How to Get More Work Done In Less Time

clockProductivity is essential for freelancers. The more work we can accomplish, the more income we can earn. And the more time we have to enjoy with our family and friends. Therefore, time management is an important skill all freelancers should have.

One way to manage time is by time chunking. (We’ll define that in detail later.) There are many variations of time chunking techniques.

For example, copywriter Eugene Schwartz’s method is to write for 33 minutes and 33 seconds. Take a short break, then start all over again. Productivity gurus recommend working in 20- to 45-minute chunks of time and then taking a 10-minute break in between.

This post is about another time chunking technique. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique. In this post, we will provide a simplified overview of this innovative time management technique.


What Is Time Chunking?

First, let’s define time chunking.

Time chunking is a popular method for increasing productivity. The basic concept is that you set a timer for a specific chunk of time. During that time, you focus on one task at hand, without allowing any distractions (short of a fire or somebody bleeding) to interrupt your work. When the timer goes off, you take a break for another set period of time.

The Pomodoro Technique is more structured than other time chunking techniques, and can even be applied in team settings. Before I dive into the details of the technique, let’s talk about…

Why Time Chunking Works

Time chunking helps us become more productive for several reasons:

  • For one thing, it compels us to truly focus on just one task, instead of trying to do several tasks at once–and doing all of them poorly.
  • Because the time for focused work is limited, we’re forced to keep distractions at bay. For example, if you’re tempted to check your email, you can easily tell yourself, “I only have four more minutes on my timer. I’ll check my email after the timer goes off.”
  • The timer can also keep us motivated when we’re doing something that we don’t particularly enjoy. For example, let’s say you’re coding a client’s site and getting kind of bored. You take a quick glance at the timer and keep going because after only seven more minutes, you know you can take a break.
  • Working in chunks of time also keeps you rested and refreshed. It’s easy to get carried away and stay in your chair for hours at a time, even missing meals sometimes. But with time chunking, you are forced to take frequent breaks–no matter how fired up you are with your work. This helps to make sure that your mind and body get the rest they need. This in turn keeps your creativity and productivity flowing.

The Pomodoro Technique

On to my favorite time chunking method: the Pomodoro Technique.

Although it sounds more like a kind of pasta sauce, the Pomodoro Technique is actually an effective way for increasing productivity.

The Pomodoro Technique was founded by Francesco Cirillo, now a business consultant, when he was still in university and struggling to juggle his studies. Cirillo, who developed the technique in 1992, named it after his tomato-shaped timer. “Pomodoro” is the Italian word for “tomato.” Thus, the name.

One pomodoro is equivalent to 25 minutes of focused, uninterrupted work on a single task.

The basic principle of the Pomodoro Technique is that each pomodoro cannot be broken down. For example, you cannot say that you’ll work for half a pomodoro (12.5 minutes) and then continue later. There’s no such thing as a part of a pomodoro. It’s all or nothing.

If something comes up and you cannot complete one pomodoro, then you cancel that pomodoro and start over.

Each pomodoro is followed by a five-minute break. The length of the break can be extended, such as when you’re particularly tired. However, the break shouldn’t be too long, because then you’ll have a harder time getting back into the groove of your work.

The rest period after completing four pomodoros is 15 minutes long.

How to Manage Interruptions

The thing I like best about the Pomodoro Technique is that it shows specific ways to handle interruptions.

First off, the technique distinguishes internal from external interruptions. Internal interruptions are those that arise from our own thoughts, such as suddenly remembering that you should pick up a birthday gift for your friend Sally.

For this type of interruption, the Pomodoro technique advises writing the thought down in the form of a task. For example, you add it to your list of to-do’s. Even include a deadline for when it needs to get done. And then go back to the task at hand and finish the pomodoro.

By doing this, you would have been interrupted for only a few seconds and the pomodoro is not lost.

What about external interruptions? Obviously, you should ignore your email and telephone when you’re supposed to be focusing on your work.

But what if your doorbell rings and your neighbor is at the door? Or your spouse rushes into your home office?

The Pomodoro Technique recommends a strategy called “Inform, Negotiate and Call.”

