The Pomodoro Method of Time Blocking

May 10, 2016 | Time Management | 0 comments


If you’ve read The ONE Thing or follow our blog, you already know we’re big proponents of time blocking. When you time block, you are simply making an appointment with yourself in order to complete a specific task. Adding a time block to your calendar not only helps you organize your time more effectively it also improves focus.

Time blocking is the approach used in what’s known as the Pomodoro Technique. Entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo came up with this time management technique in the late 1980s when he was a college student. Frustrated with that feeling that he was wasting time, Cirillo turned to his tomato-shaped timer for help.

Cirillo found that using the timer to set a timeframe for a task helped him focus and get more done. Suddenly, this new productivity tool became his ONE Thing. He continued to fine-tune the process, and, in 1992, Cirillo introduced the Pomodoro Technique to the world.

Time Blocking in Batches

One key feature of the Pomodoro Technique is batching in 25 minute time blocks. By grouping similar tasks together (otherwise known as batching) into one time block or consecutive time blocks, you can:

  • Streamline resources
  • Increase concentration
  • Minimize distractions
  • Refrain from multitasking

Instead of slowing yourself down by jumping from one type task to another, you’re planning out time blocks for efficiency. By minimizing the need to refocus and adjust to new types of tasks, you’re making better use of your time.

Why 25 Minutes?

Many people have wondered why 25 minutes is the established length of the time block used in the Pomodoro Technique. The answer is simple. Twenty-five minutes is long enough to get meaningful work done, but short enough to not exhaust a person.

Our brains, just like our muscles, can only handle so much exertion at once. The Pomodoro Technique plays off this physiological hurdle by accomplishing tasks in short bursts of hyper-focused activity. When you only have to work for 25 minutes, you can give the task your complete focus without getting distracted or exhausted. Frequent breaks are worked in so that you have time to mentally recover and get ready for the next time block.

Steps to Using Time Blocks with the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique can increase productivity, but just as important is the time management skills it helps you cultivate. After working your way through several pomodoros (time blocks), you’ll begin to get a better idea of how long tasks actually take and how to avoid distractions.

Step 1 – Decide What Needs to be Done and the Time Needed

Fill out and use your 411 as a starting point. Assess how much time and effort will be needed for a particular task to determine how many pomodoros are needed. If it’s a short task that only takes 5-10 minutes, find similar small tasks that can be batched together in one pomodoro. If it’s a long task that will take about an hour, break it up into two pomodoros.

Step 2 – Note Distractions Instead of Letting Them Derail You 

Productivity hinges on how well you protect your time blocks. The 25-minute timeframe helps to increase focus, but you also need a system for handling distractions before they derail progress.

Create a system for handling requests from coworkers and family members. Cirillo suggests that people use a strategy called “inform, negotiate, schedule, call back”. Simply let the person know you’re in the middle of something, find another time to handle their request, schedule a time, and follow up. If a distraction can’t be put off, you’ll need to end the pomodoro and start it over again from the beginning once the distraction has passed.

Cirillo also suggests that any time you do get distracted to write it down. This will help you stay focused on the task at hand and get a better understanding of what distracts you.

Step 3 – Start Your First Pomodoro

The only necessity of the Pomodoro Technique is a timer. Cirillo still prefers to use his wind-up pomodoro timer, but you can also use the timer on your phone or another app like the Marinara Timer.

Once the timer starts, it can’t be stopped. Stopping the timer essentially nullifies the pomodoro. Likewise, once the timer rings you’ll need to stop what you’re doing. The technique relies on strict adherence to 25 minutes of hyper-focused work followed by five minutes of downtime that isn’t work related.

If you finish the task before the timer runs out, use the extra time to review your work. You can make improvements or notes about what you learned.

Step 4 – Increase Downtime as You Complete More Pomodoros

After four consecutive pomodoros, increase the downtime to 15-30 minutes. After almost two hours of hyper-focused work, your brain needs a little bit longer to rest.

Step 5 – Track Progress and Estimate Effort 

At the end of each day, take a few moments to review your pomodoros and record the progress. How accurate were your time estimates? Did you get everything done that you set out to do? The review period helps you better understand the effort needed for certain types of tasks so your pomodoro scheduling improves.

A good idea is to track your productivity each day by tracking your pomodoros. Download the 66-Day calendar and start a chain of X’s by marking off each day that you fulfill the habit.

Step 6 – Begin Building Timetables

The ultimate objective is to create accurate timetables for your pomodoros based on your schedule and the amount of effort different tasks require. Even the time of day can affect your time blocks. When you’re arranging your pomodoros, consider how you feel and what’s happening at certain times of the day. The tasks that require the most concentration and mental heavy lifting should be done at the start of the day when you’re fresh and free of decision fatigue. This will help you stick to your pomodoro schedule and keep productivity on track.

Have you tried the Pomodoro Technique? Let us know how it changed the way you work in the comments section or on our Facebook page!