The Pomodoro Technique and Time Working vs. Time at Work

This week I took a week off work to get some stuff done. And to learn. I guess some people would find that a strange way to spend vacation time (and granted, we get more days off over here in the UK than our friends across the Atlantic). But honestly, I feel great. One thing I consciously wanted to track was how much time I was spending actually working. The results were interesting…

I worked in accordance with the Pomodoro technique (i.e. 25 minutes of no distractions followed by a 5-minute break), which FW has posted about before. Here is a summary:


  • Pomodoros: 20
  • Time at desk: 11 hours


  • Pomodoros: 20
  • Time at desk: 12 hours


  • Pomodoros: 17
  • Time at desk: 10 hours


  • Pomodoros: 18
  • Time at desk: 11 hours


  • Pomodoros: 12
  • Time at desk: 6


  • Pomodoros: 12
  • Time at desk: 7


  • Pomodoros: 8
  • Time at desk: 5 hours

I want to talk about the time I wasted.

But before I do that, I want to make it clear that I set out with grim determination to be super productive this week. To wit, I did not check facebook for a week (1 exception), I checked my emails and phone twice a day (Tim Ferriss style), and I got 8 hours of sleep every night.I had no distractions, a great working environment, and most importantly was working on projects I really wanted to work on…yet still there was huge inefficiency.

If you calculate the time for each pomodoro (i.e. multiply by 30 minutes and divide by 60 to get hours) and then find the average ratio of the time spent working vs. at desk over the week you get an efficiency of 87%. The 13% missing is the result of me taking longer breaks than scheduled, or where I stopped the clock because I wasn’t working (usually I caught myself daydreaming).

Now consider what would have happened to my efficiency if I hadn’t been using the pomodoro technique and actively monitoring it. Way worse.

Do you ever think about how much time you waste in a day? If you are working in a corporate environment, it tends to be huge. In perfect conditions, I’ve managed to waste 13% of my work day. In an 8 hour day, that’s 62 minutes of waste.

Now if I’m honest, take me out of my super motivated zone and put me at my desk at work…it’s not going to be 13% inefficiency. Not even close.

Moral of the story? Using techniques like pomodoro is essential to stop rampant productivity hemorrhaging.

Why don’t you give it a try? For one day at work, make a note of everytime you stop working – be honest – everytime you check your emails, facebook, the news, talk to a co-worker, daydream…everything. Or find a piece of software that does it for you like RescueTime.

Like taking control of your finances, the first step to taking control of your time is understanding exactly where it gets wasted. Sound excessive? I challenge that knee-jerk reaction. Time is perhaps THE most important thing you have, so why on Earth would you not want to be aware of when you are letting it slip through your fingers…