Boost your personal productivity with the Pomodoro technique

Written by Caroline Duperray, on 23 April 2020

In Denmark, the popular adage "work less, earn more" has become a reality. The company IIH Nordic has introduced the 4-day 30-hour weekday: a 30-hour week spread over 4 days. The ambitious idea, combined with careful time management and continually reinforced team cohesion, has allowed IIH Nordic to increase its productivity while enhancing the well-being of its employees. Named Great Place to Work in 2017 and 2018 and Europe's Best Place to Work in 2019, IIH Nordic now attracts young Danish talents. One of their secret weapons: the Pomodoro technique for better time management. How does it work?

The Pomodoro Technique

To regain control of their time management and limit the detrimental effects on concentration caused by their open space operation, IIH Nordic has implemented the use of a time management technique called the Pomodoro method. This was developed by the Italian Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. It is based on the idea that our brain has a limited attention span, so it's better to work on important tasks or a series of tasks in short time intervals called Pomodoros, separated by short breaks. In summary, you work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break, and repeat this pattern 4 times before taking a longer break of 20 minutes. It's worth noting that during the 25-minute cycles, emails, calls, and other social networks are blocked electronically.

If we want to be successful with a 4 day work week we have to be like an orchestra, let’s do it together!

For IIH Nordic, the steps of planning, tracking, and visualizing tasks are fundamental to successfully implementing this technique. During the planning phase, the employee organizes tasks by priority. Once the Pomodoro cycles are completed, they are recorded, providing a sense of accomplishment and providing raw self-observation data and improvement goals for the employee. Programmers and developers are among the many who use this method.


Displaying Unavailability

To limit distractions, Francesco Cirillo advised informing the "distracting party" (colleagues) that you are busy. IIH Nordic invented a clever system to put this advice into practice.

Employees have small lights above their desks that turn green when they are available and red when they are in the midst of a "Pomodoro sprint." In the center of the open space is a dashboard indicating whether employees are in the middle of a Pomodoro sprint or not, allowing them to see at a glance if the person they wish to see is available and to avoid disturbing their moment of concentration if not. This fosters a culture of respect for time and concentration, somewhat similar to what can be observed at Basecamp with their dedicated communication times (we talk about it in this article).

We’ve been working 20 000 hours less than we did two years ago and we have increased the profit by 71% and the revenue by 43%

What are the results for IIH Nordic?

IIH Nordic employees find several advantages to this technique. Simple to understand and apply, the Pomodoro method requires no specific software or hardware, apart from a timer. It provides a significant increase in concentration among employees and limits procrastination. However, there are limitations to its use, some of which IIH Nordic has experienced.

Indeed, it can be quite difficult to stay focused for 25 minutes, as this interval may not suit everyone's pace. Taking a real 5-minute break (i.e., doing nothing at all) between two cycles is also not common for most of us. Finally, only doing one task at a time can generate some frustration among multitaskers. While the method may appeal to some employees who appreciate segmenting their work time to double their productivity, others may struggle with this metronome-like regularity— for example, creative teams may have more difficulty than technical teams in working with this method.

Therefore, for everyone to benefit, IIH Nordic allows its employees the freedom to use the Pomodoro technique or not. While some employees may spend their day in Pomodoro (as is often the case with computer coders who prefer not to be disturbed), others rarely or never use it.

The cultural environment in which this method is applied also plays an important role in its success: while the Pomodoro method works very well within IIH Nordic, it has proven to be a dismal failure for the New Zealand company Jade World due to a lack of respect for each other's sessions.

While drawing inspiration from neighbors is undoubtedly a good practice, it's essential to sort out what to take and what to leave behind to shape your own management model! Each company has its key efficiency parameters: test, adapt, and correct for even more agility and flexibility!