Of all the world’s productivity hacks, apps, and tools, there is one that supersedes all others for me. It is simple to the point of genius, and it’s free: http://e.ggtimer.com/pomodoro.
All this website does is set a 25-minute timer that says “Work” at the top, counts down from 25:00 in a simple sans serif black font on a white background, and then beeps when it’s finished. You can also see the countdown in the top of a tab, should you have multiple webpages open and want to check your progress. It’s the best.
The “pomodoro” in the url refers to what’s known as the “Pomodoro Method,” which I suppose is named for tomato-shaped kitchen timers (and because Pomodoro sauce is made of tomatoes, this sort of makes sense?) No matter. I do know that the method basically entails setting 25-minute timers for single tasks—or achievable portions of larger tasks—and focusing only on those tasks until the timer goes off. There is an entire new book devoted to this method, but I promise this is all you need to know to get started.
Just decide what the thing is that you have to do—in my case, right now, it’s writing the thing you’re currently reading—and set the timer. As long as that timer is counting down, don’t do anything else. Don’t answer a text; don’t research something online (just leave a note to check it later, like I did regarding the origins of the Pomodoro Method’s name); don’t get up to pee, make a cup of tea, or check the mailbox. Just do the single thing you set out to do, and don’t stop doing it until the timer goes off. It’s the grown-up’s equivalent of an older sibling telling you to do something, and then adding, by way of encouragement: “I’ll time you!”
The genius of the 25-minute increment—also known to devotees as a Pomodoro—is that it’s long enough to really accomplish something, or at least to make a dent (in 12 minutes so far I’ve written 350 words). But it’s short enough that you can tell yourself, like a masochistic workout instructor: “You can do anything for 25 minutes.”
I have found the Pomodoro Method invaluable since I discovered it several years ago. Back then, I used the timer on my phone, which had the negative effect of making me pick up my phone as soon as the 25 minutes were up—a virtual Pandora’s box of distraction. The genius of http://e.ggtimer.com/pomodoro is that it’s right there on my laptop, where the work is happening. Often, it will beep when 25 minutes are up, and I’ll just keep working.
As a person who can become paralyzed by choice—and who is faced with a lot of it all day, every day—I find freedom within the little virtual prison of http://e.ggtimer.com/pomodoro. Once the page is open, I can just dive into the single job I’ve elected to do for those 25 minutes, and devote myself wholly to it—kind of like leaving your phone outside of yoga class. Whatever happens on your phone while you’re in class will still be there when you get out.
And yes, I know everyone thinks they’re great at multitasking, but it’s the absolute worst. It’s impossible to feel like you’re making significant progress on anything, it’s mentally depleting, and according to science and to my colleague Corinne Purtill, it’s not even technically possible.
What is possible is opening a little webpage that encourages you to devote 25 minutes to a single job, and seeing how far you can get before the timer goes off.
In one pomodoro, I wrote the article you just read—and I still have 2:20 left to edit it.