Most of us suffer from procrastination tendencies. Luckily, there are techniques we can use to beat them. Finding a technique that works for you is a better strategy than simply deciding to stop procrastinating and relying on your willpower to follow through on your decision.
One of the techniques I use is called the Pomodoro Technique. The other techniques I use are writing schedules and time logging. As I have already written about those, I will here give you the details of the Pomodoro Technique and how I use it.
The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. Pomodoro means tomato in Italian, and the technique is named after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer.
So how does the technique work?
It’s really simple. You set a timer for a given time; the classic Pomodoro is 25 minutes. Then you work focused on your task for those 25 minutes.
These 25 minutes is called a Pomodoro.
After the first Pomodoro, you take a break for 3-5 minutes, where you reward yourself for your effort. That way you have something to look forward to during your first 25 minutes, and the reward makes it easier to get started.
This is where your willpower comes in.
You need to decide to wait with the reward until you have done your first Pomodoro. The reward may be the thing you usually do to procrastinate. Say you read blogs as procrastination; then you could decide to read one blog post between your first and second Pomodoro. Or you could grab a cup of coffee, or go for a walk, or just daydream for 5 min. The important thing is to give your mind a break and feel good about your effort.
In the classic technique, you do 4 x 25 minute Pomodoros, with 3-5 minute breaks. After the fourth Pomodoro, you take a 20-30 minute break. But you can adjust the Pomodoro to how it suits your work.
How do I use the Pomodoro Technique?
I use it to get started with tasks that involve reading, data analysis, or writing. In general, anything outside the laboratory. I use the Pomodoro Technique in two ways. 1) to get started on a task without procrastinating first, and 2) to work on a task until it’s completed.
I use the first approach on time-consuming but non-urgent tasks. I say to myself: “I will work on this task for 25 minutes, then I will take a break and reward myself, after the first Pomodoro I can choose to continue on this task or do something else. If I just do the 25 minutes on this task, then that’s fine.”
When I make these time-consuming tasks into 25-minute chunks, they seem friendlier. And instead of focusing on the result, which can be daunting (having a finished piece of writing or being up to date with the scientific literature), I focus on the process.
Focusing on the process rather than the result is key to beat procrastination.
Often, when I set out to simply complete the first Pomodoro, I end up working much longer on the task. I think we all know the feeling, that the hard part is getting started. Once we get past that hurdle, the task is not that bad; it may even be enjoyable.
This is great when it happens.
I just have to remind myself that when I set out to work for 25 minutes, it’s always okay to stop after those 25 minutes. Otherwise, the technique will stop working. I cannot use it to manipulate or fool myself into long bouts of work.
I use the second scenario when I want to finish a task within a short timeframe. For example, if I have planned a full day of data analysis or if I want to read an article thoroughly all the way through. In this case, the Pomodoro Technique helps me to work focused on the task, without long bouts of procrastination. But still with plenty of small rewards.
When I use the Pomodoro technique to work on a task until it’s finished, then I use the classic Pomodoro: 4 x 25 min work with 3-5 min breaks, then a longer break, and back to 4 x 25 min.
During your Pomodoros, you must work focused on the task and avoid distractions. But what should you do with all your distracting thoughts? For example, you suddenly remember an email you have to write, or you want to look something up, that’s not strictly a part of your task. I deal with these distractions by having a piece of paper in front of me, where I write my thoughts down as they come. Then I deal with them when I have finished my Pomodoro.
For me, this technique has to major positives. It helps me to get started on a task without procrastinating first, and it helps me to give my full attention to the task at hand, instead of giving in to my distracting thoughts, which I am otherwise prone to do.
Why not try this technique for one week, and see if it works for you?