What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method designed to increase productivity. Since being developed in the late 1980's by a university student named Francesco Cirillo, it has gone on to become one of the most popular strategies to increase productivity across the globe.
The strategy involves working for 25 minute increments and then taking a break for 5 minutes. When you have completed 4 full cycles (it should take 2 hours), you can enjoy a longer break to refresh your mind. Francesco recommends that you create to-do lists and turn any big tasks into smaller tasks to maximise productivity within your 25 minute work periods.
Are there any Alternatives to the Pomodoro Technique?
Whilst the Pomodoro technique is incredibly popular around the world, with apps, websites and timers designed around the concept, the Pomodoro technique might not be the right fit for you. Everyone's different, therefore everyone may not be at their productive best working through 25 minute increments; some may be better suited to working longer hours and enjoy longer breaks whilst some may want to work in even shorter periods!
Luckily, there are various strategies that differ from the Pomodoro but are just as effective at improving your productivity.
1. The First Pomodoro Alternative: Getting Things Done
Getting Things Done is a strategy created by the productivity guru: Dave Allen. Before coaching thousands of people across the world on how to improve their productivity, Dave Allen spent years contributing to research about productivity; so you can rest assured that this method is incredibly effective.
Getting Things Done revolves around a created system which translates the jumbled up thoughts in your head into a concrete plan of action. Not only does this clear your head, allowing you to fully focus on the task at hand but also allows you to prioritise your tasks for the day.
The Getting Things Done system is based around 5 basic steps. Each one designed to assist you in the process of keeping organised and productive.
The first step is the capturing process; this involves externalising the thoughts or tasks that are floating around in your head into a note taker of your choice. This could be a: notebook, a diary, a personal planner, a calendar, an app on your phone, a spreadsheet, etc. The type of note-taker you choose doesn’t matter too much, just make sure it’s easy and convenient for you to access on a regular basis. The idea behind the capturing process is to note-down all your thoughts/ideas/tasks as soon as you think of them, this prevents you from forgetting about it and is the reason why the note-taker should be as easily accessible as possible.
The second step in the Getting Things Done system is the clarification process. This step involves breaking down the complete task into smaller, more actionable steps. The first reason why this step is so important is it creates a clear and pragmatic plan for you to crack on with immediately, it saves you from wandering around aimlessly through the task and thus not getting much done. Additionally, this step ensures that the task is fully completed; often when we don't plan our tasks, we end up forgetting parts of it due to how full our minds are with other thoughts.
The third step in the Getting Things Done system is the organisation process. This involves: setting deadlines for tasks, assigning days for when you can work on the tasks, prioritising more urgent tasks, etc. Often, despite us planning to complete a task, we put it off until the last minute; this step ensures that the tasks are being completed on time and in an appropriate order.
The next step is the reflection process. This is where you review your note-taker to see what needs tasks need to be done and the deadlines you have set. From there you can choose the task that is most appropriate for your current situation. For example, if you only have a short amount of time spare, you may want to choose a task that seems short and simple. Or if you have a task that needs to be done for tomorrow, you can get to work on that task.
The last step in the Getting Things Done system is the engagement process. This final step involves getting to work. It's finally time to start completing the small, actionable tasks that you had set out in the clarifying process.
The reason why many prefer the Getting Things Done system to the Pomodoro system is the Pomodoro does not have an actual planning system to guide you in increasing your productivity. Instead it relies on you figuring it out as you go along whilst abiding by a time management system. The Getting Things Done system however, provides you with a system to organise and carry out your tasks; it's ideal for those who struggle to get started with their tasks. If you have big, overwhelming goals in your head, this is the ideal system for you to create an pragmatic plan for you to get started on it.
2. The Second Pomodoro Alternative: 5-3-1
The 5-3-1 productivity method revolves around strategically organising your To-Do list in order to maximise productivity. The premise of the 5-3-1 method is that you can't expect to work as much as possible throughout the day without suffering from a burnout; instead you can set 9 tasks that you will 100% complete.
The reason why it's called 5-3-1 is because you choose 1 hard task, 3 medium tasks and 5 easy tasks to complete every day. From there, you can plan your activities accordingly. For example, if you're strapped for time in the mornings, you can try and complete an easy task quickly and save the harder tasks for later. Or if you feel energised in the mornings, you can get your hardest task out the way. The idea behind the 5-3-1 productivity strategy is it allows you to remain productive and achieve your goals without feeling burnt out or overwhelmed.
One key benefit of this productivity method is it allows you to prioritise and plan your key tasks for the day; it's ideal for those who struggle to prioritise their work effectively. If you always completing small tasks but putting big tasks off for later, this may be the ideal productivity strategy for you.
