At it’s core, the Pomodoro Technique can be described thusly:

  1. Pick a task.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  3. Work on that task, without interruption, until the timer goes off.
  4. Take a five-minute break.
  5. Repeat.

This technique is useful for two reasons. The most important thing, of course, is that it encourages you to focus on work and nothing else for those 25 minutes. It doesn’t force you to do so, of course, but it helps keep you in check when you find yourself wondering what’s new on Twitter. And second, it reminds you to take regular, short breaks, which is something I often neglect to do until I realize my eyes have dried out from staring at the screen and I’ve needed to use the bathroom for half an hour.

I first read about the technique late last year, and used it with some success at my last job. But, like so many other productivity systems and techniques, there are scores of blog posts out there detailing how you can do it better. Some people plot out their day based on pomodoros (the common name for each 25-minute block of time); they figure out how many pomodoros each task will take, and schedule their day accordingly. I’ve seen people that use graph paper to track how many pomodoros they complete successfully during the day, how accurate their estimates were, and how many times they were interrupted.

So of course, I got sucked into that nonsense. If you’re not keeping score, how do you know if you’re winning at the game of Work? Implementing a rigid system of planning and tracking sends shivers of delight down my OCD nerves, but dooms the project to failure: I get more interested in the overhead than the actual task at hand, and then drop the whole thing when I inevitably lose interest a few days later.

My last foray into the Pomodoro Technique was very helpful, until I tried to keep score. I’m trying a reboot (of sorts) now, again using the Pomodoro Desktop app, but without any of the extra nonsense. After a few days, I remember why I used it in the first place: it really does help to keep me focused, because any time I’m about to check Twitter or a Drupal IRC channel, I think, “I’ll have a break in thirteen minutes - I can look at it then.”

I’d definitely recommend giving it a shot if you have trouble avoiding distractions during the day. The resources page has a free PDF version of the full book, as well as a one-page cheat sheet. They’ve also got a couple worksheet templates, in case you’d like to keep track of how you’re doing. Like I said, those were anything but helpful for me, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be for you.