The Pomodoro Timer is my secret weapon when I struggle to focus at work

Any of my colleagues will tell you that my spreadsheets are my pride and joy.

They are colour-coded, have a key explaining the meaning behind each hue, and are rigorously updated. The same goes for my to-do lists and Post-it notes.

All of that is to say, I am organised. I feel calmer knowing there is structure and order to my thoughts and my day.

But, no matter how hard I plan, there are some days where my brain will not submit to routine. Distracted by any nearby noise, switching between my 30 tabs, overwhelmed by the sheer size or my list of jobs to complete, I’m unable to focus.

It’s on these occasions that I bring out my secret weapon: The Pomodoro Timer. Aka The Tomato Timer.

Sticking in some headphones to blot out surrounding sounds (sometimes whacking on rain sounds via Rainy Mood if I’m really struggling to keep attention on the task at hand), I open up my most searched for website.

For those that don’t know, The Pomodoro Technique was popularised in the 80s, and involves setting a kitchen timer (the ones shaped like tomatoes) for 25 minutes. During that session, you focus on one task and one task alone.

Then you take a five minute break (setting the timer) before going in for another 25 minute stint (these are called pomodoros).

After your fourth repeat of this routine, you can take a longer break, around 20-30 minutes.

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Obviously, I can’t just take a 30 minute break in the middle of a workday, but I try to line up my sessions between meetings or lunchtime, so I can get a screen break. I also don’t bring a kitchen timer into the office, instead using one of the many websites designed to replicate this method.

The simple interface keeps it easy, with three options: ‘Pomodoro’, ‘Short break’, and ‘Long break’. When time is up on each of your sessions, a buzzer goes off.

I find the tomato timer most useful when I have a particularly meaty chore that needs doing at work. It could be clearing the 200 emails in my inbox, editing a tricky piece, or writing up a phone interview.

Even if the job will take me longer than 25 minutes, it’s nice to know I can break it down into digestible chunks.

When the clock starts counting down, I’ll close my work Slack, WhatsApp, emails – anything that gives off pinging notifications that could break my focus, and instead I keep my mind specifically on the issue at hand.

Then, when the five minute break rolls round, I’ll use it to catch up on those missed Slacks or urgent emails, before plugging back in for the next pomodoro.

It gives me a sense of control and makes the mountain of work ahead seem more manageable

And I don’t just use it at work, either. While I love organisation, I am an actively messy person and I hate cleaning. It means, on the weekend, when I need to tidy but all I want to do is blob, I turn to my trusty friend.

I spend 25 minutes on washing dishes, clothes, bedding, myself – followed by five minutes drinking tea and scrolling through Instagram.

I do another 25 on dusting and hoovering, making the bed and plumping cushions – before I allow myself a break spent dancing along to the radio, using the feather duster as a microphone.

The third pomodoro brings the bathroom deep clean, followed by mopping, which leaves me thankful for my five minutes lying face down on my sofa.

Knowing I’m in the final stretch, I settle in for a bit of life admin, finally replying to those missed personal emails and WhatsApps, filing and writing personal to-do lists.

It means that when it finally comes to my longer 30 minute break – obviously spent watching TV back in bed – I feel less lazy and guilty about my lack of domesticity.

It’s not always perfect – sometimes I look at the tomato shaped dictator and can’t face such rigidity; sometimes I know I can’t break my tasks into such neat parcels as I’m having to juggle too many endeavours at once – but mostly, it works for me.

I think the true benefit for me is psychological. When I can’t focus it’s because there is just too much to do, and knowing I have a plan to tackle it gives me a sense of control. It makes the mountain of work ahead seem more manageable.

I often find that after doing a couple of pomodoros, I feel able to concentrate properly again and I can close the tab for the day, knowing it’s just a couple of clicks away if I do need a helping hand.

The impact it’s had on my life is hard to quantify, but the technique helped my revision at university (I think it’s probably the reason I got a first), it’s helped in my career, and it’s certainly helped me get this article written.

But the 25 minute timer beeps have just gone off, so I’m heading for a break.

The Tech I Can’t Live Without

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