This post was originally published to my personal blog. You can find it here.
I had to admit it: I had a productivity problem. It was not like it was ruining my whole life, I still got all my work done on time, and it was not like I was incapable of focusing on a task.
However, completing a task was sometimes taking me way more than it should, either because I got distracted or simply started doing something else.
This was happening especially with tasks that I found boring or that were too repetitive.
At first glance you might think that the only problem with procrastination is that you don’t get your work done on time. But many chronic procrastinators are actually able to complete their work just fine.
To me, the real problem with procrastination is that you end up having to work longer hours, and at the end of the day you don’t have time for anything else. And even if you have a little time left, you just don’t have the energy. Ironically, because you can’t focus on work, your life ends up being just work.
That’s why it was very important to me to find a cure for my procrastination habit.
Enter the pomodoro technique. I first heard about it years ago from a coworker who swore by it. However, I was skeptical because I thought: How is a timer going to make me more productive? If I’m going to procrastinate I’m going to do it regardless!
But I finally decided to give it a try. If all these people are using it, there must be something to it.
These are the 6 steps from the original technique (from the Pomodoro Wikipedia page):
- Decide on the task to be done.
- Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
- Work on the task.
- End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 6.
- After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.
Technically, you can follow the Pomodoro technique with your phone’s timer. You can set it to 25 minutes manually every time, and then to 5 minutes for each break.
However, there’s no need, since there are a lot of websites and apps that do all of that for you.
Which app to use? I didn’t give this too much thought.
At first I tried using a website, since that seemed like the easiest option, but I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t see the timer at all times. I could only get a notification when the 25 minutes were up. And honestly, I needed the motivation of seeing how much time was left until my next break.
So I decided to download a native OSX app, Be Focused. The app shows a timer in the menu bar.
I'd say I was able to respect the timer for about 50% of the time it was running. The rest of the time I had some issues with it:
Sometimes I simply forgot to look at the timer in the menu bar and I missed the break.
Some tasks, especially complex ones, have their own natural breaks or pauses. And Pomodoro sometimes forces you to take breaks that don’t make sense, or it forces you to continue working when you have to take a break after completing a difficult task.
At times I found myself really focused on a task, but the pomodoro timer was showing me that I had 20 seconds left till my next break. I had to force myself to stop and the pause felt unnatural.
Sometimes interruptions just happen and I can’t control it. What if someone knocks on my door? What if I have to take a really important call? If you are at the office, what if a coworker comes to your desk? I work remotely so that doesn’t happen to me, but they still message me. Sometimes I can ignore them until I’m done with my current task but sometimes I have to reply right away.
Some distractions are inevitable. I don’t know if you feel the same way, but sometimes I get distracted by my own thoughts. My mind just drifts and I start daydreaming or thinking about something else. Sadly, a Pomodoro timer cannot prevent that.
Sometimes the timer would go off while I was in a meeting. I work remotely so nobody else heard it. However that’s just another instance where Pomodoro doesn’t work. If I’m in a meeting I can’t just leave for 5 minutes until my break is over.
But enough with the negatives. You would think I absolutely hated Pomodoro based on that list. No, I can still appreciate its positive aspects:
Knowing that there is a relatively small timeframe that I have to work continuously for, helps me to keep pushing through and not get distracted when doing boring tasks.
It definitely helped me waste less time. Whenever I felt tempted to check my phone I had the timer staring at me and I knew I couldn’t just start procrastinating and browsing Twitter.
It improves the quality of the time I spend on a task. If I know I only have 25 minutes to work on something, I will try to make the most of it. As opposed to thinking I have hours or the entire day to complete a task. It helps to have that mini deadline.
I don’t feel guilty when I am taking a break. Before, when I took a break it felt like I was wasting time, but with Pomodoro, those breaks are planned and they feel like part of my work day.
An improvement I’ll make next time is find something better to do in the 5 minute breaks. What I did last week was just go on twitter or check my phone, but I think a better use would be to do a short walk in my living room or look outside my window. Something that doesn’t involve staring at a screen.
I will still be using Pomodoro, but instead of starting the app at the beginning of the day and forcing myself to use it through the day, I will start the 25 minute timer for specific tasks.
I think it works really well for tasks that don’t require too much thinking. Or tasks that are boring and that I find hard to keep focused on.