Productivity 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:
- 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.”)
- Negotiate. “Can we talk in 15 minutes?” (Or however long you have left on your pomodoro.)
- 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 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