How to manage procrastination with the Pomodoro Technique

Posted on Thu 21 September 2017 in blog

These are my thoughts and some tips that I have gathered using the Pomodoro Technique, both at work and when studying. This came out of my own search for a way to get more focused when working on something because I would tend to procrastinate on anything imaginable.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

Let's ask wikipedia:

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are named pomodoros, the plural in English of the Italian word pomodoro (tomato), after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.

So yeah, it's a time management technique, what else? Further down the article points out how it works in steps:

There are six steps in the technique: 1. Decide on the task to be done. 2. Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes). 3. Work on the task until the timer rings. 4. After the timer rings put a checkmark on a piece of paper. 5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2. 6. After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.

The premise here is that instead of trying to focus for hours on end, you should instead try to focus for a small period of time, then give your mind some time to rest and start over. I was skeptical at first (especially regarding trying to focus for 25 minutes at a time) but decided to give it a try. I have found that it helped me get a hold of my brain's urges to shift focus to random stuff.

Use whatever timer suits you

It can either be an old school analog time, an app on your phone (which is not suggested because looking at your phone can break your focus because of notifications), an online time, a cli program. Find what works best for you and stick to it.

Start small

As mentioned above the typical way to use the Pomodoro technique is in intervals of 20-25 minutes of work and 3-5 minutes of break. That might sound like a long period of time when you first try it. Instead try smaller intervals of as low as 10 or even 5 minutes and work your way up to the 20-25 minute mark. The same is true for the breaks. If 3 minutes sound too little start with 5 or 7 or even 10 and work your way down. Check which combination works best for you and then try to improve it slowly.

Time your breaks too

You can easily get carried away when you don't time your breaks. That's why it's equally important to time them. As mentioned if at first you think that 3-5 minutes are not enough, try to increase the time period to 7 or 10 but a) it should be a fixed period and b) it should be on the timer.

Keep a paper and a pen close by

I have found this to be VERY important, almost as important as the timer. Why? Well the typical way I and anyone else procrastinates, is that you start working and then all of sudden a random thought pops up, that you need the answer right away, right? By noting it down on a piece of paper you a) acknowledge the thought and b) are sure you won't forget about it, so it's ok to not find the answer right away.

Another thing that the paper helps with is with the brain's knee-jerk reaction to open a random site. I have caught myself without even thinking about it, I open a new tab and start to type a procrastinating site like Twitter/Facebook/Whatever. When you get that urge just acknowledge it and set a mark on the paper. In my mind it doesn't matter that you won't go on that site, that was probably not the point, but I think that this is just the brain's way of trying to get a small break. With time I think these knee-jerk reactions can be reduced to a minimum.

Close all distractions

We all know it our brains don't multitask well. You can't focus on a task and have a podcast playing on the background, or trying to find the solution to a problem and having Facebook/Twitter/Hacker News/Reddit/Whatever open.

To start off try to install an extension like stayfocusd with which you can block the usual time-wasting site. That way even if you try to load the site, you will get a message urging you back to work.

What I have found works best for me is having some sort of calming music playing on the background like Weightless by Marconi Union which has been declared the most relaxing song and there's even a 10 hour version.