The Pomodoro ® Primer for Magic Makers is a guide for solitary biz witches that need a better spell for productivity and focused work.
What is the Pomodoro ® Technique?
The Pomodoro ® Technique was discovered and developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s while he was a university student looking for a way to get more studying and homework done in less time.
He challenged himself to accomplish his tasks within the timeframe of a timer (a pomodoro, or tomato, shaped kitchen timer), it worked, and he subsequently spent the next several years developing what we now know as The Pomodoro ® Technique – a method of working very focused on a task for 25 minutes and then resting for 5 minutes.
After four Pomodoro’s you rest for a longer period, such as 15 to 30 minutes, before beginning the cycle again. Repeat until you are done with your work day.
Fairly basic, pretty straightforward, and deceptively simple.
How we get it wrong
While the Pomodoro ® Technique is an amazing way to focus your labor for a more productive output, what the actual Pomodoro ® Technique stresses is detachment from work.
To be able to stop working. In order to work better.
It’s not about cramming your focus for everything into 25 minutes of work, continuously.
It’s not about constantly & only striving for increased output of your input (time, labor, focus, attention, etc.)
It is about giving the work a dedicated time and observation of the work being done, which leads to optimization of work within the time and eventual detachment from the work itself.
Which, in turn, increases the quality of the output of your work.
But under Capitalism, no one wants to discuss stopping as a strength or asset in our work. When it’s one of the most underused techniques, across the board, to improve our lives.
The risk to the system is having the workforce wondering: how much more often could we stop? For how long could we stop?
And… what else could we stop?
“By applying the Pomodoro ® Technique, many people have begun to understand the value and effectiveness of detachment. A break every 25 minutes lets you see things from a different perspective and enables you to come up with different solutions; you often find mistakes to correct, and your creative process is stimulated. Detachment enhances the value of continuity. … Stopping becomes synonymous with strength, not weakness.”– The Pomodoro ® Technique Book
How we can get it right
Continued use of the Pomodoro ® Technique shows us that stopping is an act of strength. That rest is productive. This isn’t something you’ll read in a Forbes or WeWork productivity article. Stopping? Rest? In today’s economy? Impossible!
- Work smarter, not harder!
- Want to play hard? Work hard first!
- Work 50 years then enjoy retirement!
Let’s throw out the productivity hack article advice and go to the source.
Francesco has a fantastic, short, little book on his method and his process behind it that is well worth the read called “The Pomodoro ® Technique”
I was elated to discover that the Pomodoro ® Technique is more aligned with the desire for attention and intention than the pure output of labor. Which, I realized, aligns with my craft.
Is Francesco a witch? That I cannot say. But his method and system are pure magic.
Using the Pomodoro ® Technique
Francesco’s technique has several unbreakable rules, for which I leave you to read his book for all of them. A few will be covered here as they are, in my view, the most critical and numbered accordingly. And I’ll expand upon each with my own experience, and the teachings I use inside The Fiery Well.
(At the time of this writing I am not certified in the Pomodoro ® Technique, I am merely an avid fan and user of the method. I will be working toward certification in the coming years.)
Rule #1: The Pomodoro is Indivisible
The Pomodoro is a unit of time itself. It is unbreakable.
There is no such thing as a “half” Pomodoro.
How long is a Pomodoro then? Generally, it’s 25 minutes of active work and 5 minutes of active rest. But, as you use the method you may learn that a Pomodoro for you is 30 minutes of work and 10 minutes of rest.
The flexibility of the Pomodoro is in being able to define its parameters. You decide what equates to a Pomodoro and use that measure of time as the tracking method going forward.
The goal is to be able to align Pomodoros with your tasks: Task X takes Y Pomodoros. This moves us away from “Task X takes 35 minutes.”
But understand it cannot be divided.
You don’t accomplish your tasks in 1.5 Pomodoros. You accomplish them in 2. This is important as you begin to observe and estimate your time as you use the method. And frees you from the brain load of calculating, down to the minute, your time spent on tasks.
Rule #2: Protect the Pomodoro
The Pomodoro ® Technique is a great introduction to working boundaries. Remember, boundaries are a spell.
Your time must be honored.
Your Pomodoro must be protected against interruption.
