchen timer (or an app);
2) Airplane mode (the most important function on any mobile phone!);
3) A quiet place to work and/or a good pair of headphones or earplugs;
4) Pen and paper (for those Pomodoro checkmarks);
5) Five minutes each morning to plan out the day’s tasks; and
6) 30 minutes at the end of each week to review the past week and plan for the next.
Finding the Magic Combination
Like most things in my life, I learned through experimentation, experiencing a lot of pain and frustration but ultimately growth.
At first, I thought I could do 16 Pomodoros each day, no problem. I was used to working so much, that less than seven hours of work seemed like nothing. The first day I completed 12 Pomodoros. I got a ton done, but still felt like a failure because I fell short of my goal. I felt tired and miserable.
Over the following days, I tried cutting back on my target number. When it worked, I got a ton of stuff done and felt amazingly productive. I knew I was onto something good. Other days, I did too little or too much, felt like crap and was convinced this was the dumbest system in the world.
One day, I just ignored the system altogether and went back to multitasking. I was unfocused, unproductive, and frustrated. I gritted my teeth and kept doing things my old way for a few more days. What I found was that I got things done, but my productivity simply couldn’t compare to when it all clicked with the Pomodoros.
Sanity returned. I began experimenting with smaller numbers of Pomodoros, starting with five per day, gradually working my way up to eight. My goal was eight Pomodoros each weekday, for a total of 40 per week. This worked, sort of, but as they say, life happens. Some days I had so many meetings to attend, or my daughter had a recital at school which I didn’t want to miss, and I just couldn’t find fit in eight Pomodoros. It became clear that 40 was my magic weekly number, but I needed to be less rigid with how I approached my work-week.
The math was straightforward: 40 Pomodoros = 1,000 minutes of work (plus 350 minutes of breaks) each week. This averages out to about 16.7 hours of work each week. That’s it!
However, when I had too much going on, or felt physically or mentally off, I couldn’t fit in eight Pomodoros. I’d fall behind, and next day I’d try to cram in 14, leaving me exhausted and not very happy with the quality of my work. I realized I had to step back and rethink my week, paying attention to my moods. To refocus on what was right for me. The Pomodoro Technique was great, but something was missing to make it really work for me.
The Psychology of Motivation
In a perfect world, I’d have eight high-value tasks identified at the start of each workday. I’d prioritize these, and knock them off one by one, from most important to least. I’d be equally enthusiastic and motivated about each one, wouldn’t be interrupted, and would finish my day’s work in less than three hours. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, as the TV ad says, we live nowhere near perfect.
The reality is that I’m a human being, living in a world full of other humans. I have emotions I don’t control, and I often get tired. Some tasks I simply don’t feel like doing, even though I know they’re important, and possibly urgent. To make this work long-term, I had to face these things and learn to accept them, working with, rather than against them.
My energy level and attitude affect my work and output, so I had to stay present to how I was feeling, and master myself. Reading a useful blog post, I found questions like these especially helpful:
- My physical energy – how healthy am I?
- My emotional energy – how happy am I?
- My mental energy – how well can I focus on something?
- My spiritual energy – why am I doing this? What is my purpose?
These questions helped me take into account my mood and energy when prioritizing tasks. As a result, I no longer did anything just because I felt I had to. When my physical energy was low, I’d work on my health and wellness. When my emotional energy was low, I’d find something that made me happy, like spending time with my wife and daughter.
A Seven-Day Workweek
Remember where I started all this – working crazy hours, evenings, and weekends? When I decided to change, I swore to myself I’d never work on weekends, holidays, vacations, or even after 5 PM. Great, right? Well, I’m happy to report I’ve broken all of these promises, and that’s actually a good thing.
On those days when I couldn’t finish eight Pomodoros by 5 PM, I’d feel stressed. I’d feel like a failure. Suddenly I realized my view of the work week was too limiting. Why did I make those commitments to myself, limiting when I could work? I did it because I was coming from an unfulfilling work life, working too many hours, and for the wrong reasons. Then, I transitioned from just working,to working on things that fulfilled me. What’s more, I gave myself the freedom to do non-work stuff, such as attending my daughter’s recital during what most people consider work hours. This made it easy to shift my mindset about when I could or couldn’t work.