The Inform, Negotiate and Call Strategy

Let’s use the spouse example above to see how this strategy works:

  1. Inform. “Sorry, honey, but I’m in the middle of something and can’t be interrupted.” (To diffuse the tension, Cirillo suggests saying, “I’m in the middle of a pomodoro.”)
  2. Negotiate. “Can we talk in 15 minutes?” (Or however long you have left on your pomodoro.)
  3. Call. Approach your spouse and talk, as promised, after 15 minutes.

If necessary, you add the task of calling the person in your to-do list.

My Experience with the Pomodoro Technique

Because I work at home while caring for a toddler, I was very pessimistic that I could use the Pomodoro Technique. After all, I am at the beck and call of the toddler, and doubt that I could inform-negotiate-and-call him away.

However, I found that with planning and preparation, I could manage to squeeze in a few pomodoros throughout the day. Yes, even when the toddler is awake.

I do manage to get a lot more done by using this technique. However, I did find myself a little bit exhausted after a few intense pomodoros. So I’ve made my breaks longer, at least seven minutes.

Where to Find Out More

This is actually a simplified explanation of the Pomodoro Technique. It also involves recording your tasks and pomodoros, estimating the effort needed for activities, allocating your available pomodoros, and many more. That said, you can implement only those parts you like and still get value from this technique.

If you want to learn more, you can download the Pomodoro Technique book for free at www.pomodorotechnique.com. Remember, the tomato-shaped timer is completely optional. Any timer that accurately goes off at the set time will do ;-)

Do Share

Do you use time chunking to get more work done in less time? What has your experience been like? What other things do you do to get the most use of your time? Do share!

Image by Michel Filion

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for the great read, I have never heard to the Pomodoro Technique. I am going to give that a try this weekend and see how much more productive I am.

    I might even make some spaghetti!

  2. says

    Hey, great post with lots of useful hints.

    I’ve been using pomodoro technique for a few days now and I noticed that my productivity increased by about 20-30%. This is really good.

    What surprised me most is my creativity increased by a considerable amount! How’s that possible?

    I use a simple light program to manage the Pomodoros. It’s called Focus Booster.
    http://www.focusboosterapp.com/

  3. says

    Time chunking has proven to be extremely helpful for me. I find that the 25 minutes isn’t quite enough for me though, so I use the same concept and usually go for 40 minute periods with 5-10 minute breaks.

    Thanks for the informative read. :)

  4. says

    I’ve been using the Pomodoro Technique for about a month now and it’s been working wonders. I use the Google Chrome extensions Chromodoro as my timer.

    It works for just about any situation:

    Getting lost in projects? Check.
    Tasks I don’t like? Check.
    Tasks where I need a push to get started? Check.

    It also works well for exercising as well as freelancing.

    Thanks for the article.

  5. says

    Good read. I will try out the pomodoro technique. Most of the time I find myself doing 100 things at the same time. Although I know structure and chunking would be way better for productivity I still have to convince the stubborn side of me …. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in this article.

  6. says

    @Jordan – Let us know how it goes. And FTP some of that sauce over here!

    @Bart – Wow, 20-30% increased productivity is awesome! And thank you for the link to Focus Booster. I use it too.

    @Chris – I sometimes also find it hard to stop after only 25 minutes. When the momentum is there, you want to keep going, right? Do whatever works for you :-)

    @Leslie – Thanks for recommending Chromodoro – that’s good additional info for our Chrome-using readers!

    @Jerome – Our brains aren’t capable of focusing on more than ONE thing at a time. When we think we’re multi-tasking, we’re actually quickly switching from one thing to another. Not very productive, as you can imagine. It takes a lot of practice to learn to focus, but you can do it!

    @Michael – A big thank you to you!

  7. says

    Wow, interesting technique, and even more interesting name! I have been using a chunk method without realizing it. I work for a long period of time though. I give myself an hour to do 2 tasks, then spend 15-20 minutes do something completely unrelated (playing halo, taking a run, taking a powernap). I do want to try this method though.

  8. says

    Hi there,

    should this be used solely while working at a desk? I wonder if pomodoro might be applied on other daily tasks. If so, it really sounds promising.

    LloydBurrell
    OfficeDeskReviews

  9. says

    Time chunking has been the one suggestion which sounds completely reasonable and do-able. I will definitely be trying this out. Email is my biggest distraction and I even annoy myself with how much I check it!

