Why do we procrastinate?
If you procrastinate, you will be happy to know that it is probably not because of lack of self-control or laziness. Your procrastination is likely to be all about anxiety, not some character flaw or moral failing.
Anxiety and procrastination are closely linked. When you feel anxious about something of course you feel the impulse to put it off. Perfectionism, catastrophizing, resentment, low self-esteem, and imposter syndrome can all trigger anxiety and impede your ability to get things done.
The scenario that I hear the most from my clients is that they know that they have something to complete and want to do it, but they just can’t get started. When the pressure finally makes them start, probably right before the deadline, the task is never as hard as they imagined and their anxiety soon fades away. By that time, though it is probably too late to do a good job or even too late to meet the deadline.
In cases like these, it can be helpful to just decide to use a framework or plan and commit to it. Let the framework take the decision-making and planning out of your hands and just take action. Making this mental decision will help you get started and keep you going. This is indeed playing a mind game with yourself, but it is a very useful mind game.
The Pomodoro Method is a friendly, playful framework that has proven to be especially effective for combating procrastination. For many, it has been their secret weapon against putting tasks off and is quite simple and easy to put in place. In fact, the business world has embraced it and corporations frequently offer their employees Pomodoro Method trainings.
Its unusual name was coined by Francesco Cirillo because he used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato or “pomodoro” in Italian, as a tool when trying to increase his personal productivity. It was effective in school and eventually in the workplace. He later included the technique in a popular book about time management.
Some of the magic of the technique probably is because imagining an increment of time as a tomato is comical and non-threatening. Somehow, wondering how many tomatoes it will take to finish a task sort of neutralizes its threat.
The Pomodoro Method
- Choose a task that you are procrastinating about and would like to get done.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes (or “pomodoros”) and make an oath that you will spend 25 minutes working and not go off task. After all it is only 25 minutes.
- Immerse yourself in the task for 25 minutes.
- When the timer rings, put a check on a piece of paper.
- Take a short break. This break should not be work-related. Get a snack or a cup of tea, take a walk around the block or play with your cat.
- After 4 pomodoros take a 20-30-minute break. During this time your brain will process the work you have been doing. Keep going until your task is complete! The process is not complicated. Committing to starting the pomodoro process can be your weapon against avoidance.
Keys to Success
There are three more rules in the Pomodoro Method that help intensify your commitment and increase the likelihood of success
- You must chunk large projects. If a project requires more than four pomodoros, It needs to be divided into separate doable parts maybe over two or three days. For example a presentation can, be divided into three chunks, writing, editing and adding images. Not biting off more tomato than you can chew will make sure that you feel satisfied with your progress.
- You must clump small tasks together. If something will take less than one Pomodoro, it should be combined with other simple tasks. If your finances need attention you can start with calculating the amount owed on a bill, then set up auto payment, and finally read an article about paying off debt. Those could be accomplished over 4 pomodoros.
- The final pomodoro rule is: Once you set your pomodoro, it must ring. You cannot divide a Pomodoro. It lasts 25 minutes and it can’t be interrupted, especially to look at your phone or answer an email. Anything that comes up during the pomodoro should be noted and come back to after the Pomodoro is completed. After all, it is only 25 minutes,
The Pomodoro Method is not for everyone, but committing to a framework for getting a task completed can be a cool psychological trick.
The Method helps overcome tasks that you are afraid will “take forever” because 25 minutes is a modest amount of time to work. The breaks work as positive reinforcement as well as discourages falling down a rabbit hole of distraction.
Full disclosure, I can have moments of procrastination so I experimented with the Pomodoro Method to write this article and the method was effective and low stress (It took 5 pomodoros!). I especially enjoyed my breaks!
If you have trouble with getting things done, give it a try! What do you have to lose? It worked for me!