The final piece to my puzzle was moving from a five-day work-week, where I had to stop by 5 PM, to a seven-day work-week, where I could work when it suited me. This took me from 40-45 hours available to get my 40 Pomodoros in, to having 168 hours each week. Since I only need 16.7 hours net, that means I only work 10% of my time. What a difference!
What?! I’m Supposed to Do Everything in Just 16.7 Hours a Week?!
You’re probably thinking, “I work more than that in two days and you’re trying to tell me that’s all I need to work in an entire week?” YES! That’s exactly what I’m telling you. And NO, you’ll probably still ‘work’ more than 16.7 hours a week. I ‘work’ 35-40 hours a week, but I spend at least 20-25 of those hours on calls, meetings, networking on- and offline, and other less-focused tasks. These are important, but I don’t count them as work time. I truly work 16.7 hours each week, and I get about five times more done in those few hours than in the other 25 hours.
There’s no avoiding it. Life happens. As long as humans are involved, and especially if you live in modern society with its 24/7 connectedness, it’s next to impossible to have a perfect working environment. However, you can work smarter without having to work harder.
Are you up for it?
Action Idea: Start with trying 1 Pomodoro today. Twenty-five minutes of concentrated work on one task. Start with one and work up from there.
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This post is a comprehensive plan describing how to get more done in less time with increased efficiency. I use the Pomodoro Technique daily–it’s the most important tool I’ve ever found to help me be more productive–but I never knew about gauging my own energy levels to determine which tasks to accomplish. It makes perfect sense, as well as the idea that I don’t have to do things just because I have to do them. I get to do them, and by looking inside of myself and being honest, I can better determine what to work on next. Amazing stuff. I’m blown away by this post, and now I need to set aside a couple of Pomodoros to study the links and videos. Thank you Chris!
Energy levels and moods are huge John! Pay close attention to them and give yourself plenty of leeway at first.
I needed this so much, Chris! I’m stressing myself out trying to get things done – and now that the kids are out of school I seem to have 3x more on my plate. I feel guilty working after 5pm because that’s “supposed” to be family time (even though we are spending all day long together as well.)
Definitely time for a reset of what I consider a work week – and I need a return to concentration when I’m working. I’m going to try out your method a bit and see if it can work for me – I’m a bit skeptical that I can get 25 min of uninterrupted time, might have to start with 15 minute sprints 🙂
Thanks so much for sharing your method – definitely worth the read!
Yeah, it’s hard to balance it all Carrie, trust me, I know. But once you make the decision to change, you are half way there.
“I’m a bit skeptical that I can get 25 min of uninterrupted time”
Set a goal of just ONE per day to start. Even if you have to go to a coffee shop or work from your car. You can do it!
Thanks for the comment!
My first Pomodoro was reading this entire post without switching to do other tasks, mission accomplished. 🙂
Well done Dr. Mike!
Congrats Chris on finding a happier work/life balance and thanks for sharing. Reading this for me is perfect timing as I just got back from the longest vacation I’ve ever taken in my life -12 days, and am now looking to make some changes in my own work/life equation.
Congrats on the 12 day vacation Toren! Please let me know how this goes for you and if you need any help 🙂
Damn you and your well-written productivity posts Chris. You totally distracted me from my current Pomodoro.
This made me smile 🙂
Fascinating system, Chris. I totally agree about the power of excluding distractions and focusing on one thing. (Easier said than done for me, though!)
One thing I’m curious about. I had Steven Kotler on my podcast a few weeks ago. He’s an expert in “flow” – a highly focused mental state that would seem to mesh well with the Pomodoro system. But, it usually takes a while to get into a flow state, and it seems like 25 minute segments would cut off a productive flow state too soon.
I recall one (non-flow) study that said it takes about 20 minutes to recover your concentration after a distraction. (Think of coding, for example, where you have to deeply immerse yourself in the code and its structure.) Do you think this system works for that kind of activity? Are there some conditions where, say, an hour of time might be better?
Great questions Roger!
I would encourage you to take a look at the original research paper that Francesco Cirilio (the guy who came up with the Pomodro Technique) wrote: http://caps.ucsd.edu/Downloads/tx_forms/koch/pomodoro_handouts/ThePomodoroTechnique_v1-3.pdf
On page 24 he talks specifically about time:
>>>The Pomodoro has to encourage consciousness, concentration, and clear-minded thinking. It’s been proven that 20- to 45-minute time intervals can maximize our attention and mental activity, if followed by a short break (15).
