What the 25 Minute Timer Method Can Tell Us About How We Actually Gain Productivity
The 25 minute timer method, also known as the Pomodoro technique, is a technique to try and improve productivity by working in 25 minutes sprints (on one task), followed by a 5 minute break. But does this actually improve productivity?
All kinds of people see a benefit to getting more useful work done in less time: employers want to keep their total personnel costs to the minimum necessary for their company’s success, and employees don’t want to be so unfocused that their demanding jobs take 12 or 14 hours a day to accomplish. So finding the techniques that help your modern mind settle down, focus, and get lots of work done is a wise pursuit.
The 25 minute timer method, also known as the Pomodoro technique, comes from a simple story. The originator of the idea had a tomato-shaped timer that he would twist around to 25 minutes, and the word in Italian for tomato is “Pomodoro.” He’d set the timer with a single task in mind and focus on it intensely for the 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, he’d take a 5 minute break to regroup, relax, be distracted, and make a quick plan for only the next 25 minutes of activity.
You’d think that this one-foot-in-front-of-the-other approach to productivity would take your mind off the big picture, and you’d be right. It turns out, we only need to think about the big picture — what must I accomplish today? This week? This month? — a little bit, and the rest of the time it just intimidates us or takes our focus off the micro-actions that need to happen right now. The 25 minute number can be modified for those who need fewer breaks, but many people who attempt this layering of short breaks with short bursts of work say that they spend less time distracted and get more of their difficult tasks accomplished.
While most of your employees are probably already meeting expectations, suggesting this technique for employees who struggle to leave the office on time each day might be a kindness. The focused method helps us avoid time-wasting activities like “waiting for someone to return my call or email” or “general research on a step in the process that will happen later this week.” By asking, “what is the best use of the 25 minutes in front of me?” you really get to the heart of the next task.
What Does the Effectiveness of This Method Tell Us About Workweeks?
We know that not every productivity hack works for every person, but we do see how the gains some people see from things like the 25 Minute Timer method are truly remarkable. Rather than dreading work and putting it off, tasks get tackled and finished very quickly. People can budget around their meetings and make sure that even a time unit as small as a half hour can involve focused, thoughtful work. Here are just a few of the ways that this knowledge informs our decision-making when it comes to creating a productive workforce.
Productivity isn’t equal across hours of our weeks.
There’s not clear-cut way to measure all of the productivity of most white-collar jobs, since the work is diverse and often involves a combination of planned objectives, surprise requests from coworkers and bosses, and unexpected challenges. A meeting, for example, might waste 5 different team members’ time, or it might yield a new approach that saves all 5 people at least 10 or 15 hours; you just can’t be sure. While there are clear-cut sources of distraction and time wastes that can be discussed and hopefully ended, such as excessive office gossip on an instant messaging site or hours clicking through internet news, there are also activities that are key but unclear in their total productivity. The 25 Minute Timer method’s success is a good testament to the idea that most of us are “distracted,” even by worthy aims, a lot at work. There wouldn’t be so much productivity to gain otherwise!
Highly organized work takes less time.
Even someone who is working very hard can take a long time to achieve something if they don’t add order to the chaos of the to-do list. We work better when we put tasks in a systematic order where they build on each other rather than returning to old tasks for changes and having to redo things that you hadn’t thought through fully.
Many highly-effective workers will take a whole 25-minute cycle at the beginning of the day (or the end of the prior day) to create a list of what tasks they want to accomplish the next day in each unit of time, accounting for their moments in the office but also putting everything in an order where it will make sense to drill down on a single topic for 25 minutes. As a result, they gain a ton of time back. One source of gained time is context-switching; when people multi-task three efforts at once, they spend a lot of time transitioning back and forth between the efforts rather than just focusing in on the one task.
Short breaks are better than constant low-grade productivity.
While most workplaces at least grudgingly allow for breaks, many don’t recognize how important it is to have some small moment to reorient one’s mind and ‘zone out’ for a minute or two. The 25 Minute Timer method shows that 5 minutes of distraction is far preferable than an entire hour of wasted effort because you worked on something that turned out to be non-mission-critical.
An organized 30 hour workweek might yield greater productivity than disorganized 40 hour workweeks.
When you are considering offering your team workplace flexibility, one of the worries is that there will somehow be a 25% decrease in productivity if there’s a 25% decrease in time spent on the job. This productivity work can be a source of comfort for you, because there are many benefits to offering 4 day workweeks or 30 hour jobs, and it is possible to make this transition without losing productivity. If anything, you often gain productivity in a per-hour sense. Consider working with your employees who want workplace flexibility to maximize the value of their shorter work hours, and your team will see that maximizing productivity for a shorter amount of time is a satisfying and worthwhile endeavour.
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