How I changed my business by using the Pomodoro Technique

how i changed my business using the pomodoro technique

I’ve never been someone who enjoys working long hours.

“Well DUH, Charlotte!”, you might be thinking. “Who does?”

Hear me out for a second, though. Off the top of your head can you name three people who are always working, clocking long hours at the office and never take a day off? I sure can!

There are plenty of people who bemoan/boast about their 80+ hour work weeks and all I can think is NOPE.

I fully admit that I am not someone who inherently enjoys working. Truth be told, I’d rather spend my time doing just about anything other than working.

Is it because I’m lazy? Perhaps, but I’d like to think that it’s because I want to get the most out of life and that means spending as little time in front of my laptop as possible.

The only problem is that those bills won’t pay themselves, yo!

I haven’t figured out a way to live without working and I don't have a million dollar savings account (yet). So, until I do, I try to spend my time working on projects I enjoy with clients I like. As a self-employed web designer/developer, I am #blessed that this is my reality.


Thoughts on Time Management

During the dark, rainy days of this past Vancouver winter, I listened to a lot of podcasts. One subject that kept coming up was time management and it’s something I got super into. How can you get everything done in a day that you want/need? How do you prioritize your tasks? Is work-life balance a joke? These are just some of the questions I spent way too much time thinking about.

As someone who used to feel “busy” all the time, this discussion resonated with me. When people asked me how I was doing and all I could say was “I’m good but I’ve been really busy lately”, I knew I had a problem. I’m okay with seasons of busyness in my life but if that becomes the new-normal, it doesn’t sit right with me.

I started thinking a lot about how I could work better, smarter and more effectively. Ultimately, I want to spend more time doing what I want and less time working on (and in) my business, so it wasn’t hard to find the motivation to experiment with a few tricks.

Here’s where the Pomodoro Technique comes into play.

I had heard of the Pomodoro Technique before but was slow to try it out. It feels silly to admit this but I had this hangup that it was one of those weirdo methods that people in Silicon Valley used and therefore wouldn’t work for me. So many super successful people were talking on podcasts about how they had used the Pomodoro Technique to transform their work and I seriously wondered, would this method work for me too?

I’m a typical twenty-something solopreneur, not a CEO running a multi-million dollar company. My schedule isn’t packed with meetings and I don’t have to travel for work. Since my calendar is flexible and I don’t have the same time constraints as many people who have found success with the Pomodoro Technique, I initially thought that it might not live up to the hype.

Wow, was I ever wrong.

As it turns out, productivity is for everyone and I honestly don’t know why more people don’t work with the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a painfully simple method that anyone can use, no matter their role or industry. If you’re willing to push yourself and exercise a little self-discipline, you will be amazed by the results - I promise!

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system. It’s a technique with a lot of psychology behind it (you can read more about that here) but the idea is very simple.

Basically you outline a task you want to get done and set a 25 minute timer. During this time you will work uninterrupted on that task until the timer goes off. At this point, you take a 5 minute break before moving on to the next Pomodoro. Once the task is done, you check it off and move on.

4 Principles of Pomodoro Technique

There are 4 principles of the Pomodoro Technique:

  1. Work with time not against it. Instead of freaking out over deadlines and seeing time as the energy, the Pomodoro Technique teaches you to work with time for better results
  2. Eliminate burnout. The Pomodoro Technique forces you to work hard but also to take short, scheduled breaks that are built into the process. This helps avoid the feeling of burnout or overwork,or that you’re relying on one too many Red Bulls to get through the day.
  3. Manage distractions. Raise your hand if you constantly check the notifications on your phone or flip between browser tabs! I have been guilty of this in the past but thanks to the Pomodoro Technique, I now focus on the most important tasks first and set aside time for the distractions later. Most of the time I find that I can’t even remember what they are.
  4. Create better work/life balance. This has been the biggest thing for me and one of the main reasons why I’ve gotten so much out of the Pomodoro Technique. You know that guilt that comes from procrastination, the feeling that you can’t enjoy your time off work because you haven’t checked everything off your to-do list? Yep, I sure do. The Pomodoro Technique is great because it lets you create an effective timetable and outline high-priority tasks so that you can truly enjoy your time off.

I love the process of outlining my tasks and working on them for 25 minute sprints. And knowing that I get to take a break at the end of each Pomodoro is the icing on top of the cake!

