E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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How to Avoid Multitasking – The Pomodoro Technique

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo & Surroundings in the SpringDo you still remember the article "Is Multitasking Bad for the Brain?", that I put together a few weeks back over here in this blog? I am not sure whether you do or not, but I’m certainly having a blast myself at the moment moving away from multitasking on my day to day work after putting it together, specially for that area where multitasking was the king for me so far: meetings. However, things have developed even further from there and I have also successfully stopped it altogether for a bunch of tasks and various other activities. And all of that thanks to The Pomodoro Technique! Yes, indeed, I’m officially hooked up!

I think the first time I heard about the Pomodoro Technique was from Steve Rubel himself a few months back. I am not 100% sure whether he still makes use of it today, but I must confess that all along I was a little bit skeptic about it myself, thinking that it may not be the most effective thing to do to carry some tasks where you would need all of the focus and attention you could possibly spare. Once again, I was wrong!

It took me a few months later to realise that multitasking, while it has its many benefits, it also has a bunch of drawbacks, specially if you are trying to do something where you would need your full attention to accomplish it. And that blog entry I mentioned earlier on in this post surely has been quite an eye opener for me. Fast forward a few weeks later on and I get to bump into one of those short video clips that just makes sense!

Have you checked out Greg Head‘s inspiring and thought-provoking 5 minute long Ignite Phoenix video presentation on The Pomodoro Technique? If you haven’t, you should! Specially, if you don’t believe in multitasking and are looking for a new way of getting things done, mainly for those activities where you feel you could do without any interruptions.

The video clip lasts for a little bit over 5 minutes and in it Greg describes quite nicely how it actually all works. If you would want to read further on the instructions you could have a look into the blog post he put together describing the event itself and how that technique works out eventually. And if you would want to take a look further and take it for a spin yourself, like I have started doing in the last couple of days, if you are using a Mac, you could use Pomodoro for Mac, which works beautifully.

I bet you are wondering what my experiences have been like, since I started using it applying this technique, right? Well, I could probably just summarise it with a single word, or may be a couple of them: it just works! Yes, that’s right! For the last couple of days I have been using Pomodoro for Mac for those tasks and activities where I would need to focus perhaps a little bit more than usual and forget about any interruptions and it’s worked wonders! Those tasks / activities are now a thing of the past, when till just recently, they may have lingered for a little while longer than expected and eventually not coming out with the best of results.

So there you have it; the multitasking machine I once used to be, is now a thing of the past. Instead, I have got a few bursts of great concentration and focus spans throughout the day that help me get a better grasp of my own productivity and, funny enough, I have found it so helpful that I’m already starting to apply this Pomodoro technique to my social networking activities as well. But I guess that would be the subject for another blog post. For now, I will leave you to start playing Greg’s YouTube video and see if it would also be inspiring for you, just as much as it has been for me so far …

(Ok, now that you have watched through it, did it make you go and give it a try, and, if so, did it help? I would love to know whether it did the trick for you, too, or not, and whether you are thinking about reducing some of the multitasking you have been doing lately … Feel free to share a comment or two sharing your experience, whenever you have got a chance… Maybe, perhaps, on your "next pomodoro"…)

(Update – August 2nd 2010: Quick update … My good friend Martin Lindner just tweeted this great tip I thought was also worth while sharing across over here:

"Did you know the graphically nice #pomodoro timer app? for me, it is definitely supportive. http://is.gd/dYIhX"

I blogged initially how I was using Pomodoro for Mac for this, right? Well, Martin just shared this link to a nice, rather visual, nifty app that would work for Windows users. So if you are in Win you may want to give that one a whirl! Many thanks, Martin, for the great tip! Greatly appreciated!)

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  1. Hi Luis, your post is very timely – I first stumbled across the Pomodoro technique only last week and since then have been using it too!

    I’m not one for sticking at many of these ‘gtd’ techniques and especially those which use apps, and rarely take/make the time to reap the benefits they claim to offer, but this one seems to be working well for me so far.

    I’m currently using it in its simplest form, using the pre-printed sheets downloaded from the website and filling in my tasks by hand. I usually write lists anyway, which end up scribbled on or continually added to, especially in multi-tasking overload mode (!)

    I’ve tried many of the others out there, which are all fine, but do find especially when using an app, I tend to get distracted from my work in hand (based at a screen all day), or find using an app, I don’t remember all the tasks in hand so well; and find the old fashioned pen and paper helps so much more for me. But seeing your recommendation of the app, I may give it a try!

    Why do I do like this technique so far? It’s really simple, quick to understand the logic and it works with my flow of working too!
    {though, must add I have tweaked my activity tasks into 2 different timings – some the standard 25 minutes, and others at 45 minutes which just works better for some of my activities}

    Will be interesting to read others comments on this topic, and also hear how you get on with it in the coming weeks ahead!

  2. I use a similar technique when studying. I find the best way to study is when my brain is totally focused on the subject material.

    So what I do is I plan 10 minute study a night on a topic. After 10 minutes if I am bored at that point I quit that topic. If I am not bored then I continue that for another 10 minutes and repeat. I do that for a total of 30 minutes.

    Of course this is for casual studying of material, rather then for an exam with fixed deadline.

  3. Thank you for recommending my video and blog post. The Pomodoro Technique is the simplest way to beat distractions and procrastination that I have found.

    These days I only use the PT when I need help to concentrate – only a couple times a day. After using technique for a month, it was easier for me to start and sustain focus (with breaks) for the majority of tasks. Your brain can be trained!


  4. Thanks Elsua for hinting me to that technic. I practice it now for a couple of weeks and really love it. On top what you described I am fascinated about two more things: (1) that it has a relaxing effect, because you know all will be done once you start the pomodoro. Even the clicking clock is relaxing after a while or keeps you focused. (2) If you write all your pomodoros down, you have an excellent overview how much time your tasks usually takes and can make changes to your work habit.

  5. This is great stuff, there is a Pomodoro timer within PHPStorm as well for people who want use Pomodoro within Jetbrains products while developing. I have RubyMine, PyCharm and PHPStorm and the plugin is available on all 3 softwares so I’m sure it’s available on all of the others (Intellij IDEA, etc)

  6. That’s wonderful stuff. I love pointing out articles like this whenever my program managers start arguing that senior developers become good at multitasking over time. They don’t like my argument that serial single-tasking is far better due to the intense focus you can bring to each problem in the series. I’ll be adding this to my list of resources for sure.

    Great post!

    1. Hi Bret, thanks a lot for dropping by and for the kind comments! Single-tasking is, indeed, so undermined for heavily focused tasks / activities. I, too, wish people would acknowledge and embrace our inability to multi-task (Have written a few articles on the topic already ever since this one… hehe) and instead focus on completing tasks accordingly in a reduced timeframe. We would all be much much better off!

      I am putting together another article where I am picking up on this very same subject and hoping to be sharing it soon! As well as catching up with the other wonderful commentary over here on this blog post, too! Perhaps I should set up a pomodoro to be able to get through them šŸ˜€

  7. Hi, great post. The Technique is OK, but IMHO this is not enough. I recommend to especially track interruptions and train focus.

    In my daily work Iā€™m using this application: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.synapsis.selftodo
    – integration with Google tasks (I have several different lists and 4 different gmail accounts)
    – track interruptions ā€“ it helps me minize it
    – simple stats
    and every next version bring something new šŸ˜‰

    I don’t recommend paper and pencil. Paper less era is our future šŸ˜‰

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