Community and Communications
Community and Communications
If you struggle with executive dysfunction, depression or even just motivation - the reverse pomodoro technique might help you get started on a task without feeling overwhelmed
At Tiimo, we are fans of the Pomodoro technique* . While a lot of time management strategies seem completely unrealistic and unsustainable, with Pomodoro, the idea of using short bursts of activity and regular breaks really works with our brains and not against them. But we also have those days when we just can’t get going - no matter how we try. Whether it is an issue with task initiation, Autistic Inertia, lack of spoons or just good old fashioned executive dysfunction, sometimes we need an extra weapon to pull out on those tasks which we know we need to do, but just can’t start. The Reverse Pomodoro technique might be the answer.
Whereas the Pomodoro Technique has a pattern of focusing for 25 minutes on your task against a 5 minute break, the Reverse Pomodoro flips it for a 5 minute task start and a 25 minute break. People have long played around with the duration of Pomodoros, increasing and decreasing them to find the amount of time which works best for them and their brain. While not a new idea (hat tip from us to Dusty Chipura) it does seems to be an effective one, especially for those with ADHD who can get a dopamine hit in the ‘reward’ of an extra long break or the novelty of switching up their routine. There is real power in telling yourself that you only have to focus on something for 5 minutes before you can reward yourself with something that you would rather be doing…but those 5 minutes add up, especially if you would have just used all the time on a break activity anyway.
1. Pick a task Normally when you talk about time management techniques there is a process for selecting the task you will start, but with the reverse pomodoro method - you will already know the task for it. It’s the task you know you need to do, or at least start. It’s the task that weighs heavily on your mind….yes that one. The one you are thinking of as you read this. We all have (at least) one of those!
2. Set your timer for 5 minutes Use your timer or Tiimo schedule to start your reverse pomodoro sprint. Remind yourself that you just have to work for 5 minutes on it. You can do it!
3. Start the task and focus only on this for the 5 minutes Commit yourself fully to this task for 5 minutes. If something else pops into your head to do in this time, quickly note it down if you have a pen or phone handy, or else wait to note it in your break. But as soon as possible get back to focusing on your task.
4. When the timer goes, stop! Reset the timer for 25 minutes and take a guilt free break This part might feel odd because you might feel like you have only just got started. But for this method, the emphasis is genuinely on starting the task, not completing it. If you really, honestly have got into flow state within these first 5 mins, of course you can see if you can keep going, but if not, you should take your 25 minute break completely without guilt. This also means do not start doing another task in this time or anything else that will hold your attention past 25 minutes. The only commitment you have to make to yourself is that when that timer goes off you will get back to your task.
5. After that break, start the task and your timer again for another 5 mins. Same mentality as before - you only have to focus on the task for 5 minutes.
6. When the timer goes off - break again. Don’t forget to reset your timer for 25 minutes. At the end of the 25 minutes head back to your task!
Repeat this process of 5 minutes work and 25 mins break another 2 times. At the end of your final set of Pomodoro, the first thing to do is to evaluate:
whether this method has worked for you. Did you find the 5 minutes helped or did you find it was too short to get going? Did you find it hard to come back after your break or did the short time motivate you?
how much time do you think it will take to reasonably finish this task now? Would another set(s) of reverse pomodoros complete it? Or do you think working on regular pomodoro timings (25 min task, 5 min break) would help more now that you have got started on it? What about increasing to 10 minute task / 20 minute break? or 15 min task / 15 min break? The idea is to find the balance that will allow you to keep going to make good progress on the task, without overwhelming yourself.
The most important thing to remember with this method is that all progress (even if only 20 minutes) is still progress with your task.
Ok, ok, we know that it seems completely counter intuitive - we are always told with time management or productivity that the more you focus on tasks the more that you will get done. But often the biggest hurdle to completing a task is getting started. Often we look at a task we have put off or been dreading and it feels much bigger than it actually is. We usually know that if there was a way to start the task, it wouldn’t feel too bad, but task initiation or inertia stops us from even getting to that point. Reverse Pomodoro encourages you to just start really small and do something (anything) towards it, with the hope that this initial start helps provide enough momentum to drive you forward. Even working on a task for 5 minutes helps you to feel more in control and less afraid of the task, and therefore more able to continue on with it. A good way to think of it is like a training programme. You make small steps and progress, which helps you to build consistency and routine, which later might let you work for longer periods on the task, or stick with it until it is completed. If you have trouble focusing - 5 minutes of focused work is much better than 25 minutes of distracted ‘busyness’.
Another benefit, especially for those with executive dysfunction or who have trouble estimating time for tasks is that the longer you work on the task, whether for 5 minutes or for the complete reverse pomodoro set of 20 minutes, the more likely you are to have a grasp of how long that task will take to complete. This can be equally very effective for both large tasks you have to complete over a long period of time (eg studying or writing a report) or tasks that are smaller but you need to do frequently (eg cleaning).
Finally, for some people with disabilities, anxiety, depression or chronic health conditions, 25 minutes to focus on a task can be just too high an ask on some days. This method can help you on days when you need to make progress, while also making sure that you are able to take care of your energy levels, spoons and other health needs.
A word of warning though - like all methods, this isn’t going to work for everyone, all of the time. You might find it particularly hard context switching for such short periods of time, or find that it is hard to break your focus for a break once you get into a task. You also have to trust and hold yourself to account to coming back off your break to restart your task - and some days that will feel harder than others. But the idea is to play around with the task/break levels and find a combination that feels right for you for that particular day and time. Also think about switching up your breaks. While the break should feel like a rest and reward, alternating activities during them and not just defaulting to screen time or social media can also help. It can be good to give your eyes a rest as well as your brain!
If you would like to give it a go, to make things even easier - we have added a pre-made Reverse Pomodoro Routine into the Routine library in the Tiimo app. This has a Reverse Pomodoro routine of 4 Pomodoros and breaks already set up, so you can simply add them into your schedule. You can then further customise each Pomodoro with colours and icons to reflect your activity, or change the timings between task and break if you find that there is a better split that works for you. Feel free to let us know on our social channels whether this works for you!