Pomodoro concentration technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a simple and effective way to help concentrate on tasks for intense bursts of time. It’s named after the tomato (‘pomodoro’ in Italian) shaped kitchen timer the technique’s inventor used.

The average concentration span has seen a steep decrease in recent years with many studies citing the constant distraction of mobile phones, skim reading social media, mindlessly browsing the web and flicking through TV channels. Our brains are evolutionarily programmed to seek stimulus but our ability to filter out irrelevant stimuli and engage with, process and absorb information is on a downward trajectory due to the high volume of low-value input.

Multitasking, once a productivity buzzword, has been proven to be very inefficient. The brain can only focus on one conscious task at a time, and when ‘concentrating’ on two or more tasks the brain switches rapidly between them giving us the illusion of multitasking. This switching saps cognitive energy, takes time, and increases production of adrenaline and cortisol, the “stress hormones”. Working on two tasks concurrently takes as much as 40 percent longer than if they were completed consecutively.

The Pomodoro Technique addresses these challenges in a logical way. First, make a list of all the tasks you wish to complete. Then set a timer for 25 minutes (the average optimum concentration span), ruthlessly ignore all distractions and focus on a single task at a time until the timer has finished. Then take a 5-minute break and start again. After 4 Pomodoros, take a longer break.

If someone interrupts your concentration, tell them you’ll get back to them and return to your task immediately. If you find 25 minutes to be a challenge, set your intervals to 15 or 20 minutes to start with – it may take a few goes at it to train yourself to stay focused. Don’t skip the breaks or you’ll end up fatigued.

There are loads of apps and websites dedicated to the technique so have a Google, but you can achieve the same results with any timer.

I use this technique daily (I’m 12 minutes into a Pomodoro as I type this) and my productivity has increased dramatically since I adopted it. I’ve recommended it to many friends, colleagues and students with very positive feedback. One colleague even blocks weekly distraction free slots in her work calendar called ‘Tomato Time’.

So if you want to ketch-up with a backlog of work or get on top of your toma-to-do list, book yourself some Tomato Time.

Published in Shetland Life magazine in April 2018