There is no way to remove all interruptions from our lives. However, the best way to guard against interruptions is to prepare yourself and those around you. To communicate your availability, your needs, and what constitutes a good enough reason to interrupt you. This takes prior planning, clear communication, and a willingness to hold the boundaries with those around you.
In other words, this takes effort.
This also takes knowing yourself:
- what tasks can you do, but ought to be delegated to someone else to complete
(understanding your zone of genius)
- which tasks can be deferred for two hours or more
(understanding priority of tasks)
- which tasks simply are not for you to complete
(understanding what is your work)
Create a list of what tasks you will and will not do during any given Pomodoro, what tasks you know those around you handle best, and what tasks are simply not for you. Having this list ahead of time can allow you to begin to see what you need to be focusing on during your Pomodoros.
Rule #3: Results are achieved Pomodoro after Pomodoro
In the productivity space, there is this toxic urge to focus more and produce more in less time. To be fair, that’s how the Pomodoro® Technique began, but that’s not where it continued to grow.
Francesco repeatedly brings up the need to observe yourself and understand what is working and what is not. Not just keep working.
With each Pomodoro you observe your work, your methods, and your output, allowing yourself to slowly optimize your way of working best. Within Pomodoro itself.
Having the time box of a Pomodoro (or focus for a set time period) allows you to focus on that Pomodoro, and reflect on that Pomodoro’s tasks before moving on to the next session.
Francesco stresses using the first and last few minutes of the Pomodoro to reflect and review what you’ve done. Not judge. Reflect. Rather than rush into the next Pomodoro’s tasks.
Each Pomodoro is an opportunity to learn more about yourself, your work habits, and your work environment and track over time:
- How do you approach your time?
- How do you deal with interruptions?
- How do you focus on a single task?
- What is your evolution in each of these areas?
Because a Pomodoro is indivisible, you may wonder “What should I do if there are five, ten, or even fifteen minutes left?” Don’t move on to the next Pomodoro! If there is excess time: over-learn. Go over what you did, review it, refine it, research further on it, etc. Take notes on the task, your mood, time of day, etc. Commit to that Pomodoro and let it finish before moving on to the next.
Tracking your work and your Pomodoro’s will depend on what kind of data you want. If you’re just starting with tracking things I suggest keeping a log of everything you finish during a Pomodoro session and how many Pomodoros it took to complete each.
June 1, 2022, 10AM
- Wrote email – 1 Pomodoro
- Designed, edited, and scheduled social media Post – 3 Pomodoro
Again, it’s not about cramming as much productivity as possible into a Pomodoro. It’s about understanding how you work best and using Pomodoro to support that. Use the attached sheets to track and keep a log of the work you are doing and watch the evolution of your tasks, focus, and Pomodoros over time.
What do you see?
How do you feel?
Rule #4: The next Pomodoro will go better
Pomodoro’s are not timed tests asking “what can you achieve in 25 minutes?”
They are a time box: you have 25 minutes. See what gets accomplished. And optimize.
Each Pomodoro is a chance to improve upon something: your focus, your task, your timing, your observations, and more.
Cut yourself some slack. We are long past the industrial revolution and you are not a machine on a production line cranking out widgets. You are a human being with emotions, responsibilities, desires, and physical, mental, and emotional limitations.
If you thought you could get something done in one Pomodoro and it took four, it’s not that you tanked the “productivity test.” It’s perhaps a sign that you were interrupted a lot, or you could work to improve your time estimation skills, or you had an off day.
The goal is to figure out: how could you have completed the task in one, rather than four. Not beat yourself up because you couldn’t.
Bring the magic.
Now that we understand the Pomodoro ® Technique is more about the observation of work than productivity output itself, can you see the parallels between this method and … your craft?
- The gathering of resources to support a goal.
- The intention of the moment.
- The observation of the work.
- The tracking of the work and results.
- The reflecting and reviewing.
It’s a spell.
I don’t know about you, but when I craft a spell I gather specific ingredients, have a specific goal, observe myself during casting, and track the results. Is it repeatable? It goes in the Grimoire. Did it go as planned? Regardless, I make corrections each time I give it a go. I reflect often on its progress and review any changes.
Once I began treating my usage of the Pomodoro ® Technique more like a magical process, it became a magical process. I have a Pomodoro Grimoire now, even. And I can see the evolution of my work, my habits, my interruptions, and more.
