If you enjoy reading about productivity, you’re likely familiar with David Allen’s Getting Things Done, a best-selling time management book.
After all, GTD has received widespread media coverage in the twelve years since it was published. Time called it the “self-help business book of its time. Not to be outdone, popular websites like Lifehacker, 43 Folders, and The Simple Dollar have published plenty of GTD-related posts, as has this blog.
*GTD is designed to help you collect and sort out to-dos so that you never have to worry about remembering or figuring out what you need to do next. *
Like all other systems, GTD is flawed. Its complex nature entice some to endlessly tinker with it to the point where they neglect their actual work. And while GTD does an excellent job of helping you clear your mind and plan your life, it doesn’t address the nitty-gritty of how to focus on a task.
For a lot of people, this is fine—they don’t need to be told when or for how long they should work on a specific to-do. If you’re among these people, my hat’s off to you.
But for those of us who sometimes struggle to concentrate on one thing and one a thing alone for a prolonged period of time, the following technique is a godsend.
Enter the Pomodoro
GTD’s missing ingredient?
Not all time-management methods have captured the public eye to the same extent as GTD. The Pomodoro technique is one such method.
Named after the tomato-shaped timers that are supposedly found in many Italian kitchens, the Pomodoro technique was developed by software developer Francisco Cirillo when he suffered low concentration levels at university. This is how Cirillo remembers those days in his book The Pomodoro Technique:
“So I made a bet with myself, as helpful as it was humiliating: ‘Can you study — really study — for 10 minutes?’ (…) I didn’t win the bet straight off. In fact, it took time and a great deal of effort, but in the end I succeeded. In that first small step, I found something intriguing in the Pomodoro mechanism. (…) Gradually I put together the Pomodoro Technique.”
Cirillo’s technique is deceptively simple: aided by a timer, you break down work into 25-minute intervals, separated by 5-minute breaks (a longer break is recommended every four “pomodoros” or work intervals).
Laughable? Maybe so in the days where everybody prided themselves in their ability to multitask. Luckily, we know today that no one can really multitask. We also know that although willpower and focus are finite, they can be strengthened, just like a muscle.
That’s what makes the Pomodoro technique brilliant: it demands your unrelenting focus for a relatively short period of time… and then it makes you rest before you get tired.
In doing so, it strengthens your ability to focus on the task ahead, plus it makes you acutely aware of your own internal interruptions (which you are required to jot down as they happen).
The End All?
*An increasing number of Pomodoro apps can be found online and in the Apple store. *
Beneficial as the Pomodoro Technique is, those who regard it as a potential alternative to GTD miss out on GTD’s excellent organizational approach.
That’s because Cirillo gives little thought to planning and prioritizing.
Admittedly, he recommends you write down your tasks in a to-do today sheet and activity inventory sheet that acts as an inbox for unplanned tasks.
But as any GTD adept will quickly see, tasks are often confused with projects. For example, in his book Cirillo lists “writing blog post” as an example of one task that will likely take more than one pomodoro to complete.
As a professional blogger and writer, I can assure writing one blog post is more akin to a project, given that it requires multiple steps like research, SEO, coming up with the title, editing, proofreading, etc. If I procrastinate about writing one, Pomodoro may help in terms of actually doing the writing, but it will fall flat in terms of getting of identifying which steps I need to take, i.e, in terms of helping me develop a list of the sort of actionable items GTD adepts know so well.
The Best of Both Worlds.
That’s precisely why Pomodoro can integrate very well with GTD and vice versa: each method addresses the shortcoming in the other. While the Pomodoro technique all but ignores the data collection and processing that play a vital role in GTD, David Allen’s method pays no attention to the interruptions, internal and external, that prevent many of us from successfully completing a task.
The good news? Getting the best of both worlds is easy enough:
- First, you apply GTD to collect and process all the tasks you need to work on.
- Then, you use the Pomodoro technique to work on each task.
If you already use GTD, you don’t need anything fancier than a simple timer and maybe a visit to the Pomodoro website before you can begin implementing this technique. (There is, however, software that integrates a pomodoro timer with GTD.)
The popular Vitamin R2 app is based on the Pomodoro technique—but still integrates with Things, Omnifocus and the Hit List..
Not convinced yet?
In this forum thread, GTD users discuss their success implementing the Pomodoro technique.
GTD may well be the world’s best productivity method. But if you struggle to focus on certain tasks, Pomodoro is definitely worth looking into. It integrates well with GTD, there is a plethora of excellent software for it, and it’s both cheap and easy to learn.
GTD chart via http://universalprinciples.se/