Casey Brant

Jun 19, 2020

10/20/30: A Pomodoro Variant for Getting Focused Work Done

Lately, I’ve been finding it pretty hard to maintain focus on anything for long enough to get serious work done. I’ve experimented with different techniques and tools to help manage that focus, and I’ve had some promising results with a modified version of the Pomodoro Technique that I’m calling “10/20/30”. Here’s the basic idea:

Work happens within designated time blocks. There are a few rules about how those time blocks work and a few rules about how to behave during them. Here is the sequence of steps to follow to do one round of 10/20/30:

  1. Decide what task you’re going to focus on. Setting an explicit intention for how you will spend the next hour or two is the most important part of this technique. If it helps to write it down, do that.
  2. Put away or turn off anything that might pull your attention from the task at hand. For me, this means putting my computer into “Do Not Disturb” mode, quitting Slack, closing the Twitter tab, and silencing my phone.
  3. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Begin working on your chosen task.
  4. When the timer goes off, take a short break. In regular Pomodoro, you time this break as well, but I prefer not to. A typical break for me is somewhere in the 2–10 minute ballpark.
  5. Set the timer for 20 minutes. Resume work on your task.
  6. Take another short break.
  7. Set the timer for 30 minutes. Resume work on your task.
  8. After 30 minutes, take another break. If that’s all the focus you have in you for now, make it a longer break and check on those things you put away in step 2. You can come back and do another 10/20/30 later once you’re ready. If you’re ready for more right now, do as many 30-minute sessions (each followed by a short break) in a row as you feel comfortable with.

That’s the sequence of steps. Here are the behavioral rules to keep in mind while doing a 10/20/30:

  1. When you’re focusing on a task, that task is the only thing you are allowed to do. You don’t have to be pedal-to-the-metal working the entire time (e.g. you can stare out the window for a minute or stretch or take a couple sips of coffee), but you can’t switch gears to something else.
  2. When you’re taking a break in between focus times, make it a restful break. That means you should avoid anything else that can grip your focus, like social media or phone games. Ideally you move your body and rest your eyes (assuming your work is happening on a screen) during a break time.
  3. While focusing, you will think of other things you want to do. Capture these thoughts in a notebook or text file so that you don’t lose them, then return your attention to the task at hand. Resist the temptation to follow that squirrel in the moment by promising yourself you can chase it later.

And that’s it! If you know the Pomodoro Technique, you see that this is very similar to it. Really the only differences are the gradual ramping up of focus times (as opposed to sticking with a single time for every session) and the lack of a break timer.

I’m no psychologist, so I can only speculate as to why this has been working well for me, but whatever the reasons, it has. If this sounds useful to you, I’d love for you to give it a try and then shoot me a tweet or an email with your results!

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