In light of these two forces, we’ve come to consider the ideal Pomodoro as 20 – 35 minutes long, 40 minutes at the most. Experience shows that the Pomodoro Technique works best with 30-minute time periods.<<<<
I needed this. I get so engrossed in work that I forget to eat, or stretch. Not healthy. I hear you about energy, time, and guilt. I managed to learn to not work on weekends…real work. But stopping at 5pm makes me feel guilty. I love that you wrote this, and will try out the ideas. Thank you.
Thanks so much for the comment and your honesty Kim! Please let me know how it goes 🙂
There was a time when I used to do something very similar using a yellow legal pad in my pre-IM days in the 1990’s. Thanks a lot for scheduling time to write this, Chris – you’ve seriously inspired me!
I am a big believer in pen and paper (most of the stuff I write out during the day is done this way 🙂
Check back in and let me know how it goes.
Great article Chris! Interesting to see you shift to a 168 hour “work/life” week vs “forcing” the standard 40 hour work week that’s been forced upon us from generations of yore. I’ve been practicing the 168 hour work “window”for almost 10 years now and I find it to work extremely well — particular in the e-commerce vertical. It’s all about balance and what’s really important. Less but better. A great read along these lines is Greg McKeown’s book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.”
Keep up the great work with the new site Chris — it’s nice to have you back in the saddle again my friend!
>>> “forcing” the standard 40 hour work week that’s been forced upon us from generations of yore.<<< Wow, I didn't ever even realize that I had tried to force that on myself Brian, great point! I'm going to check out Greg McKeown's book -- thanks for the suggestion!
I’ve been playing with Pomodoro for a while and came to the conclusion I couldn’t do it everyday without frazzling my mind. It was effective but a bit stressful.
But you’ve given me a fresh outlook to lower the number of Pomodoros and be cool with that. It feels much more sustainable now.
Thanks Joe — great comment! Please let me know how it goes and if you need anything.
Hi Chris. Just wanted to let you know that I’ve been test driving the Pomodoro Technique today, and I like it quite a bit. So far so good. Thanks for sharing!
That’s awesome to hear Jay! Please let me know how it goes and if you have any questions or early thoughts.
Great article Chris! I personally love the Pomodoro technique as well. There’s a pretty good extension for Chrome called Simple Pomodoro that I use all the time. Highly recommended for quick time tracking.
Thanks for the comment Gent and thanks for the suggestion about Simple Pomodoro, I’ll check that out!
I usually use this simple little app on my phone called Focus Time -> http://focustimeapp.com/
A bit pricey but I’ve been using this one and love it:
I made the decision to use http://kanbanflow.com last year. It combines Kanban & Pomodoro and it works really great.
I love KanbanFlow 🙂 I use that for my overall weekly task management and the overall day. I don’t use the Pomodoro timer in there for some reason though.
I’m going to do a post in the next couple of months about my overall workflow system and KanbanFlow will be in there.
Thanks for the comment!
Looking forward to the KanbanFlow post – just looked at KF and it looks good. I use OmniFocus for tasks and although it’s really powerful, it feels a tad awkward.
I agree Joe — I have the new version of OmniFocus and while I love the idea (and especially the design) I can’t seem to get into it.
While researching KanbanFlow, I bumped into leankit.com.
It looks like it can be as simple as KanbanFlow but also more powerful. I’m liking it so far.
Awesome — thanks Joe! I’m going to check it out today 🙂
Hi Chris, great post and insightful research. For years, I’ve used a similar system, but set it at 48 minutes, which is 80% of an hour. It’s also divisible in many different sections. Just push the timer button and go. Take a 12 minute break when done. Lately I’ve found that using a 50 minute clock lines up better with the standard clock divisions. It’s basically a double Pomodoro with a 10 minute break at the end.
I’ve tried the 25 minute Pomodoro in the past, but the time period was just too short for me. At 25 minutes I’m just hitting my stride. To take a break then is disruptive, and many times leads to distractions and gets me off track.
