How to Get More Done by Doing Less


I was on the phone with a client this week when he blew my mind.

He started talking about the Pomodoro technique (Red sauce, you might be thinking? Read on.), and how much it helped people find focus and be more productive (productive defined as getting something important done, not being busy for busy's sake).

The gist of it is that you work in 25-minute intervals, then take a 5-minute break. You pick only one task to focus on while you're working, so email/Facebook/Dropbox/MS Word roulette doesn't count.

It's based off of the idea that we expand our tasks to fill the time available to complete them. So if you give yourself 2 hours to do something, it will probably take 2 hours. If you give yourself 30 minutes, you just might surprise yourself at how quickly you can get something done. You're not rushing or doing a sloppy job, you're just focusing. There's one specific task you've set for yourself, so your mind is clear about what you need to do. You're also supposed to keep the timer readily visible to create some healthy pressure for yourself. In case you're wondering, I'm using the Pomodoro technique right now (18:54 left to go).

But the thing that I found really fascinating is when my client said "The technique is designed to give you preemptive breaks, so that you rest before you actually feel fatigued."

Imagine that.

Francesco Cirillo, who created the technique, says that by taking frequent breaks, and resting before you're fatigued, you're making the most effective use of your energy. Those breaks restore and replenish energy levels, so that you're working with a full gas tank instead of on fumes.

Resting before you feel tired. Resting to ward off exhaustion instead of relieve it. Resting as prevention instead of cure.

What would happen if you put yourself to bed before you could barely pick yourself up off the couch?

What would happen if you looked up from your computer before your vision started to blur?

What if you took a child's pose before your arms started shaking in plank?

What if you cut down on the number of yoga classes you were teaching before you were in burnout freefall?

Where would you choose rest, if rest was prevention instead of cure?

There's a way to define what we've accomplished that's based on the number of hours we spend working (the number of classes we teach is another one). And then there's another way, one that looks at the bottom line of what we actually accomplished, and embraces the idea that by doing less (resting), we are actually doing more. The beauty of this technique is that you're focusing on just one thing, so there's plenty of opportunity to step into the flow and lose track of time (well, almost. 5:13 to go) in a way that's really satisfying, not only in terms of output, but in terms of the experience you are having. So whether it's creating a new sequence for your next class, busting through your inbox, or researching an upcoming trip, see whether the Pomodoro Technique is right for you. I'm at 1:07 and so far, so good.