The more I do the Pomodoro ® Technique, the more I layer in other pieces of my solitary practice.
Rituals & The Pomodoro® Technique
When I say ritual you may be picturing large, elaborate, ceremonial level events. Robes. Candles. Religious archetypes and rules.
But ritual, I see, as small repeatable actions.
Rituals are opportunities to commit to yourself mind, body, and soul in tiny ways every day, throughout the day. Often, we build upon them and create systems and routines.
When I say ritual I mean:
- stirring my coffee clockwise with an intention every morning.
- pulling out the Pomodoro sprint sheet, brainstorming, writing down the tasks as I do them, and putting the sheet in the binder when done.
- dusting off my workspace before beginning any workings.
Since the Coronovirus pandemic, many folks had the blessing and curse of working from home during lockdowns and quarantines. It was a struggle for many to separate work life from home life in a space that wasn’t always conducive to the blend. Not everyone has a dedicated office space, or even room at the kitchen table, for their work.
So how did so many people find a way to make it work? Grit? Determination? Yes.
Our brains need the signal “it’s time to work.” and we can achieve that through small, repeatable, buildable rituals. This can be something as simple as lighting a candle or taking a deep breath before you begin work, or it can be as detailed as a full-blown spell for focus.
It can also be the way we interact with the space around us: working at a specific table at our favorite coffee shop, using your favorite coffee mug at the kitchen table, clearing your workspace, and setting out your favorite pen for note-taking or filling out the Sprint sheets.
Clearing a specific spot off of the kitchen table, opening the curtains, playing specific music, having that boundary talk with the kids before opening the laptop, and lighting a candle can be enough to help move our focus, and alert our brain, “It’s time to do the thing!”
Inside The Fiery Well we have a communal ritual: we spend a few minutes discussing our plans for our Pomodoro’s before we begin working, we mute ourselves, give a thumbs up, and the clock starts counting down. What makes it ritual is the pattern. We do this every week. And every week that you show up, it becomes part of your ritual.
A ritual is yours and can always be discovered.
Rituals can be communal and they can be personal.
Slowly build a supportive one for yourself.
Almost more important than a pre-work ritual is a post-work ritual. How do you pull your mind, body, and soul away from the work once you are done?
Inside The Fiery Well, our coworking sessions are often before lunchtime and so the act of following up and reviewing our tasks then breaking for lunch is a nourishing way to break away from work.
In addition, blowing out the candle, taking another deep breath, doing a tarot pull, journaling, and doing additional brain dumping can all aid in transitioning you from “work” mode to “free from work” mode.
Remember, the Pomodoro® Technique is about detachment from work. How can you begin to separate yourself from your work, your workspace, your work brain, on command?
Through, what else, but ritual.
Purchase the Pomodoro® Primer Package which includes this article as a PDF as well as:
- A.W.A.Y. Worksheets
Brainstorm and decide how you will implement our A.W.A.Y. system, which is detailed in the eBook
- Pre & Post Work Ritual Worksheet
Brainstorm, plan, and prioritize your pre & post work rituals
- Pomodoro® Technique Sprint Sheet Printables
Keep your own Productivity Grimoire with these Sprint printables and watch how your focus and work evolve over time
- Pomodoro® Dashboard Notion Template
Prefer a digital grimoire? You’ll love the Notion version of our Sprint sheets.
Spells for the Pomodoro® Technique
A spell for handling interruptions
Not all interruptions are created equal!
There are internal interruptions: that sudden good idea, that sudden urge to check Twitter, that thing you remembered from last week that you forgot about, the need to go to the bathroom, a sudden desire to make a coffee or grab a snack, etc.
And there are external interruptions: a phone call, a text or Tweet notification, a child begging for yet another glass of juice, a pet whining to go outside, a co-worker wanting to chat at the water-cooler (aka your desk), your boss coming over to check if you got the email he sent five minutes ago and to discuss, etc.
The Pomodoro® Technique gives you a system for interruptions. An effective system begins with observation.
As you begin your journey with the Pomodoro® Technique, begin noting down the interruptions as they arise. This helps you to not let your brain linger on them by “putting them someplace” rather than holding onto them.
This aids in keeping the focus on your Pomodoro® and tasks while also tracking what interruptions come up, when, and how often. And how you respond to them. This allows a system to emerge naturally if you do not have one already.