I suggest users try different time periods and find one that gives the best results. Look for divisibility. Thats what I really like about 50 minutes… I can do ten, five minute exercises, or five, ten minute exercises. These work well for sales calls, social media, and emails.
Bottom line: Whatever the time period, turning off distractions and doing one thing will help you get more done in less time.
Wow, awesome comment John — thanks!
I love both of these lines:
– “I suggest users try different time periods and find one that gives the best results.”
– “Whatever the time period, turning off distractions and doing one thing will help you get more done in less time.”
You pretty much summed it all up right there! Once you get used to working in a focused manner, it really then comes down to experimenting and constantly tinkering to find the right fit for you.
John, I do a lot of writing and translating, so I actually broke my time down in hour and a half sections and sometimes would put two together to get a three hour uninterrupted writing or translating session. In a work day if I could get in a three hour session, then another 3 hours of marketing, sales, emails admin, I would end up with about 3-4 days per week with two 3 hour writing / translating sessions in the day, and 3-4 days per week with one three hour writing/translating session and one admin, marketing, etc. It was a great combination and usually keep my work week below 45 hours in 7 days. (see my comment below)
Great article and so much good advice. Thanks for sharing.
I think one of the hardest challenges is working when you don’t feel like working, particularly when your work requires you to be creative. It’s hard to be creative all the time. Recognising my moods and working around them has definitely helped me to feel less guilty about days when I am not as productive. I channel my energy into activities that make me happy, instead, and that gets me back to my desk faster and feeling more refreshed.
Thanks Kelly — this is such good advice:
“I channel my energy into activities that make me happy, instead, and that gets me back to my desk faster and feeling more refreshed.”
It took me awhile (in life) to realize that there were different things I could do to snap out of low energy/negative moods. Sometimes are easier than others but it’s important to try.
Thanks for the comment!
I love productivity tips like this. I do similar now where I write all the important stuff I have to do in my Google calendar for the day, typically allotting about an hour to each. (I usually do this night before). I then move tasks I complete to earlier in the calendar (I don’t delete it because I like seeing it as a sense of accomplishment).
But I completely relate when you discuss the emotions on the day-to-day. Some days (for me today) I just feel less motivated and inspired to work through every single important task on the list. Like you, I used to get down on myself when I had a huge chunk of tasks that were left at the top of my calendar. But now, unless it’s something that really needs to be done that day, I try to shrug it off and put it to the following day or even a day after that. I guess just trying to listen and respond to my feelings and preferences of the day.
Also, like you, I will work on weekends — no problem. And some weekdays (like today, Thursday) I take it easy. Honestly I prefer heading over to my favorite coffee shop first thing Saturday AM because it’s completely empty 🙂
Anyways, I think tomorrow or the following day I will try out this pomodoro technique and see if it works for me!
Thanks Laurence — great stuff!
As mentioned in one of the comments above, you might want to try out a tool like KanbanFlow for the scheduling of tasks on a weekly/daily/immediate basis. I’m going to detail out how I use this in one of my upcoming posts.
Please let me know how it goes with experimenting with the Pomodoro Technique — start with one and work up from there 🙂
I discovered the Pomodoro Technique a few weeks ago and it’s been amazing. I have yet to go over 6 pomodoros in a day, though. I have been combining the breaks with small treats if I manage 5 in a morning and things like that to get my total up. I have a huge problem with distractions (internet, i.e. what I’m doing right now) and this is the only thing that’s helped! Thanks for the inspiration to keep going.
Thanks for the comment Laura!
To be honest, it sounds like you are doing awesome for someone so new to it. It’s not an easy thing to *get* and being able to do 5 in one day already is awesome!
It kind of goes against everything we are taught about “work” so there is just as much unlearning taking place as learning.
Keep up the great work and check back in with your progress!
This is such a great and useful article! Thank you for sharing and giving hope that I can continue to elevate myself in an allotted time.
I have faith in you Justine — you can do it 🙂
Please check back and let me know how it goes — thanks!