What you need to start

Here’s what you need to start the Pomodoro Technique:

  • A quiet space or headphones/earplugs to drown out background noise
  • A timer (I use my cell phone on airplane mode)
  • Pen and paper to list out Pomodoro tasks

That’s it! There are essentially zero startup costs or barriers. The Pomodor Technique does not require fancy planners and there are no programs or apps to purchase. I love a good freebie that works.

A Look at my First Round of Pomodoros

If I had to sum up my first experience using the Pomodoro Technique, the word that comes to mind is “awkward”.

I had no trouble writing out my list of tasks (who doesn’t have a running To-Do list) and sitting down to work for 25 minutes. I was off to a great start but I had trouble after my 5 minute break when I had to jump right back into another round of Pomodoro.

As someone who stays very hydrated and likes to get up and stretch every few minutes, I had trouble with the “25 minutes on, 5 minutes off, repeat” technique.

Also, I didn’t know how many Pomodoros to aim for. If a traditional work day is about 8 hours (7 hours of work + 1 hour for breaks), I figured I could do about 14 Pomodoros in a day.

NOPE! I was way off the mark on this one.

Doing 14 Pomodoros left me exhausted, frustrated and easily distracted towards the end of the day.

I learned two very important things after my first few days using the Pomodoro Technique.

  1. Take a 10 minute break between Pomodoros
  2. Cut back on the number of Pomodoros each day

This meant that I was working less but I ended up being more productive. How does that work, you might ask? Let’s look into this further.

Balancing Pomodoros with “Other” work

The big mistake I made when I started the Pomodoro Technique was thinking that my entire day would consist of Pomodoro sprints.

This just does not work for my business model and it probably won’t for yours either. I have client meetings to attend, emails to send out, work projects to complete, content to create, websites to update and maintain, social media to schedule… THERE’S A LOT GOING ON!

Once I realized that Pomodoro sprints could be part of my day but not the whole thing, I was able to work much better and with less stress. Some tasks, like client meetings, cannot fit within the Pomodoro framework and that’s okay. On the flip side, other tasks are a great fit for the Pomodoro Technique so I include those in my project time.

When it comes to the Pomodoro Technique, I learned to do what you can, how you can.

Pomodoro and Energy Flows

A funny thing I noticed once I embraced the Pomodoro Technique was how my energy levels affected my Pomodoro sprints. Of course this shouldn’t be news to anyone that some days we are more alert and with it than others, but I found that the Pomodoro Technique really highlighted this for me.

Some days my energy is abundant and flows out of me with ease. I am filled with creative ideas, my motivation and momentum are high, and I hit the ground running in the morning. The Pomodoro Technique has helped me to harness that energy and crank out more than I normally would. It allows me to stay focused and ride that wave of energy for longer than I would if I was getting easily distracted.

This is great because some days I feel the total opposite. My mood could be described as “blah” and it’s a struggle to complete even 5 Pomodoros through the entire day. And that’s okay! So long as I make up for these lulls on other days, I’ll still break even.

Another way I’ve noticed the connection between my energy flows and the Pomodoro Technique is through task completion. It was a real eye-opener to see just how much time and effort a task actually requires to complete.

This was major for me because in the past, I would have a task sitting on my To-Do list for days and I couldn’t seem to just get started on the dang thing. I had it in my head that it would take ages to complete and it would make me want to rip my hair out in the process.

Once I started the Pomodoro Technique, I knew that I had 25 minutes to make a dent in whatever the task was and when that time was up, I could reward myself with a break. I was thrilled (and floored) to see that often these tasks were only daunting in my head and that in reality, they took way less effort than I had imagined.

Not only am I more efficient thanks to the Pomodoro Technique, I’m also less afraid of the tasks I need to get done.

I’m not sure I can ever articulate what an important shift this has been for my business, but I hope you experience the same thing when you give it a try.

Final Thoughts

Without a doubt, the Pomodoro Technique has changed the way I work and has had a wonderful impact on my business.

There is a learning curve but if you stick to it and find a rhythm that works for you, I have no doubt that you will see similar results. Success on the Pomodoro Technique comes from having the self-discipline to sit down and get started, and I’m sure that if you’ve made it this far in the article that you can handle it.

Now it’s your turn to tell me if you’ve ever tried the Pomodoro Technique? Did it work for you? How do you approach your sprints and what are your daily goals? If you’re new to the Pomodoro Technique, have I convinced you to give it a try? I’d love to know so leave me a note in the comments!


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Charlotte O'Hara

Vancouver