The Pomodoro Technique: How to Focus When the Pressure is On

Nov 22, 2022

Actors can be some of the busiest people in the world—even the ones who complain of having no viable job prospects. We’re under constant pressure to create new work while promoting and maintaining current projects—all while juggling multiple auditions, callbacks and rehearsals / shooting at the same time. And let's not forget the social media maintenance that’s essentially required of anyone trying to make a name for themselves in this industry. What about your survival jobs or side hustle to sustain yourself in between gigs? With so many demands on our time, it's no wonder so many of us are feeling too overwhelmed and burnt out to hit peak creativity.

 One of our core tenets at Artist’s Strategy is the Five-Year Plan—a road map that helps you achieve your long-term goals as an actor. But what good is it to have large goals if you can’t execute the necessary steps to achieve them? That's where strong time management and working incrementally comes in. By breaking up our goals into smaller, more manageable pieces, it becomes easier to accomplish them sustainably. No longer will we be bogged down by a sense of overwhelming dread every time we think about our goals. Instead, we can focus on more short-term, less sweeping tasks that inch us closer to our predetermined goals, one-month and beyond. As a result we'll be able to approach them with a sense of excitement and possibility, knowing that we can achieve them—even with all the distractions, errands, and running around—if we just take it one step at a time.

 My secret weapon when it comes to breaking down big goals is the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. The technique involves breaking down work into 25-minute increments called "pomodoros," the Italian word for tomato (Cirillo allegedly kept track of his minutes using a red tomato-shaped kitchen timer.) Each pomodoro is followed by a 5-minute break. The idea behind the technique is that by breaking down work into smaller, more manageable chunks, it’s easier to maintain focus and avoid burnout. The regular breaks are an added bonus that help refresh and rejuvenate the mind, making it easier to hold on to that focus over a longer period of time.

 Now, it might seem like the last thing a free-spirited creative like yourself would need is a rigid time management system, but the Pomodoro Technique can actually be quite helpful for actors. For example, if you're feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of memorizing lines for a few self tapes you have due, you can use the Pomodoro Technique to break up the preparation time into smaller chunks. You might work on memorizing a single page of dialogue for 25 minutes, and then take a 5-minute break. When your break is over, reset the timer for 25 minutes and either return to the dialogue you need to memorize, or get started on something new. But during the 25-minutes at hand, stick with a single task. 

I can guarantee you that in two uninterrupted 25-minute chunks, you will get more of that dialogue memorized than if you devoted an entire day to it. Why? Because devoting an entire day to a single task is setting yourself up for failure—not only will you burn out, you will delude yourself into believing you’re actually spending a full day on the task, taking much needed pressure off of yourself as a result. The more likely scenario involves you checking your phone every few minutes, dabbling in some email, scrolling through social media intermittently, all while convincing yourself you’re spending a day memorizing your lines. The truth is, you’re failing both at your main task at hand (memorizing lines), and at the ancillary tasks you’re treating as distraction (email, social media, etc.) 

Think about it this way: when you’re focused on one thing, you can complete it faster and move on to the next thing. But when you’re trying to do two things at once, you’re usually doing a little bit of both, but not really completing either. Frequent task switching disrupts flow and prevents us from reaching our full potential. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t get many tasks accomplished in one day. Any entrepreneur and solo business must wear many hats at the same time to stay in operation…putting all of your eggs in one basket (memorizing lines only) “does not a healthy business make”. What’s essential to note, however, is that you are setting specific time limits - whether it’s 5 minutes, 25 minutes or an hour - and focusing only on that task during that time. 

 When it comes to getting things done, there are two schools of thought: multitasking and single-tasking. The Pomodoro Technique allows you to do both.. By only working on one task for 25 minutes at a time, you minimize distractions and allow yourself to truly focus on the task at hand. And when those 25 minutes are over, you can move on to a new task altogether. That way, you get the best of both worlds: The focused flow state that comes with single-tasking, and the ruthlessly efficient time management that comes from doing multiple things in a single day. 

  OK, let’s review: As a reminder, the Pomodoro Technique requires you to break down work into 25-minute intervals, separated by short breaks. During each interval, you focus exclusively on the task at hand, working until the timer runs out. Once the timer goes off, you take a five-minute break before continuing the same task or starting a brand new one. The goal is to balance the flow state that comes with single-tasking and the beast mode that comes with multi-tasking. Pomodoro, quite simply, lets you get a wider variety of tasks done every day, without succumbing to wasteful distractions..

It’s important to note that you can craft your own time limits beyond the 25 minutes on and 5 off. Here’s a useful site to create your own custom timers for a day. Consider even making this before you go to bed for the next day!

 The beauty of realizing the value of time management and personal productivity is that even when you're doing things you don't want to do, like forecasting your finances or playing Tetris with your calendar, you can still feel like you're accomplishing something. And that's because you are! Whenever you're able to check something off of your to-do list, regardless of how tedious it may be, you're one step closer to your goal. So the next time you're feeling overwhelmed or unproductive, remember that even the smallest tasks can make a big difference.

Curious about working with us? Sign up for a free consultation, and find out about our one-of-a-kind curriculum.

Sign Up For a Free Consultation