This Productivity Habit Is the Only Way I’m Getting Work Done Right Now

published Apr 14, 2021
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Credit: Liz Calka

It’s entirely understandable if you’ve found that your productivity has taken a nosedive in the past year. You’re dealing with a lot right now, and how is anyone supposed to focus? While the “rise and grind” folks might wring their hands at the prospect of wasting a single second of your day, I’m firmly in the camp that believes it’s more than OK to operate at a slower pace some days. And the pros agree: It’s tough enough to be productive in the best of times let alone when we’re in a global crisis,” productivity consultant Chris Bailey told the New York Times last April. “The idea that we have so much time available during the day now is fantastic, but these days it’s the opposite of a luxury.”

Even so, there are probably things on your to-do list you have to get done, since shirking all of your responsibilities would also be a luxury. So what’s the solution? For me, it’s been the simple but effective Pomodoro Technique, commonly referred to as the Pomodoro Method.

Created by writer and consultant Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique works by baking your break times into the time you want to be productive. There are multiple steps in Cirillo’s official book, but as Lifehacker explains, the premise is simple, and all you need is a timer or even an app like the one Cirillo offers on his website:

  • Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  • Work until the timer goes off.
  • Set your timer for 5 minutes.
  • Take a break until the timer goes off.
  • Repeat three more times, and take a 15- to 30-minute break after your fourth installment.

If you feel like you’ve gotten into a groove and want to finish your task when the timer goes off, you absolutely can. Alternatively, if you have a busy day filled with several tasks — such as emails, working on a deck, and tidying up a room — you can use one or several 25-minute chunks on the first task, then move onto the second, and so on.

As legend has it, the method is called the Pomodoro Technique because Cirillo used a timer shaped like a tomato when he first developed the practice. It has gained popularity, too: A quick scan on Twitter will result in plenty of people extolling the practice’s virtues — and even making a few jokes about how they work for five minutes before taking 25-minute breaks.

While I can’t vouch for the latter option, I can confirm that the method works for me. (Honestly, I’m using it to write this post!) Because I know I have 25 minutes to focus, I’m less likely to check my very active group chat, or suddenly find a chore to complete around my apartment. The breaks serve as opportunities to stretch my legs if they’ve gotten tight, refill my water bottle, or simply move a bit if I feel stagnant. And when it comes time for the longer break, I feel like I’ve earned it after putting in 100 solid minutes of work.

There are certainly days when it’s harder to focus than others. On those days, I rely on website blockers as well as the Pomodoro Technique to keep myself focused. Alternatively, I might listen to the restlessness and take a walk, because like I said — it’s a pandemic, and it’s OK if you are less productive on some days than others. It helps to know I have a tried-and-true formula waiting for me when I need to put my head down and get back to work.