I’m a sucker for productivity and time management techniques. Paul Allen’s GTD and Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique have had a huge impact on my productivity and time management. I use both techniques together to try and maximize my productivity (GTD in the macro, PT in the micro).

Firstly - the Pomodoro Technique in a sentence: a productivity and time management technique where you complete defined tasks in series of focused 25-minute bursts. (Please visit the above link for more detail.)

This post is about some subtle realizations I have had with the Pomodoro Technique. I’ve picked these up as I’ve been practicing and refining my technique over the past year or so.

Preparation for a Pomodoro

Before beginning a Pomodoro, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Do I know what I’m about to do?
  2. Will I be able to get through this Pomodoro?

If the answer is not a resounding “YES” to both of the above, then do not start. Define what you’re doing, and fix whatever the blocker is.

Obviously, some blockers cannot be fixed. For example, “I have a meeting in 15 minutes”. In these situations, it’s a good idea to do some lighter work off-Pomodoro. Or perhaps prepare for the meeting.

Most things can be addressed though. You probably know if you’re thirsty, or will need to go to the bathroom. Or if you feel like a cup of tea/coffee. Or if you’re hungry and fading. Asking this simple question is the perfect way to gauge whether or not you’re ready to work.

Respecting the breaks

This one is huge. I felt my productivity shoot up when I started (1) NOT working through the breaks (forcing myself to disconnect), and (2) doing what I call “rolling pomodoros”.

Rolling Pomodoros are where you respect the break limits that are suggested in the technique, and start the next Pomodoro as soon as your break finishes. You can define your own time limits, but respect those time limits.

One way to achieve this is to use software that rolls straight into the 5 minute break, then straight into the 25 minute Pomodoro without your involvement. But with a bit of discipline, you can do it without this feature.

(The Focus Booster app used to do this, but from what I can see the latest version of the application no longer has this feature.)

Managing interruptions in an office

This one is generally tough to accomplish. People will interrupt you, and you want the best way to let them know that you’re trying to focus. At the same time, you don’t want to be that “I’ll speak to you in 12 minutes and 23 seconds” guy.

The best way around this I’ve found is to just be open about what you’re doing. Tell people you’re trying the Pomodoro Technique out, and give them a quick one-liner. Generally when people understand what you’re doing and can see your software clock, they make the right decisions on their own.

The other thing that’s worked for me is owning a pair of huge-ass headphones. The reason for this is that it acts as a social signal to others to let them know you’re zoned. As an added bonus, most headphones sound much better than earphones at the same price point.