A friend of mine who is currently in graduate school, pursuing a Ph.d. (thanks, Matt!) recently told me about a time management technique. It's called the Pomodoro Technique.
Pomodoro is Italian for "tomato." So what do tomatoes have to do with time management?
Here's the backstory. The Pomodoro Technique was first created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, who was a student in Rome. Cirrillo needed to concentrate more on his studies and used a bright-red kitchen timer shaped like a tomato to time his work for short intervals. That's how the the technique was born.
The method has become popular with business managers and professionals. Here's how the Pomodoro Technique works. You get a timer (either a kitchen timer, software timer or the cute red Pomodoro timer available at www.pomodorotechnique.com). Then set aside a sheet of blank or ruled paper. There are printable worksheet templates available on the Pomodoro website as well. Now select a task and write it down on the paper.
Set the timer for 25 minutes and work on the task uninterrupted until the timer rings. Uninterrupted is a key word here. You cannot check e-mail, answer the phone or get up.
When the timer rings after 25 minutes, put a check mark next to the task on the sheet of paper. Take a short five-minute break. Then work through another Pomodoro (25-minute interval) and take another short break. Do this four times. That's four 25-minute intervals of work with five minute breaks in between.
Keep checking off the tasks you've focused on. When you get to the end of four Pomodoros, you will have worked with complete focus for more than an hour and half and taken only 25 minutes of break time. A pretty good ratio! When you've completed four Pomodoros, you can reward yourself with a longer break of up to 25 minutes. Then keep going with four more Pomodoros.
This method is fairly easy to adopt and use. The Pomodoro Technique website has an FAQ, free downloadable e-book explaining the method and a cheat sheet PDF that you can scan for basic information. The method works because users can visualize their progress using the list of checked-off tasks and take enough quick breaks to remained focused while working.
For graphic designers, this is a great way to find focus and not feel that you sat for hours on end, alternately web surfing and working, when the task at hand could have taken only half that time.
So visit the Pomodoro Technique website and give it a whirl! Ooh, there goes my timer! Time for a well-deserved break.