He took the tomato-shaped timer from his kitchen, set it for
10 minutes, and sat down to work. Concentrating for just 10
minutes proved a difficult challenge. He failed again and again,
but he kept trying. Eventually he reached his target: he stayed
focused for a full 10 minutes. Once he’d succeeded, he reset the
timer and went back to work. Using the timer, he discovered
that he was far more productive and motivated than he’d ever
He named his discovery the Pomodoro Technique after his novelty kitchen timer, as pomodoro is Italian for “tomato”. He began
adapting the technique to maximize his focus, and found that he
worked best when he set his timer for 25 minutes.
You can use the Pomodoro Technique with any timer, including the timer on your phone.
First, choose the task you want to work on. Set your timer for
25 minutes and completely focus on the task at hand during that
time. Whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to be distracted by
anything: e-mail, social media, your cell phone, friends saying hi,
or other tasks.
If you think of other tasks during the 25 minutes, jot them
down on a notepad and then go back to your work. When the 25
minutes is up, take a 5-minute break, for example check e-mail,
go to the bathroom, or have a snack. Set your timer for another
25 minutes, and repeat the process.
Each 25-minute chunk is known as a “Pomodoro”. Cirillo
recommends that you take a longer break of up to 30 minutes
after a set of four consecutive Pomodori. After you’ve used this
technique a few times, you’ll get good at estimating how many
Pomodori a task is likely to take.
How does the Pomodoro Technique help you get more done?
According to Cirillo, it’s because the technique “enhances focus
and concentration by cutting down on interruptions.” This claim
is backed up by Gloria Mark, a professor at the University of Cali-
fornia, Irvine, whose research has found that when people are
interrupted in their work, it takes them an average of 23 minutes
to recover from the interruption and return to the original task.
This applies to even small interruptions such as checking e-mail.
To put it another way, the human brain is really bad at multitasking. This is counter-intuitive to what many of us believe
about productivity. Working on lots of tasks at the same time
may feel productive, but it’s actually the opposite. When Professor Clifford Nass of Stanford University saw the results of his
study on multitasking, he was “absolutely shocked.” He explained
the results in an interview on the PBS show Frontline: “It turned
out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking.
They’re terrible at ignoring irrelevant information, they’re terrible
at keeping information in their head nicely and neatly organized.,
and they’re terrible at switching from one task to another.”
If you want to get things done, quit multitasking and focus
on one task at a time. The Pomodoro Technique is ideal for
helping you develop this focus. Try it and see how you do. You’ll
likely be amazed at how much you can accomplish in 25 minutes of focused work.
There’s an old saying that goes: “If the first thing you do each
morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the
satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that
is going to happen to you all day long.”
Business consultant Brian Tracy has used this old saying to
develop a productivity technique that he calls “Eat that Frog!”
Here’s how it works: At the beginning of the day, write a list of
all the tasks you need to get done. Look for the task you least feel
like doing. That’s your frog! It could be cleaning the dishes in the
kitchen, reading a chapter from a chemistry textbook, or calling
the doctor to make an appointment. The point is that until it’s
done, the task weighs on your mind — and as a result, you end up
doing nothing. Finally, eat the frog. That is, complete the task you
least want to do first.
Once you eat the frog, you’ll feel motivated to whiz through
the rest of your task list. What if there are two or three frogs star-
ing you down at the beginning of the day? In Tracy’s words, “eat
the ugliest one first.”
The efficacy of starting your day with eating frogs — at least
metaphorical ones — has been proven by psychological research.
Maria Gardiner and Hugh Kearns of Adelaide University, Austra-
lia, explored this in an article in Nature magazine. They write:
“Some psychology research shows that action leads to motiva-
tion, which in turn leads to more action. You have to start before
you feel ready; then you’ll feel more motivated, and then you’ll
take more action.”
In other words, when you’re struggling to feel motivated,
make yourself do something. And if you’re really up for a chal-
lenge, eat a frog!