  10. says

    Thanks for all your comments, everyone! I’m so glad you like the post and that you’re willing to give it a try, if you haven’t already. Please let us know what you results you get from the Pomodoro Technique. Remember, the tomato timer is completely optional ;-)

  11. says

    I’m going to try out the pomodoro technique! So it’s 25+5… I go for an hour and take a 10min break.. maybe this might keep me more concentrated if it’s only 25 minutes?

  12. says

    This is probably one of the best articles I’ve read on Freelance Folder! I love it, I’m trying the pomodoro next week. And yeah, interruptions are a killer, you have to find a way to shut yourself off from the world and focus on the task at hand. Great read, definitely tweeted!

    http://werkadoo.com

  13. says

    that was a good read Lexi. Right now my pomodoro is my daughter who reminds me that its time to play with her whenever I get too immersed in work for too long. I’m not sure I could ever use a rigid technique like that though – there are so many other distractions in my life that make me take forced breaks – 3 1-hour power loadsheddings a day, household tasks, picking/dropping my child to school – i’m just amazed that I get any work done at all amidst all the external distractions.

    Would you recommend this technique for someone already working in 20 – 40 min (approx) time slots?

  14. says

    I’ve never been able to work in time chunks because tasks never seem to fit neatly into any given amount of time and I can’t force myself to leave something nearly complete. I find it’s better (for me) to use a simple method of focus:

    -do one thing at a time
    -do it very well
    -then move on

    This one thing could take 5 minutes or an hour, but during that period it is my sole focus. Simple as that.

    But, that’s just me.

  15. says

    Thanks for this very helpful post! I have tried time-chunking before, but I sometimes cheat by ending early because of an external distraction. I like the idea of a very structured approach.

    Another approach that I find useful is activity-chunking rather than time-chunking. That is, I decide to do a set task or group of tasks (usually something I know will take about 30-45 minutes). For example, I will decide to send out 10 resumes, complete the terminology research for one section of a translation, or grade one set of homework assignments.

  16. says

    Hi Lexi, thanks for the good read

    Time chunking always works great for me, especially with all kinds of business writing (emails, proposals and quotes).

    Pomodoro technique on the other hand didn’t work for me at all. But that’s probably because of the nature of my work than anything else.

  17. says

    Great article. Time chunking is something I’ve heard of before, but never really given the chance to actually try it properly. Tomorrow I plan on using this technique to see how much work I can get done.
    My biggest problem is always getting distracted too easily, but if I work on a certain thing for 25 minytes, then how hard can it be to say I’ll deal with the distraction at the end of that period, right?

  18. says

    I do a different version of time chunking. I book certain days of the week for specific tasks. For example, Mondays are blog post days. I write all my blog posts for the week. I find that doing them all on one day is more efficient because I’m in writing mode, so I have my creativity hat on.

    I may book other tasks on Mondays, but only after I’ve completed my writing for that day.

    I also keep Fridays open. This way if something unexpected comes up, I can schedule it for Friday. Also, I’m really bad about underestimating how long tasks will take me. Leaving Friday open means I can complete projects I couldn’t complete during the day.

  19. says

    Thanks Lexi, for the good post! I face lot of problems getting easily distracted. This technique should help me to work better and accomplish my tasks. Currently I prepare to write few books. It’s quite timely, thanks once again!

  20. udo says

    This is really sweet.

    Silent con”zen”tration, please.

    I personally like 60-minutes- Tasks for fulfilling jobs.

    Whatever rhythm you prefer, the conciousness in this kind of controlling and reflecting your work is the most valuable aspect of the article.

    Thank you for this one.

  21. says

    Thanks lexi for great article, I have practice this “Pomodoro Technique” with my day today life activities. Best freelance jobs i have found in the “https://greatlance.com”.

  22. R.L.Magyar says

    The so called “Pomodoro” Technigue was actually invented, described, and applied by Behaviorist, B.F. Skinner, who developed the time management technique to cope with his heavy schedule of writing journal articles, and books during his long tenure in Psychology.

