It will be holiday break before we know it. I can already feel the pull of family movie night with hot cocoa and marathon cookie baking. But I’m also looking at my to-do list, and there are a few important projects and tasks that just can’t wait until after break. It’s time to finish strong.

At times like this, when I have a lot to do, and my mind begins wandering, I have a go-to method I started using earlier this year called the Pomodoro Technique.

My Breakthrough

(This is about to get a little heavy…)

Earlier this year, I struggled through one of life’s greatest hardships—losing my mom to cancer. I was a month and a half into the launch of this business when she was diagnosed. Just eight weeks later, she was gone. I won’t go into a lot of detail other than to say it was a devastating and heart breaking whirlwind.

Grief is such a wicked beast. It’s impossible to predict how you might feel from one day to the next. One of the ways my grief manifested (and lingered on) was to wreck any semblance of mental focus. I was torn between honoring my need to process everything and my determination to make YAY a success. Luckily, my clients at the time were so very understanding (thanks Student Connections and Boardable!).

Eventually I hit a point of being very ready to put my mind to work, and yet, I couldn’t always muster it.

Enter The Pomodoro

I had read about the Pomodoro Technique a long time ago. I’m not sure exactly why I didn’t try it sooner. I think it seemed a little too regimented for my  independent and free-spirited ways. But by summer time, I was desperate to get my work house in order. I might have tried anything.

The Pomodoro Technique, “a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s (wikipedia)” works like this:

  • Choose a task to focus on
  • Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  • Work on only this one thing until the timer goes off.
    No cheating with quick email checks, etc!
  • Take a five minute break.
  • Repeat twice more: 25 minutes of focused work + five minute break.
  • One more 25 minute block of focused work, then take a longer break of 15 minutes.

Pretty simple, really! That’s one Pomodoro. [25w + 5b] x 3 + [25w + 15b] is my shorthand equation. You can repeat the process multiple times, if desired.

To track my Pomodoros, I usually put my task list to the left, then create a bullet list I can fill in as I complete each portion of the Pomodoro. In the photo below, the circles represent 25 minutes of focused work, the small triangles are five minute breaks, and the longer rectangle is the fourth longer break.

Notebook with list to track pomodoros

Sometimes I plan out enough work for three Pomodoros. In those cases, I start my first at about ten a.m. and take a longer lunch break after the first Pomodoro, before doing the final two. Sometimes I just do one to help me push through a task I’ve really been dreading. I don’t work this way every day. For some of my creative tasks, I prefer to be more free form in my process. On other days, meeting schedules get in the way. While it hasn’t been an everyday thing, it has been a foolproof process when I really need to buckle down and focus.

Hello, Productivity!

For me, I discovered staying focused on one thing at a time coupled with taking frequent breaks equals a magical level of productivity.

Not only had I been drifting into memories of my mom, I had also gotten into the habit of switching between tasks frequently and checking email way more often than necessary. Even though 25 minutes seems like a really short time block, I was absolutely floored by how much I could get done when I was very disciplined about working on just one thing. And it was easier to keep on task knowing a break was always just around the corner.

If you are already pretty focused, your results may vary, but for me, at that point in my life, it was nothing short of revolutionary.