For this challenge (the pomodoro method) you just need two things: a kitchen timer and an hour of your time. Set your timer and work for one hour without a break at the most important thing that you have to do that day.
Don’t let yourself be distracted: switch off your notifications – if they were not already off – pause your email and set your phone to Do not Disturb. You will find that you achieve more in this hour than in the whole of the rest of the day.
The pomodoro method
An important thinker behind this method of focusing is the Italian Francesco Cirillo. He is the man behind the Pomodoro technique. Pomodoro means tomato in Italian, but this technique has nothing to do with eating – the kitchen timer which he was using when he made this discovery just happened to be shaped like a tomato.
He discovered that the ideal time to focus for was 25 minutes, and decided to split up everything he needed to do into tomatoes: uninterrupted periods of 30 minutes. 25 minutes working on a single task, five minutes pause.
During the five minutes don’t do anything complicated, but give your brain the time to process everything you just did in the last 25 minutes.
Don’t give in to a stimulus
The approach in a nutshell: first write down on a piece of paper the things you want to do today, and sort them by priority. Divide the tasks up into tomatoes, units of half an hour in length. If you think you need three hours to prepare a presentation, then write down ”six tomatoes”. Set your timer and get started.
An important rule is: a tomato is indivisible. Make sure that you are not distracted: switch off notifications, set your phone to do not disturb, suspend the Inbox for your email (if you have Gmail, you can do that, for example using Boomerang). You will notice that there will still be interruptions. These may come from you (if you need to go to the toilet, or get thirsty) or may be external: someone standing by your desk, someone who gets through on the phone or a real emergency.
For internal interruptions Cirillo says: mark an apostrophe on your time sheet and try to focus even better until the end of the 25 minutes (because a pomodoro is indivisible). So you do not ignore the stimulus, but you do not give in to it. Did you just think of something that needs to be done urgently? Note it under the heading ”unplanned and urgent”.
For external interruptions you tell the caller that you will call back within half an hour (so after the end of your pomodoro!), make a mark on your time sheet, and note it again under ”unplanned and urgent”, with the new deadline behind it. Email can always wait for half an hour, and genuine emergencies tend, it appears, to only arise very rarely.
Once you have completed your half hour, put a tick behind that task. If it is complete, then look at how many pomodoros your work took, how many interruptions you had, and what has been added to your to-do list. You will learn a lot.