Patterns for Success: The Pomodoro Technique3 min read

There is an old proverb that says “no good deed goes unpunished”. You’re settled into your job, and you’ve scored a few victories. Great! Your hard work and great results have resulted in an increase in the scope of your responsibilities. But you still only have a finite amount of time in the day. What do you do?

The pressures of increased scope of work can result in quite a bit of stress around what things to work on, when, and for how long. If you don’t master your workload now, you may wake up one day to realize that it has become your master. There are several aspects to planning your daily work, which we’ll break down into a series of installments here.

In this installment, we’ll cover something called the Pomodoro Technique. It’s actually super simple, and very helpful in building more realistic expectations about how you’ll spend your day.

There’s a lot of appeal in this technique for many autistic professionals because it requires establishing some boundaries on both the time spent on a problem and the scope of work to know when you’ve completed your work. How many of us have gone down a two day rabbit hole to solve a half hour problem? Pomodoro helps to contain that. The idea is that you keep an egg timer handy, and you break down your work into twenty-five minute long sessions followed by short (five minute) breaks. After every four sessions (about two hours), you take a longer fifteen to thirty minute break. All of your work has to be decomposed into twenty-five minute long sessions. In this technique, a session is sometimes referred to as a pomodoro.

Running the timer for short periods helps to fight procrastination or delay of task initiation. As my wife likes to say, I sometimes get stuck in a sort of Chinese finger trap in my brain when thinking about big problems to solve.  Turning those big problems into small problems, and giving yourself a short window of time within which to solve those problems, can really help to combat some of the common challenges that autistic professionals face.

What do I need to get started? It couldn’t be simpler:

That’s it! You write down your pomodoro plan on the paper in a way that makes sense for you and keep track of your progress as you go. The timer will apply the gentle psychological pressure needed to stay on-task and within your time budget.

What do I do if I get distracted? Make note of it on your pomodoro plan. If this becomes a common problem, you’ll have a log of it and can more objectively address the problem.

What happens if I finish a pomodoro early? Don’t start the next one yet! Spend your remaining minutes learning more about what you worked on, perhaps taking some notes on lessons learned. You’ll have a break coming up soon, anyway.

What happens if I don’t finish a pomodoro on time? Make note of it on your plan. You’ll learn from this later when budgeting time and tasks. Take your regular break when it comes up, and be ready to jump back into the work for a second pomodoro session. You’re very likely going to have to bump one of your later day pomodoros to the next day.

All of those notes you took should come in handy when you go to your status meeting. You’ll be able to speak effectively about what you’ve gotten done, and what you plan to do. And as you go, you’ll get better at creating effective pomodoro plans and decomposing your work load to fit within the pomodoro sessions. Don’t expect immediate success; plan on giving this a good week to two weeks before reflecting on whether or not this is a good technique for you. May success be yours!