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Finish Your To-Do List without Going Insane

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The Chess Game by Sofonisba AnguissolaAre there days when you have so much to do that you can’t focus long enough to get anything done?

The Pomodoro Technique has changed the way I work on my to-do list. Pomodoro is a time management system that breaks time into chunks with pre-scheduled breaks. First we’ll show you how the technique works and then explain why it is a great idea for busy women.

Get Started with Your First Pomodoro

    Pomodoro via Wikimedia

    A Pomodoro

  1. Decide one single task. Choose what you will focus your time on. “I will empty my in-box” or “I will write that memo.” For parents at home, maybe “I will clean the living room” or “I will read that difficult novel.”
  2. Set your timer. The Pomodoro Technique is named for an adorable, tomato-shaped kitchen timer. (“Pomodoro” is Italian for “tomato.”) Use your timer! The key to the Pomodoro Technique is committing to work on a single task for a set period of time. That time—the “pomordoro”—is traditionally 25 minutes.
  3. Work on that task until the timer dings. It takes self-discipline and practice, but focus on the single task at hand for your entire pomodoro. No checking your e-mail!
  4. Set your timer for a short, 3-5 minute break. The break is a great time to get up and move around. Get a glass of water. Rest your eyes by looking at something far away. Stretch your back and shoulders.
  5. Start another pomodoro.
  6. After four pomodori (the plural of pomodoro), take a longer, 15-20 minute break. Do something fun and relaxing, but try to change your posture and give your eyes a rest.


So Why Bother?

The Pomodoro Technique is easy, but it does take some getting used to. So why bother?

  • Build your focus. If I wake up tomorrow morning and vow to be a focused person, I’m sure to fail at my goal by breakfast time. But if I practice focusing for a little longer every day, I can dramatically increase my attention span. The Pomodoro Technique helps build good habits of mental discipline.
  • Bite Off Small Chunks. Organization guru Marla Cilley (“The Fly Lady”) suggests going to the messiest room in the house and setting an egg-timer for five minutes. After all, anyone can motivate herself to clean for just five minutes, right? The Pomodoro Technique helps break difficult tasks into small, manageable pieces.
  • Mind your time. The Pomodoro Technique is great for mental health because it encourages mindfulness. Mindfulness encourages us to live in the moment instead of dwelling on the past or dreading the future. Mindfulness helps protect against depression and anxiety.

Francesco Cirillo developed the Pomodoro Technique in the late 1980s. You can read more about the Pomodoro Technique on the official Pomodoro website or in Cirillo’s book.

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