The Science-Backed Method You Can Use To Work Less and Do More

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Noticing your attention flit into the distance when you’re trying to concentrate? You’re not alone. But don’t worry -- science has your back. The pomodoro technique is the answer to the problems scientists and philosophers have long observed with our inability to concentrate on a task for long stretches of time. This productivity method asks the subject to work for 25 minutes and then take a break for five minutes. This goes on for a cycle of four -- the fourth break offers a more robust 20 minutes for the brain to rest. The pomodoro technique is so named after the creator’s tomato-shaped timer that he used to apply the technique while in university. The short, timed intervals are called pomodoros (you know, like the Italian tomato). The only thing you really need to use the technique is a timer. There are also all kinds of free pomodoro apps out there that allow you to use your phone instead. Here’s how it works: Select a task you want to work on. Set the timer to 25 minutes. Work on the task until the timer goes off. When the timer goes off, take a break -- make sure to stand up and walk around. Do not stay stationary at the place where you were working

Why is the pomodoro technique effective?


To understand the science behind the pomodoro method, think of a task in the same way you think about your favourite food. Let’s take pizza, for example. Most people love pizza. But most people wouldn’t eat pizza every day. Why? Because if they did, they’d get sick of it. 

So, how does that apply to your perception of your daily tasks?

Let us explain. 


Back at the start of the 20th century, Nobel prize winner and philosopher Henri Bergson noticed a disconnect between time and science. He observed that the perception of time can vary widely, though of course the scientific measurement of time stays the same. 

He noticed that it’s only when we perceive time as space (ie. boxes on a calendar) that anxiety begins to bubble up. This anxiety, Bergson explained, is triggered by the idea of being late.

Stress diminishes our ability to concentrate, making it nearly impossible to get anything of substance done when you feel a time crunch. Seeing time, however, as a succession of events (do this, then that, then that), doesn’t generate stress.

He realised, therefore, that the key to productivity is to alter one’s perception of time. We should use time as a vehicle by which we achieve something, rather than a vehicle that drives you to Stressville, Tennessee. 

How pomodoro harnesses attention

A more recent study published in the journal Cognition delves deeper into this theory, and actually proves that even brief diversions from a task can “dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.” 

This is because when you do the same task for a long time, you start to lose your focus after a while, and your performance starts to go down hill. But, it was observed by the study’s leader that, “You are always paying attention to something. Attention is not the problem.”

It’s like anything, really. Just like how you stop hearing the crickets chirping after a few hours, or you get sick of pizza if you eat it every day. The body and mind get used to repetitive feelings, and the stimuli eventually evaporates from the brain. 

It’s the same with a task. You need to break it up to keep it interesting.


How to hack the pomodoro technique


It’s important to remember that the pomodoro technique is a template for achieving a more productive perception of time. With that in mind, you should feel free to pull and stretch the method to mould it to your own preferences and needs. Here are some excellent ways you can hack the pomodoro technique:

  • Limit distractions during your pomodoros
  • Focus on the task at hand
  • Put your phone on airplane mode
  • If someone tries to steal your attention, use the inform, negotiate, call back strategy.
    • Inform that you’re in the middle of something
    • Negotiate a time you can get back to them
    • Call them back when your pomodoro is over
  • Avoid checking the time too often during your pomodoro session as this will distract you from your flow state
  • Use this technique to motivate yourself
    • When you’re feeling lazy and procrastinating, convince yourself to do just one pomodoro. 
    • By making it small, it feels easily achievable.
    • Once you’ve achieved it, 9 times out of 10, you’ll want to do more.
  • Make pomodoro work for you — not the other way around. In other words, if you’re in the groove and working away in a speedy, smooth flow state, stay put! Don’t feel obligated to stem your flow just because your timer goes off.
    • Consider modifying the template of the technique to suit these flow states. Alter the time intervals (50/10 is another method), for longer states of flow.

The pomodoro technique may not be new but, as we learn more about the brain and how it works, we’re beginning to understand that certain techniques help us work through our to-do lists faster and more effectively than others. Since our brains require variation to sustain our attention, it makes sense to break up our work day with pomodoros. By doing so, you’ll be able to sustain a state of flow on a given project for far longer periods than you could have otherwise. And that sounds pretty good to us!