3. The Third Pomodoro Alternative: Focus on Your Habits
Habits are the little actions you make on a daily basis. These small actions seem to be insignificant in the short term, however research from the Duke University has found that a persons habits account for over 40% of their behaviour on a daily basis.
The first reason why focusing on your daily habits is so effective in increasing productivity levels is it brings about permanent change. When setting goals, the behavioural change is only temporary and usually your productivity levels revert back to their original state once the goal has been achieved. However, when focusing on your habits, you are committing yourself to a permanent process rather than a singular goal; such changes can last a lifetime.
The second reason why focusing on your daily habits is such an effective productivity strategy is you can consistently build upon good habits. Imagine, you set a goal to run 30 miles in 30 days, it's likely you would quickly feel overwhelmed by this big ask. People often feel overwhelmed when creating these goals because setting goals does not give them the tools to actually achieve that goal. Now what if instead, you create a habit to run a mile every day. After 30 days you would have ran 30 miles.
As previously mentioned, a key benefit of creating habits is that they get easier to complete over time, due to your brain becoming used to completing said task. Eventually, performing the task becomes less taxing mentally than not doing so. Now the person from my example who was running a mile a day , might strive to run 1.5 miles a day. This sort of very slight improvement leads to an extra 15 miles ran that month, a very significant improvement.
The last reason why you should try focusing on your daily habits is due to the feeling of happiness they can provide you with. When setting goals, you are constantly striving for something; therefore you rarely feel content and happy with where you are. However, those who focus on their habits are consistently achieving what they set out to do on a daily basis.
If you often feel overwhelmed when setting big goals or quickly get discouraged when working towards these goals, try focusing on your daily habits. If you lay a brick every day, soon enough you're going to look up and have a brick wall in front of you!
4. The Fourth Pomodoro Alternative: The Eisenhower Matrix
Dwight Eisenhower was one of the most productive people to every live, if we started to list everything he accomplished we would be here for a very long time. His most famous achievements include: serving two terms as the President of the United States, being a five star general during WW2 and launching NASA. If there's one person we should be taking productivity tips from it's this guy.
One of the key reasons why he was so productive is down to his own productivity strategy: the Eisenhower Matrix. The Eisenhower matrix consists of organising your tasks into four different segments. These segments are:
- Urgent and Important tasks
- Important but not Urgent tasks
- Urgent but not important tasks
- Not urgent nor important tasks
The idea behind the Eisenhower Matrix is to prioritise the tasks that are going to have the biggest return on investment for you. Once, you've organised your tasks into the different groups, Dwight Eisenhower recommends you take action by doing the following:
- Complete the Important and Urgent tasks as soon as possible. These tasks are of the upmost important.
- Create a schedule to complete the important but not urgent tasks. These tasks are going to result in long term gains.
- Delegate the urgent but not important tasks to someone else. These tasks offer no benefits to you and rarely result in any improvement.
- Eliminate the not urgent and not important tasks. These tasks are a waste of time.
Dwight Eisenhower states that "What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important". Therefore the important tasks are going to be the tasks that result in long term gains whilst the urgent yet unimportant tasks are going to be what prevents you from being at your productive best.
If you often feel like you're being productive but when you look back you haven't improved position, this may be the right productivity strategy for you. The Eisenhower Matrix provides you with a blueprint to focus on the tasks that offer the best return on investment.
5. The Fifth Pomodoro Alternative: The Five Project Rule
If you're the type to be jumping from one project to another, constantly working on different goals and spreading yourself thin; this could the right productivity strategy for you. The Five Project Rule is fairly self explanatory, you limit yourself down to a maximum of five projects to work on.
The idea behind it is if you're working on a lot of projects at once, you're not able to make any real meaningful progress on any of them. Instead by choosing just five projects/goals, you can prioritise and better focus on these projects. Research has shown that we are only able to complete a maximum of five projects in any given time period; therefore by not over-committing to various projects, we can manage our time better and increase our focus on the few projects we have set for ourselves.
Another benefit of this method is by completing these projects, we are consistently releasing dopamine. This is a neuro-transmitter which provides you with the feeling of pleasure and satisfaction. It's easy to get addicted to this feeling of achievement, therefore motivating you to complete your next project.
Which Productive Strategy Is for You?
All of us react to different things, some may excel in time-management strategies whilst some may feel better working through a to-do list. Therefore, there is no right strategy, it's all about finding what's right for you. And don't forget, we're not saying the Pomodoro technique is rubbish, there's a reason why it's one of the most popular productivity methods in the world; don't be too quick to write it off!