Productivity and GTD
The Science behind the Pomodoro Technique
Long time ago I wrote a short introduction about using the Pomodoro Technique since it’s a technique that I use many times when I need to focus on the task at hand and make the most out of my time. Later on I wrote a more detailed article about this technique and two others deepening on two of its main goals: eliminating interruptions and better time estimates.
Since the first article three years have gone by and I have to say that it’s a way of working which has ended up having a huge impact in my day to day, especially when I need extra motivation. At the very beginning it is hard to meet the rules but it’s easy to get used to it. I would say that you only need between one and three weeks to feel the benefits of this technique:
- More focus and concentration.
- Less stress.
- Better management of the interruptions.
- Keeping high motivation levels.
- Reinforcing the determination in order to achieve something.
- Better awareness of the time you need to get things done.
Time as an ally
Henri Bergson, philosopher and Nobel prize in literature in 1927, talks about the existence of various aspects of time, assuring that only one of them produces anxiety: its dimensional aspect, which pushes us to measure it and triggers the idea of being late. However, seeing time as a succession of events (I wake up, take a shower, have breakfast, go to work etc.) doesn’t generate stress.
Seeing time in a different way, as a vehicle in order to achieve something and not as something we have to reach for, reduces anxiety and this leads to a better personal effectiveness. Being more conscious of how time goes by (the 25 minutes of each pomodoro seem to go by slower) makes us achieve a greater level of concentration.
The time that a pomodoro lasts aims to balance two forces. On the one hand, it must be an amount of time which represents an atomic unit of measure for effective work. On the other hand, it must be an amount of time that helps you being focused and concentrated, and think clearly.
Some studies have proved that we have a maximum attention span in work intervals from 20 to 45 minutes, if a brief break has been done before. The perfect quantity has not been defined and surely it changes from person to person, but half an hour is a time which allows you to easily making measurements and gives you peace of mind, since you know you are going to deal soon with the interruptions which may happen. It’s impossible to concentrate on a task when you perceive inner interruptions and think you are not capable of put them off.
Short breaks increase the ability to concentrate. Even though the breaks in between continuous pomodoros must be short in order to maintain an adequate rhythm of progress, the time length of the long break (every four pomodoros) depends on the intensity of the previous work and how tired you are. Although 15 minutes are recommended, I personally don’t measure this break — I go for a walk or for a coffee, what it most of the times ends up being around 30 minutes.
On the other hand, having a very short break after two hours of work would be counterproductive. Don’t do that even if you are in a hurry. Your brain needs time to assimilate the last effort and get ready to effectively deal with the next set of pomodoros.
The sounds of Pomodoro
There are all kind of solutions for when you are in an open environment where there are more people working (silent applications that tell you when it’s the end of the period with a simple lightening up of the phone screen), but using a mechanical timer sends a much more clear order to the brain of when it’s time to be concentrated.
The fact of physically rotating the timer at the beginning of each pomodoro implies a declaration of your determination to complete the task at hand.
A typical timer produces two types of sounds: a constant ticking during all the time and a ring that announces the end of the period.
Even though the ticking can be annoying at the beginning of using this technique, and even stressful, when you get used to it, it becomes a calming sound (there are not scientific studies in regards to this, but there are many empirical contributions done by those using the pomodoro technique). It means that you’re working concentrated and everything is fine.
In fact, when you’re completely concentrated, you don’t even hear it…