  23. says

    Very interesting read, I’ve tried a few different time management techniques before but have yet to try out this one yet. I might have to try it out for my side projects to keep me motivated and productive in the evenings after work.

    First I just need to find a cool looking timer to put on my desk.

  24. says

    Great variation of the “batching” techniques in the 4hww book.
    I think this will work even better.
    I think my final pomodoro of the day will be to clean up my work room for 25 minutes. Beats coming in to a mess in the AM!!!

    In the morning I have already started to do a pomodoro for cleaning up the kitchen, washing & putting away all the dishes, etc. And planning what will be for dinner. It really helps around 4pm, when I come up for air to a clean kitchen & a plan for the dinner meal. Especially if its in the crock pot!

    I’m really going to get into this again. 2 years ago when I did it, I did crunches for 5 minutes as my break. My abs could use that again!

  25. says

    It sounds really good. I work at home and I have a lot of distractions but I will try this method to improve my work. I need it because at night I feel guilty because I think that my work has not been well done.

    Very good article. Congratulations.

  26. says

    I think I will give it a try. Sounds promising and I definitely have to organize myself a bit more if I want to finish all the projects I have in my mind.

    Thanks a million for this great post, Lexi!

  27. says

    Perhaps you are like me and the need to create always has a higher priority than the need to clean house. So a lot of Crisis Cleaning happens at my house.
    The Pomodoro Technique reminded me of Crisis Cleaning. At flylady, there are directions for Crisis Cleaning, setting the timer for 15 min. and spend that time on one room. The next 15 min, the next room, and the next 15 min. the third. Now you have cleaned for 45 min. and you take a break for 15 and rest. http://flylady.net/pages/FlyingLessons_crisiscleaning.asp

  28. says

    @Bart

    That timer is awesome. I was using it online for a while & am currently downloading it.

    I think a big thing with the Pomodoro technique is that you learn what tasks will fit in that time area as you go, and learn to manage your tasks better with time & develop a good way to divide your work flow, Something I have been working hard as nails on.

  29. says

    I can’t say I’ve heard or read about the Pomodoro Technique, but after giving this article a read, I think I am going to try implementing it immediately. I believe this would help me accomplish more rather than trying to do 5-7 things all at once.

    Excellent and informative article. Thanks!

  30. says

    Well, I just found your blog unexpectedly from the search engine. First time I saw it, I know it’s a very informative blog. I got so many something new from here. Good work and thanks for that!

  31. says

    Hi Brett, I face lot of problems getting easily distracted. This technique should help me to work better and accomplish my tasks. Currently I prepare to write few books. It’s quite timely, thanks once again!

  32. Poonam says

    thank you so much!!!!
    the thought of 1 pomodor being only 25 (and not 45 ) minutes is nice. ill deff try it out!!

  33. says

    Thanks for introducing the pomodoro technique. I may try it out myself and perhaps use it with my clients. Here’s what I recently wrote about time chunking, in case another perspective is helpful.

  34. says

    How to Get More Work Done In Less Time | FreelanceFolder There are some fascinating time limits in this article however I don’t know if I see all of them middle to heart. There’s some validity but I will take maintain opinion till I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want extra! Added to FeedBurner as properly Regards, Furniture Manufacturers

  35. says

    Time chunking has been one of my most successful productivity boosting tools since I learned about Eugene Schwartz’s method. I also always have a massively efficient work session when I’m letting my Roomba vacuum my house because I know that this is time gained that I would otherwise be running around the house vacuuming. That hour or so that it takes for roomba to vacuum the house can be one of the most productive hours of my week! Thanks for the great article.

  36. says

    Howdy! I simply wish to give an enormous thumbs up for the nice information you have here on this post.
    I might be coming back to your blog for extra
    soon.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Getting the Most Out of Your Time Filed under: Uncategorized — faultlessfinish @ 2:28 pm Because I don’t work in an office space, I’m always finding things to do during the day that definitely wouldn’t be considered editing (cleaning, checking emails, laundry, yoga, t.v., etc.). Before I know it, an entire day I thought I could devote totally to work is over, and because I have a second job, these days are precious. I’ve started researching different productivity techniques and found some great information in a blog by Lexi Rodrigo: http://freelancefolder.com/how-to-get-more-work-done-in-less-time/ [...]

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