Various meta-analyses have concluded that dependent on our job, we sit at our desks for on average 7.7 hours per day – with some of us spending up to 10 hours per day typing away, with little intermittent activity to break it up. It’s near impossible to keep focused for that amount of time.
One of the issues with modern day employment is how sedentary it can be, and how much time can be spent behind the screen of a computer. Even for active people such as coaches and personal trainers, researching and program writing can take up full days.
The consequence of this is that without regular breaks you can become mentally fatigued – and once you do, your productivity will suffer and you’ll get frustrated when you can’t complete your task for the day – a problem often termed ‘time anxiety‘.
Speaking from experience, I’ve had many days where no matter how much I try to get my brain firing, I just can’t. Once I’ve fallen behind I refuse to take a break so I become more drained, and again I can’t get my brain firing. I end up spiraling into a mentally fatigued, waste of space. I leave work for the day feeling tired and having achieved very little.
The purpose of this article is to introduce you to a technique that has been around a while that is designed specifically to boost productivity and reduce wasted time. It doesn’t take you away from your desk for too long and is something that’s been around a while but yet very few people use it, or have heard of it.
What is the Pomodoro technique?
The Pomodoro technique was introduced by Francesco Cirrillo in the 1980s and is named after an Italian, tomato-shaped kitchen timer called the Pomodoro timer. It is a technique designed to improve desk productivity, and works particularly well if you are completing mentally stimulating tasks over a prolonged period of time. It’s one I use regularly if I have a full day of article writing or have to design a complex report and so on.
The technique uses the tomato timer – although you can use a stopwatch or even one of the many Pomodoro timer apps available, to break down work into ‘intervals’. Whilst these intervals are typically 25 minutes in length you can adapt them based on your attention and concentration span – you’ll learn what works best for you through trial and error. In fact, the only real criticism of the technique is how rigid it can be. Adapt it as necessary, but once you’ve found a work-rest ratio that suits you best, stick to it.
After each work interval (named pomodoros), you give yourself a short ‘break’ – usually 2-3 minutes. These short breaks are based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility and there’s a ton of research to suggest that this works. There are no rules as to what you do during these breaks other than you must get up and move!
Here are the typical stages of the Pomodoro technique:
- Decide on the task to be done – this could be to write an exercise program, complete part of an assignment, send a batch of emails, write an article etc.
- Set the Pomodoro timer for your pre-determined work interval time.
- Work on the task until the timer rings. If you become distracted with an important thought during the interval, write it down, but get back on task as quickly as possible.
- After the timer goes off, take your short break (3–5 minutes), then go back to step 1, reviewing the task. If you haven’t completed the task, then go back to stage 1. If you have then set another task.
By taking regular breaks you can keep a strict work-break ratio that doesn’t detract from the time you have for the day. This should reduce both internal and external interruptions such as becoming distracted with social media every 2 minutes. This is something I’d say that pretty much all of us do too much – I believe they refer to it as ‘chasing the red dot’.
You can set ‘rewards’ for completing each task if you want to – this could include getting a refill on a drink, a snack or a chat with an office colleague – none of which you should be doing during your work interval.
How can the Pomodoro technique improve physical activity?
One way to use your 2-3 minutes is to set a full body routine, quick HITT session, stretching session – whatever suits your environment really.This will contribute to your overall energy expenditure for the day, whilst at the same time increasing blood flow around the body and consequently boosting mental concentration.
Another aspect of physical activity that can be improved using the Pomodoro technique is that of Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). This refers to the ‘energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise‘ and includes any energy expended walking, fidgeting, moving and so on – it is essentially physical activity but without the constraints of structure.
Trivial physical activities included in your 2-3 minute break can increase your metabolic rate substantially and it is the combination of such a potential multitude of activities that increase our exothermic reactions (breaking down of substrates to provide us with energy). This can have a positive effect on our overall activity levels.
It really depends on how you use your time as to what you get from it – but one thing is for certain, it’ll boost your concentration, keep you on task, and make sure that you don’t get distracted from the very thing you are aiming to complete.