The founder of The Pomodoro Technique now has the perfect fix for inefficient meetings

The Pomodoro Technique was a game changer when it came into our world in the 1980s thanks to Francesco Cirillo. In order to be fully productive, he insisted that you needed to break the day up into 25-minute intervals (also known as pomodoros, which is Italian for tomato.) Once you do about four of those, you get a 15-20 minute break to clear your mind, which is also part of the process. You can also take five-minute short breaks after each Pomodoro.

And now, he has taken the Pomodoro one step farther with his book The Pomodoro Technique which includes several new chapters specifically focused on teams and collaboration. Ladders spoke with Cirillo on why he focused on how people work together.

“In the digital era, teams are increasingly subject to time pressure: more interruptions, more change, more uncertainty. Meeting your own objectives, even simple ones sometimes, always gets harder or impossible if the team doesn’t use a time management strategy,” he said. “The Pomodoro Technique can help teams be effective in these circumstances. This is the reason why I have dedicated various chapters in my new book to how to apply the Pomodoro Technique in a team.”

To apply the Pomodoro to a team, this is the process in four simple steps

1. Write on a board the list of activities to complete in order to reach the day’s goals.

2. Each team member chooses the activities they intend to complete, working on their own or often with one or more people – in the Pomodoro Technique these people are referred to as a micro team.

3. Each micro team writes out on index cards the activities they intend to complete next. They set their Pomodoro and work on the activities without interruption, taking (short
and long) breaks when the Pomodoro rings.

4. At the end of the day, team members get together for one Pomodoro – no longer – and report on a spreadsheet what tasks were carried out and the number of completed Pomodoros that were required to do so. They then review the status of the
set goals.

Cirillo conducted his research by recording completed activities for each member of a team and observing its effect on the team’s productivity. “But this time, it wasn’t me collating and analyzing the data. Each member of the team – including the team leader and manager — recorded their own activities and worked on finding out how to improve the process within the team.”

What to do during the breaks

Cirillo says teams should “get up and stretch the legs; drink a glass of water; swap ideas about what to do at the weekend. Simple, non-work-related activities that don’t require significant mental effort. This type of activity enables the brain to reorganize the information and be in top form when starting the next Pomodoro.”

He also stresses that teams should not cheat during breaks. “I recall one of the first teams I worked with as a mentor. When the Pomodoro rang, one team member relaxed back in their seat, drank a glass of water and face brightening, they started to talk about the same activity we had been working on but in an informal way this time.”

How to make meetings less awful

One thing that comes to mind when you talk about teams and collaboration is meetings, especially horribly unproductive ones. “Meetings become tedious because they are long and exhausting. After hours of work, you often don’t even reach the point of making any decisions. For me, the secret of an efficient meeting lies in distinguishing three activities: acquiring information, forming an opinion and making a decision. The meeting is the time to share informed opinions and make decisions. It is not the time to acquire information and form an opinion.”

“Send an agenda in advance with the decisions that need to be taken and a short document with the relevant information for making that decision. The document should be short enough to be read and understood in one Pomodoro (25 minutes). This will enable participants to have time to form their own opinions and go into the meeting prepared.

“Following these suggestions, you can set the duration of your meetings to one or a maximum of two Pomodoros. Without extensions.”

Inverting our dependency on time

“Our dependency on time often stems from the fact that we are afraid of time passing. We turn around and see a dinosaur running towards us. What do we do? We are afraid and start to run. We turn around again and the dinosaur is even closer. We speed up. Stressed out, we speed up and work even more; we make errors and fail to reach our goals.

“Time can help us reach our goals if we are its friend and we know how it can help us. We can use time to monitor how we are working and improve our processes. We can use time to help our brains organize information, which helps us to find and capture the solutions to complex decisions. Awareness is the key. This is how the Pomodoro Technique helps us to gradually invert our dependency on time.”