Chris, good article. I never heard of Pomodoros, but I’m here to say this system works. I was freelancer for more that 10 years, and in my natural gravitation and figuring things out, I ended up working about 6 hours per day 7 days per week, having a great income, plenty of rest, lots of family activity and my sanity. In 2011 I went back to work for a busy agency as a PR director, thinking that because we had strict office hours, I’d leave work at the office and author books in the evenings. But I never got anything done in the office because our ¨collaborative¨ environment was really a secret code for permission to interrupt and get interrupted randomly any time for meetings, emergency projects that others ¨forgot¨ about and sundry other things all day long. 24/7 monitoring of email was the expectation set for clients who were trained to receive a response in 5-10 minutes no matter what. You get the idea. I left that position last Friday to begin working on my own again. I’m starting a business this time so it will be a little chaotic, but my business partner and I look forward to returning to Pomodore-like status as soon as possible.
Congrats on making a change that sounds like it will be a really healthy one for you Steven!
>>>But I never got anything done in the office because our ¨collaborative¨ environment was really a secret code for permission to interrupt and get interrupted randomly any time for meetings, emergency projects that others ¨forgot¨ about and sundry other things all day long.<<< I was guilty of this throughout my career and that's one of the main reasons that I wanted to figure out a new system because the old one certainly wasn't working for me (I'm not sure it works for anyone to be honest). Please check back in and let me know how it's going with your new mindset and system -- I'm excited for you!
When aiming for 40 pomodoros a week, are they all work related?
For instance, is exercising a pomodoro for you? Do you also use pomodoro for personal goals?
Also, how many pomodoros would you set to try out new things in your business? (such as forming a 2nd business, or a new service) And how many pomodoros do you set to maintain it (to do project management, team management, etc.)
Thank you for this post.
These are great questions Cem! And they all pretty much come down to your own preferences and
>>”When aiming for 40 pomodoros a week, are they all work related?”
For me, they are. But I know people who use them for all kinds of different things (reading, writing, etc).
>>”For instance, is exercising a pomodoro for you? Do you also use pomodoro for personal goals?”
Not for me but I have very clear goals each week for exercising (5 days per week no matter what) and as a result I stick to it. I really just use this Pomodoro system for the following:
– client work
– my project work
But again, it really comes down to what your personal preferences are and what you want to get out of it. Experiment. See what works for you.
>>”Also, how many pomodoros would you set to try out new things in your business? (such as forming a 2nd business, or a new service) And how many pomodoros do you set to maintain it (to do project management, team management, etc.)”
It’s funny because I wind up using a lot of non-Pomodoro time for anything other then very focused tasks. That’s why it’s so important to have an overall task list, a weekly one and then a daily one.
When I’m working on something new or trying to figure something out (a new project or a new technology or something) I set time aside for that (usually in the evening) and I don’t use the Pomodoro Technique because I like to be able to “get lost” in what I’m doing.
Hope that helps — thanks for the questions and comment!
Thank you for taking the time to reply to each comment. No matter how well written an article is written there are always more questions, brought to attention by people of different paths. It makes the blog so much more helpful when you do this. Again thank you!
It’s my pleasure Cem! I get so much feedback and ideas out of the comments (this post especially!)
I have a disease that greatly affects my function and energy each day. I am currently working on recovering from an acute relapse. When these occur, one becomes so unwell that they become bed and/or recliner and home bound for many months. Full recovery takes about a year. in my case I have found that each time I have a relapse, they are more intense, last longer and I have so far never been able to regain my previous baseline. It has become obvious to me that I must change my life in order to never expose myself to another relapse. I have been studying new ways to work and earn income for about three years. I’ve experimented with a handful of forays into several business endeavors, each time to realize that I needed to return to the drawing board to modify my business plan and model. I would probably been successful by now, but as you sais life interferes. Both of my parents health declined, and being the only sibling locally and a Physical Therapist who is highly knowledgeable, I had to take care of many tasks. Even though I had finally insisted and found a care management assistant, it was too late. I had run myself into relapse that hit in late December. I’ve said enough of all of that.
I now have not only a very innovative business model, but I have a plan that would provide me with the assistants that I need in order to get well and begin executing my model for a social enterprise. I have several problems. While recovering, I was unfortunate to get the flu, which has thrust my level of function back by 5 months. I am out of funds and reaching waning help from family to pay my assistants, before I could execute their training and my fundraising plan. I feel trapped by an incapable body and tortured on the inside by the knowledge of having many viable micro, but scalable enterprises ready to go. I must get help to be able to increase and maintain my assistants long enough to train them to begin to generate enough income to first become self sufficient at this basic level of stability. I can’t do what I need to do in order to pull this off at my current level of functioning. I don’t want to become another statistic of this disease, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis! I’m running out of time. I could statistically die 20 years younger than I should. Maybe this Pomodoro plan can be part of my saving grace. I intend to engage this today! I will need to pull of my fundraising plan. I will need to create some strong alliances and allies. Please contact me if you have ideas or can help me. Put,”I helped Kate,” in the subject line and email me at email@example.com.
