This Simple Work Technique Has Saved Me From My Easily Distracted Ways

It's honestly a miracle.

As you might’ve heard, the Philly Mag crew recently moved into a shiny new open office in the Curtis building. Key word here: open. The new digs are beautiful, and the snazzy coffee machine stocked with La Colombe beans is an honest-to-goodness godsend. That said, moving into an open office when you and your co-workers were used to having doors to (passive-aggressively) shut when the volume got a little too loud for comfort is an … adjustment. But there is one trick that I’ve found myself using often to help ward off distractions and power through my to-do list with the same efficiency I imagine Beyoncé would display were she a mere mortal who had to-do lists: The Pomodoro Technique. (And no, it doesn’t have anything to do with tomatoes.)

Former Be Well Philly editor Emily Leaman sent me this Fast Company article on the Pomodoro Technique nearly two years ago and I’ve been using the productivity method on-and-off for most of that time now. But I’ve found that I use it much more often, now that I can’t drown out with a door my co-workers (no offense, co-workers) and the sounds of the printer (my desk space is roughly 25 inches away from a printer) and people blowing their noses during allergy season (they can’t help it, I KNOW). It works wonders to help me tune out distractions and zone in on the one thing I’m working on, so I figured I’d share the magic of it with you guys.

You can read an in-depth rundown of the technique here, but a quick explanation of what the Pomodoro Technique is: Essentially, when using the Pomodoro Technique, you set an alarm for 25 minutes, put your phone on airplane mode, and dedicate your entire brain space to one task. No quick tangential Google searches about how old Kourtney Kardashian is (the woman DOESN’T age); no texting your boyfriend about whether you guys should stop being irresponsible with money or just order Morimoto for dinner; no Instagram-stalking the person who just emailed you. You work on that one task, and that one task only, until your alarm goes off 25 minutes later. Then you take a five-minute break where you can Google away — but only for five minutes! Once those five minutes are up, it’s back to a 25-minute work session. You do four 25-minute sessions, then give yourself a 30-minute break (heyyy, lunchtime). Then you do it all over again.

You can repeat this cycle as many times as you’d like, but I find that the most I can do in a day without my brain collapsing on me (focusing on one task and one task only is mentally taxing!) is six 25-minute sessions. (I track the number of 25-minute work increments I knock out throughout the day on a stickie note on my desk.) I always wear noise-canceling headphones while employing the technique — though my noise-canceling headphones aren’t super effective, so they mostly play the role of silently stating “Please don’t talk to me” without forcing me to be rude — and I always, always put Slack on “do not disturb” mode and my phone on airplane mode. Even when you work in an open office, there is no greater distraction than a group text amongst girlfriends.

I find the Pomodoro Technique helps me to more effectively knock out work in a number of ways: It helps me to control my procrastinating ways (the thought of working on a dreaded task for 25 minutes is much less daunting than the thought of working on a dreaded task for the rest of the afternoon, even if that’s exactly what I’ll end up doing); it helps me to stay on task, which, considering I work on the internet, is a constant struggle; it fills me with a sense of urgency — sometimes, feeling like you’re racing against a clock is good work motivation; and it helps me to tune out outside noise — the last thing I want to do with these precious 25 minutes is waste any of them whining to myself about people not using their “indoor voices” or whatever.

So, long story short: The Pomodoro Technique is the bomb dot com, especially if your workplace has built-in productivity bombs around every bend. In fact, I’m using the technique right now, and I suggest you start, too. You can thank me when you’ve started pouring all the energy you use to roll your eyes at your desk neighbors into more important stuff. Like, um, your work.

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