Improving Focus with the constraint of Time – Pomodoro Technique

Have you felt like you don’t get something done (email, writing, chore, or reading) in its allocated time? Get distracted before you have finished it? Or find yourself multi-tasking and not completing either of the tasks?

I have experienced those problems in getting work done. Thus, for the month of January & Februray 2019, I wanted to conduct an experiment to improve focus by using constraint of timers (aka pomodoro technique).

As part of this experiment, I also read a book on Pomodoro and summarized that here – Book Summary of Pomodoro Technique Illustrated by Staffan Nöteberg.

The Problem of Focus without a Constraint

Through self-reflection and weekly review (via journaling), I consistently found that often times I was not able to accomplish a simple task (such as writing this article) despite having the time for it. Thus, I began the analysis of understanding the problem of what was going on.

What I found is that just setting the goal or making the time for it in my calendar was sometimes not enough to ensure that the work was completed. What I found with the work that was successfully completed is that it had a constraint (aka deadline) attached to it). For example, an external deadline from a customer or a non-negotiable deadline that I shared with my readers.

The Solution of Timers for Focus and Constraint

Thus, to solve the problem of not having healthy constraints, I began experimenting with a timer which will serve as a deadline by which I have to get the current work done.

For example, as I write writing this article, I have a pomodoro-timer running that gets my brain to focus on doing the work:

pomodoro_timer_constraint.png
Using a 25-min (pomodoro) timer to get the initial draft of this blog post completed.

Overall, here is how the start-to-finish of writing this article looked like;

1. Have a defined Outcome (or Goal) – In this case, “Publish the Monthly Experiment for Jan 2019” was the goal that was prepared before timers could be started.

2. Break the Goal Down into bursts of Focus (i-e Pomodoro or Timers) – In this step, I broke down the goal (Step 1 above) into bursts of focus (smaller goals) as follows;

  • First Timer (25-min) – Write the Outline of the Experiment
  • Break Time – 5 Min – Walk Around
  • Second Timer (25-min) – Write the Draft of the Experiment
  • Break TIme – 5 Min – Look out the Window
  • Third Timer (25-min) – Publish and Share the Experiment

The Setup: Use the pomodoro technique (25-min timers) with breaks in-between to get the work done.

Measurable Results of Using Timers – Pomodoro Technique

To date, I have been practicing the use of timers (pomodoro technique) for about 4 months. My results are as follows:

pomodoro_timer_results.png
Results of using pomodoro Timers from November 2018 to January 2019.
  • Improved completion of tasks – Such as the completion and publishing of this article
  • Natural feedback cycles for getting things done – The timer serves as an accountability coach to get the mind to focus on getting the work done.
  • Less Mental Fatigue or Burnout – Given the defined break periods (after every 25 minutes), I am giving my brain time to recover before going back to focused-state.

Areas of Improvement in using Timers or Pomodoro Technique

As I develop the skill of focus with timers (pomodoro), following are areas of improvements that I hope to improve in the short-term:

  • Ability to stay focused on completion of the task once the timer has started – This discipline requires multiple variables to be taken care of – surrounding should be clear, no external distractions, no hungry or thirst to distract your mind etc.
  • Having clearly defined tasks with outcomes – For pomodoro to succeed one must have clearly defined task that needs to be accomplished.
  • Do not skip the pomodoro timer once it has been started – (See “Skipped Work Intervals” in the image above).

I hope to update this experiment or post a separate update once significant improvement has been made in the above.

Resources to further develop focus

Here are the resources I referred to during this experiment and hope re-visit as I continue to better develop the focus to getting the work done.


How has been your experience with improving focus to get work done? I welcome comments and chance to learn from your experiments.

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