I’m pulling for you Kate! Have faith and keep taking action.
What a great article! I actually STOPPED what I was doing (cooking dinner, listening to a radio program, Facebooking…), grabbed my notebook and jotted down a few ideas. Like you, I LOVE reading productivity books and have tried them all … for about a week … then I go back to my standard multi-tasking which takes me back to being stressed out and “in the office” for too long.
Redefining the work-week! That alone, is a liberating idea. I really like to work but I also like the idea that there are other areas for consideration to “work” on too – physical, mental, emotional, etc. When theses other life areas all take a back seat to what we get paid to do … the “work”, we can never be at our best.
Thanks for the great read and some super ideas. Pomodoro!
Thanks Michelle — your comment made me smile!
Please check back in and let me know how it goes for you 🙂
Good article ! Tank you 🙂
Just out of curiosity, how many pomodoros did you spend to write it ?
Of the Pomodoros that I tracked for this, it was 33. But that was over many months (I originally wrote this up for myself so I could visualize the system better, then I polished it a little and shared with friends & clients and then made it into the full-fledged post that I published here :).
I recommend an excellent tool called Stayfocused impelements the Pomodoro Technique.
Try it out at http://www.bytesignals.com/stayfocused/
Thanks for the suggestion Dion.
I work at an ad agency where things change minute to minute and hour to hour. I want to try and implement your technique but am skeptical about doing it in a forced office setting with constant change.
Also when are you checking email? Is that the 5 minute break?
I know how hard it can be in an environment like that — what I would suggest is starting small. Identify your most important task of the day each morning and dedicate 1 Pomodoro to it. Map out your time when you are going to hide out (and you might literally have to hide away from everyone and the craziness), put on some headphones, close your email and just do it.
>>”Also when are you checking email? Is that the 5 minute break?”
Email is still a source of struggle for me. I know that the LESS I check email, the happier & more productive I am. But I still check it too often. My sweet-spot is when I check email about 5 times per day (usually during breaks or when I get back from somewhere). But right now, I’m probably at around double that so it cuts my productivity and happiness down a bit. Thanks for the reminder 🙂
One of the most important things that I had to learn with all of this stuff is that almost everything can wait. There really aren’t many true emergencies in life and very rarely in work.
Hope that helps!
Thank you so much, Chris! I check email FARRRR too often. I’ll be aiming to do one Pomodoro today with one small task I have.
I guess what I find difficult is that in an ad agency environment, especially in social media + disorganized clients, new tasks get assigned with “urgency” at the last minute; giving me less time to be organized.
Please check back in this week and let me know how it went Natalie, I’m excited for you!
I’ve tried the Pomodoro for years, and I always end up going back to multitasking. I’m not sure why, I think I just get a little ADD at the point when I start needing to line up my resources to really focus on a task.
I like your idea of matching pomodoro tasks to your energy level and mood, and the non-traditional work day. It works great for me because I am my own boss, but for the 9-5 worker whose paycheck depends very much on a butt-in-seat mentality, it might not work so well.
I’m curious as to how this works when you have that kind of a work relationship.
Good stuff Nick — thanks for the comment.
>> “It works great for me because I am my own boss, but for the 9-5 worker whose paycheck depends very much on a butt-in-seat mentality, it might not work so well.”
Yeah, I’m a realist. I don’t think this can work (easily) for a normal work environment like you described but I still don’t think you need to throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak.
In this type of scenario, I encourage people to start small. Focus on one or two major (important) tasks and plan your day to get one or two Pomodoros in. Even in the most hectic environments, this is still realistic.
I work in a typical butt in seat office and I managed two of these today. You do need to find a quiet spot and maybe go to a different area (I work on open area environments – they’re super unproductive). Anyway if I can get 3 of these done a day – it would help a lot. I already noticed the difference on my first day!
