Flexibility with the Pomodoro Technique

When I was a solo founder, I found I needed a way to structure those vast stretches of unstructured time to ensure I balanced getting done everything I needed to with switching between various tasks, and avoiding burning myself out.  I found it worked best to manage my work hours during the day using a variation of the Pomodoro Technique.

For those unfamiliar with it, this technique has you break down your working time into 25 minute sprints where you focus exclusively on work (i.e., no bathroom breaks, no getting coffee, no checking Facebook, etc.) with 5 minute breaks in between.  During the breaks, you can do whatever you like, and every fourth break (i.e., every two hours), you take a 20 minute break.

I find this immensely useful, but I’ve needed to make some changes for it to work best for me.  First, I use 30 minute work periods and 7 minute breaks.  I like the 30 minute time because it makes it easy to figure out how much time I’ve worked in a given day.  I find a good pace for me is between 4-6 hours (or 8 to 12 pomodori) each day.  Second, I use 7 minute breaks because that’s how long it takes me to brew a pot of coffee.

However, there are plenty of times where my day just doesn’t break down this way.  It could be that I have meetings to attend, or I’m working on something very intense and I feel I need a longer break, or whatever.  In that case, I still hold myself to the discipline of being focused during each pomodoro, but I allow myself longer breaks in between.  I also keep track of how many pomodori I’ve completed during the day, and hold myself to getting to at least my minimum number, but no more than my maximum (to avoid pushing myself too hard).

I’ve found this pattern works extremely well for me.  30 minutes on, 7 minutes off.  Take longer breaks as needed.  Set a minimum and maximum number of work periods for a day, and stick to it.

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