Effectively handling interruptions requires having an actionable process for them before they arise. This takes time; for a long while this will be a back-and-forth cycle of tracking interruptions, resolving the interruptions, and developing repeatable methods to combat them. Having that growing list of responses and how to handle each will ultimately reduce the decision fatigue of “what do I say here? how do I respond to something like this?”
Systematize and automate yourself.
Remember, systems are a spell.
For work interruptions, I like to let those around me know I will be A.W.A.Y. which is a handy acronym for the following steps I take before working:
Aware – Make those around you aware that you will be unavailable.
When – Let those around you know the date and time you are unavailable so anything that comes up will need to be scheduled later. Provide a link to your time scheduler and allow them to schedule an appointment with you for a later, focused, time.
Assign – If what you’re interrupted with is beyond your scope of work, it is assigned, or delegated to someone else. (Keep that running list of tasks that pop up and who can handle them best.)
Yes – These are the interruptions you will allow and say “yes” to, and abandon the Pomodoro. Emergencies, celebrations, etc.
Clear boundaries and expressed expectations benefit everyone – not just you!
A spell for choosing tasks
The tasks you do during your Pomodoro sessions do matter. A lot.
Your tasks should be selected and chosen with intent.
- What tasks will chip away at your goals?
- What tasks are causing anxiety that you could face head-on?
- What tasks will make you feel good once they’re completed?
- What tasks can you complete in a Pomodoro or two?
That last one takes time. And observation.
If you’ve been doing and tracking your Pomodoros for a period of time you have observed, and learned, what tasks and what type of tasks you can complete in a Pomodoro.
If you are new to Pomodoro, this is your chance to learn what you can accomplish in your Pomodoros. Writing down what tasks you want to do and marking how many sessions it required to complete the task, how many times you were interrupted and for what, and what else came up helps you to see how you can better tune those boundaries around your time and focus on the task(s) at hand. It also helps tune and “perfect” your time estimating going forward.
The Pomodoro is here to support your work methods, not force you into a specific way of working. The Pomodoro is a container, but like any good box, you have to choose the right size for the job.
A brain dump, while highly recommended, is not a task list. Don’t try to Pomodoro your way through an entire list of brain-dumped randomness. This will only lead to a sensation of defeat, overwhelm, and anxiety.
Do, however, use the first Pomodoro of your session purely for brain dumping, envisioning, and getting a top-down view of what needs to be done. I find this highly effective, especially for our CEO Days inside The Fiery Well.
Members often feel anxious coming into their first guided coworking session, where we use the Pomodoro® Technique, because it is a timed session. What do I work on? What is the best thing to spend this time on?
All things you only learn as you show up and attend the coworking session. But I like to suggest everyone remove the anxiety of sitting down to a Pomodoro session by permitting themselves to spend the first Pomodoro actively brainstorming, brain dumping, and otherwise preparing themselves for the work.
If this means staring off into space for 25 minutes, then so be it.
Then, at the end of that Pomodoro session, spend a few minutes selecting what feels best for that day’s time.
Everyone works differently on different things. Embrace the uniqueness of you and your working method, always.
Brain dump everything and choose your tasks with intent.
A spell to prepare for rest
What are you doing during your breaks?
Members have worked on knitting projects, stretched, done a bit of breath work, refilled water and snacks, watered the plant babies, scrolled social media, journaled, made art, chatted in the community, and otherwise pulled their brain away from their tasks.
This is critical to completing the work.
I repeat: rest is critical to completing your tasks.
Don’t work through the breaks.
Don’t do other work during the breaks.
If you aren’t naturally inclined to take breaks (cough, internalized corporate world, and Capitalism), come into your Pomodoro session with a plan of how you will take breaks. Ask me why I reiterate this so much? Not breaking and not resting invites the brain to wander and to look for rest during task time.
Your brain will seek rest. Give it some!
What can you do in five minutes?
- Stretch, breathe, meditate
- Stare into space
- Stare out your window
- Have a quick dance party
- Play with a pet
- Water your plants
- Water yourself
- Go to the bathroom
- Knit a row on a project
- Build Legos
- Doodle, draw, sketch
- Light a new incense or candle
- absolutely nothing is an acceptable break “task”
Take the fucking breaks.