I’m super psyched that you did TWO Natalie — that is awesome!
Keep checking in to let us know how it goes, it’s helpful for everyone 🙂
Awesome post. I’ve recently been promoted to R&D Director over our company’s most important new platform. I’m frazzled.
The challenge is that my ‘work’ is really meeting, coaching and leading teams. It is not uncommon for my day to be meetings solid from 7:30 to 5p – email and reports are done in the evenings and on the weekend.
– If I could just work a little bit longer I’ll catch up. ha ha, right.
But I like the concept of focus & breaks, and I do have some control over my meeting schedule (since I schedule most of them 🙂
Will be thinking how to adapt your concepts. Any suggestions welcome.
Congrats on your promotion!
One suggestion — block out some time each day (even if it’s just 30 or 60 minutes) for a “meeting” with yourself so that you can do some focused work. Just block it off in your calendar as “Meeting” or “Meeting with John Beason” or whatever.
You need to have some control over your day.
Can you do that?
Nice article. I will try today!
Thank you for the information!
I have a couple of questions:
1.You say that you work 16,7 hours a week, but at the end you work 35-40 hours a week. How that fits together? How do you consider what is work for Pomodoro and what is the other 25 hours?
2. Why it is not possible to do 16 pomodoros a day?, (as you wrote). I also didn’t succeed! (16 pomodoros a day represent 8 hours of work + 2 hours break more or less. One will think it is a normal working day, but it is try that it ain’t.) Could you tell me why?
3.If one needs to count hours for work, what will you suggest on this matter?
4.Could you suggest a good task app that you work with, to mark the tasks? Or you prefer the old pencil and paper?
Thanks a lot,
I really love the pomodoro technic and I do struggle with some things, so it helps a lot to hear your opinion…
Great questions! Answers below…
>>1.You say that you work 16,7 hours a week, but at the end you work 35-40 hours a week. How that fits together? How do you consider what is work for Pomodoro and what is the other 25 hours?
The 16.7 hours is what I consider to be the really super-focused Pomodoro time. The rest is stuff like calls, meetings, research, etc that isn’t tightly focused or done using a timed session.
>>2. Why it is not possible to do 16 pomodoros a day?, (as you wrote). I also didn’t succeed! (16 pomodoros a day represent 8 hours of work + 2 hours break more or less. One will think it is a normal working day, but it is try that it ain’t.) Could you tell me why?
It’s probably possible but just not for me. My mind can’t focus that long and gets exhausted and then I become kind of useless.
>> 3.If one needs to count hours for work, what will you suggest on this matter?
I’m not sure I follow this — can you explain what you mean?
>> 4.Could you suggest a good task app that you work with, to mark the tasks? Or you prefer the old pencil and paper?
I like pen and paper, KanbanFlow.com and also the FocusTime app on iPhone/iPad.
Hope that helps!
Thanks for sharing! I’m trying out Pomodoro, too. So far, so good. I’m not yet as productive as you are, but I’m learning focused work. Think I’m off to a good start 🙂 Reading about your success and struggles gives me hope about my own Pomodoro experience. I know I’ll soon find what works for me, too.
Awesome to hear — let me know how it goes!
Thanks so much for sharing your experience and experiment with the Pomodoro Technique. I have been dabbling with using this system for awhile without much traction. Your real world example has made me decide I need to give it another try.
I’m starting my first Pomodoro now.
excellent post, thanks for writing it! I’ve used Pomodoros off and on over the last year, some days are good and some aren’t. I too, fell into the trap of ‘oh I can’t do 10 Pomodoros in a day, I’m a failure.’ I like your goal of 8 and will incorporate that. In fact, I might try a 8×8 approach – 8 POMS in a day, only check email 8 times a day (right now it’s WAY more than that).
I love your blog! Especially the “Action Ideas”. Lately, I’ve imparted the “2 Minute Rule” which has been excellent for getting small tasks done and practicing new habits. I’m going to try the Pomodoro technique because I’m ready to take on larger tasks with laser focus. Great post!
Great post. Awesome content Chris, keep up the good work, I’m starting out myself in the online world. Been a really great journey so far!
Amazing article – I am the queen of distraction and procrastination and need something to focus my mind so definitely doing to start with the Pomodoro Technique today!!!! Can’t wait!
You might enjoy The Now Habit by Neil Fiore. Similar to Pomodoro but more to my liking. I’ve completed some big writing projects with his method, which is basically 30 minutes of work followed by a reward. He only asks the question, “When do I have another 30 minutes to work on my project?” (I use 20+10–work for 20 and optional extension of 10 if it is going well.)
Thank you for investing the time to cohesively share your candid struggles and victories with the Pomodoro Technique (PT). Your transparency is really refreshing and through it you have motivated me to take a 2nd look at PT. I am a student of the “Multi-Task Movement.” We were taught that multitasking was the approach of “winners.” However, I have come to conclude that multitasking gives me a feeling of accomplishment without having really accomplished all that I desired to accomplish. It really boils down to simply being busy exhausting work.
I will dust off “PT” and commit to making it work this time. Thanks again!
Hey this so relevant to my situation now. And I think this time management tips you have written is so right for me and thanks for sharing your thoughts on this matter. I’m working from home 3 years now but still I’m struggling with time management issues. According to this link https://process.st/2015/08/time-management-tips/ being busy is being able to manage your time wisely. Now I am completely changing my routines for me to have more quality time for myself and for my home.
At college I’ve been getting minimal work done, I mean my mindset is at rock bottom and along with tiredness, but this seems like it could really help and hopefully I can get my work done efficiently as well as have free time!
Great post. Nice tips on what to use in order to focus on your work.
Focusing and concentration are my weak sides, unfortunately! However, with the help of your article, I am now improving my productivity with ease! I get my work done in time!
The problem I had with pomodoro technique is that it was too easy to forget about the timer entirely. Hey, 5 minutes break, let me quickly check the feed…. (2 hrs later) oh…shit. Then tomorrow had come, so many things to do, so many ways to procrastinate — the timer is completely forgotten.
I kept researching how to solve the problem and I’ve found two gamifications of this technique which both work very well for me:
These are games which use pomodoro technique as a game element. Game mechanics forces users to return back to them, which means to pomodoro. Cool lifehack, eh?
I love this post. Can you explain in more detail when and how exactly you use the four reflection questions? For example, If you decide your emotional energy is low what do you do? Do you do it write then? Or do you write down what you should do and do it later? I get the pomodoro part, it’s the managing the days when I am not so motivated That I struggle with.
This post has been a godsend. Thank you, Chris!
I had been procrastinating on a personal project that I knew would be difficult, but doable, when I read this post last weekend. I started with the pomodoros on Monday, aiming for eight a day or 40 a week, and finally overcame the most difficult obstacle today.
Minor, nit-picky obstacles remain, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t be finished by the new year. 🙂
The crucial item for this, to me, is having a “kitchen timer”–anything that requires you to break your flow to shut it up. That effort, stopping the timer (an Echo Dot, in my case), broke me out of my trance-like why-is-this-not-working?!-what-am-I-doing-wrong??? Googling and gave me time to re-evaluate the situation and, eventually, find a solution.
Again, thank you.
What happens if you finish a task early in the pomodoro (if it only takes 15 minutes for instance)?
perfectly this is very usefull fo me., and I can share it to my friends also. thank you very much.
by the way, I have an Idea to make publish about this one, especially about pomodoro, I’d like to make this in T-shirt anyway., may I put your pomodoro picture there.?
on my T-shirt.?
Hey, Chris, thank you for these nifty tips!
Becoming a productive person, both in work and personal life, can be a struggle to attain, and even more so to maintain. It has been the story of my life ever since becoming a remote worker, and when my productivity plummeted to an unbelievable level, where I have done nothing for almost a week, just sort of floating, I decided to take some measures, or else lose my bread and butter.
Setting time limits on your tasks, especially the routine and recurring ones, can really help you. Another article that comes to my mind after reading your post is this. It has been my earlier source of productivity tips, and now, coupled with yours, I am keeping up to date with my productivity.
Thank you for sharing such valuable info.
Sometimes I use the technique of Pomodoro to accomplish my tasks. And it works well for pre-planned tasks. Goals, tasks, projects, I plan using the iSmart.Life( https://ismart.life ) app. I recommend try it. It’s simple and free web app.
Nice article its very helpfull thanks for sharing