You have your list of tasks, you have your list of go-to break ideas, now actually take the breaks.
Put down the work when the timer goes off and take a break. Rest. Disconnect.
It’s five minutes.
I know the urge to keep going, especially when you’ve hit a flow state, but I encourage you to try to stop. If you find that you consistently hit a flow state within 25 minutes, that’s a sign that your Pomodoro should perhaps be 30, 35, or even 40 minutes.
This is where observation of your work is critical to the success of your Pomodoro sessions.
A spell for observation
Observing yourself, your work, your habits, your interruptions, your mood, and feelings while doing a Pomodoro not only helps you track how best to utilize the method, but also lets you tap into a flow and zone of work by crafting a thorough and thoughtful intention practice while you work.
Your use of the Pomodoro® Technique is a long-term practice, like any other mindfulness practice: meditation, movement, or magic. Allow it to become what it needs to become to support you best.
As a human, you have many cycles: circadian rhythms, diurnal rhythms, ultradian rhythms, infradian rhythms (such as menstruation), and chronotypes. Are you accounting for them during your working periods? Or are you striving to work a full, set, Monday thru Friday 9 – 5?
(You may still have a 9-5 as a solitary business owner & entrepreneur. This isn’t to knock that work, but to point out that you are a human in the post-industrial age and you cannot be “productive” for 8 hours per day, every day, for weeks on end. Work within the system you are given, whenever possible, to optimize your day for you. Whenever and however you can.)
Into astrology? Note the dates and times at which you work. This gives you a record you can return to and note: what were the transits? What got done? Is there a correlation? Do you feel energized or drained when the Moon is in Capricorn? When Mercury or Saturn is Retrograde are you more distracted, or find yourself more prone to errors?
Do you menstruate? Are there types of work that are better suited for you during a luteal phase than follicular?
Note these details wherever you log your Pomodoro sessions. You may be surprised by what cycles and rhythms reveal themselves.
With this information in your arsenal, you can use your rhythms to your advantage.
How we use it inside The Fiery Well
As noted a few times here, we utilize The Pomodoro® Technique Sprints in our guided coworking sessions every week. We come together, discuss our goals then mute ourselves and spend 4 Pomodoros making progress on them.
In the end, we unmute, check in on our progress and celebrate.
It’s become a weekly ritual that members look forward to because they know they will get shit done.
It’s a combination of focus, community, and accountability.
Why coworking is the “secret sauce”
As solitary entrepreneurs, we are often alone and lonely when doing the work. But being a solitary business owner doesn’t require a solitary experience.
Coworking is a way of bringing structure, community, camaraderie, and accountability to your work week on your terms.
The use of the Pomodoro® Technique while coworking is combining self-accountability, structure, peer accountability, and a sense of community. It’s a palpable combination.
Even though we are each focused on our own tasks, the act of working together, even virtually, builds a magical momentum and ritual around the work we are doing while together.
We all have shit to do and often it can help to hear what others are working on to know that hey, we aren’t alone.
Having a solitary business doesn’t require a solitary experience
Start enjoying focused & productive work times with your coven of coworking biz witches
Systems are spells and the Pomodoro® Technique is an awesome starting guide to building your own system, your own spell, for productivity.
Whatever that means for you.
But most of all, it’s a way to create a container for your work so it becomes that much easier to detach yourself from work. To end your work day. To move on to more things that bring you joy, without the feeling of “I should be working” interrupting that joy.
Being self-employed, in any capacity, means to so many “always working” and that’s something I work very hard to help people move away from. (Myself included.)
There is no set manual on how to spend one’s time when you are self-employed. You have to make your own rules and we often continue the toxic rules we have grown to know simply because they are familiar. Anything that goes against these familiar rules feels “wrong.”
And more often than not, what feels the most wrong is: rest.
I challenge you to choose rest. To build systems that make room for, if not necessitate, rest.
The Pomodoro® Technique is merely one way to begin to see the hours of your day and your available time as a partner on your journey, rather than an obstacle or something you have to fight to squeeze every second out of.
And never, ever, ever, ever use the Pomodoro® Technique in areas outside of your work. Let your hobbies take up time without requiring yourself to notice its passage.
Slow down, my witch. Enjoy life.
The work will always be there.
And you are worthy of rest, regardless of your productivity.
Further Reading & Resources