Keep Your Saw Sharp and Enhance Your Productivity With the Pomodoro Technique

Have you heard the story about the woodsman?

He was determined to cut down a tree with his saw. So he channeled all his strength into the saw.

The woodsman worked furiously. His arms were a blur as the saw sped back-and-forth. Sweat dripped from his brow and soaked his clothing.

As he worked, another man walked by. He noticed the woodsman’s intensity and thought “Oh my! What a productive guy!”

But then he looked closer. And he saw something surprising. Despite his effort, the woodsman wasn’t making any progress at cutting through the tree.

“Excuse me, sir!” The man called out. “It looks like your saw blade is dull! You might benefit from taking a break to sharpen it.”

“Bah!” The woodsman replied. “I have no time to take a break! I’m far too busy sawing this tree!”

Seeing the woodsman’s twisted logic, the man shook his head, sighed, and walked onwards.

And the woodsman continued toiling away with his dull saw blade.

Keep Your Saw Sharp

In a busy workday, it’s easy to be like the woodsman who never takes a break to sharpen their saw.

You care about making progress with your work. You want to be as productive and effective as possible.

And taking a break can feel like it goes against progress. So you keep working through.

But when that happens over and over and over again, you never make space to rejuvenate. And you find yourself with a dull blade.

It can be tough to slow down in the moment. But when you slow down in the short-term to sharpen your saw, you can go faster and farther in the long run.

Sometimes you need to take a step (or two or three) backward in order to leap forward.

Rest Before You’re Tired

As Harvard Psychology professor Tal Ben-Shahar reminds us in The Pursuit of Perfect, “The problem in today’s corporate world, as well as in many other realms, is not hard work; the problem is insufficient recovery.”

So what if…Instead of waiting until your blade was dull to sharpen it, you proactively sharpened it throughout the day?

You’d spend less time sawing than you did before…But, you’d never have a dull blade!

Which means the time you spend sawing is more effective. And you make better progress while using less energy. Which also makes the experience more enjoyable.

One step back. Three steps forward!

Put it Into Practice: The Pomodoro Technique

What does it actually mean to “rest before you’re tired” and “sharpen your saw”?

There are countless ways to integrate this wisdom into your life.

But there’s one tool I use most frequently. You can use it to skyrocket your productivity and increase your longevity in the workday.

It’s called The Pomodoro Technique. Here’s how it works.

How to Use the Pomodoro Technique to Sharpen Your Saw

  1. Get a timer. (Or a Pomodoro app on your phone/computer. I like Be Focused Pro.)
  2. Set an intention. Get clear what you want to work on next. What’s most important now?
  3. Set your timer for 25 minutes. This is your working time. Focus on that top priority for the 25 minutes.
  4. When you get distracted, notice this without judgment, and return to your priority.
  5. Stop working when the timer sounds.
  6. Reset the timer for 5 minutes. This is your recovery time. Use it to refresh and rejuvenate your body and mind. (e.g. move your body, get outside, stretch, get water, use the restroom…Make this a rejuvenating break.)
  7. When the timer sounds, make a tally mark. You’ve just completed one Pomodoro cycle!
  8. Start the cycle over again. Set your intention. Set your timer. Take action!
  9. Take a longer break (~15 minutes) after every 5-6 cycles.
  10. Repeat as long as you intend to stay focused on “work”. (e.g. Your profession, doing chores, at home to-do’s, reading, studying, …)

Work for 25 mins –> Recover for 5 mins.

Keep track of your cycles. Repeat. And take a longer break every ~5 cycles.

The Pomodoro Technique isn’t just about work. When you use your energy more efficiently at work, you end the work day with “more left in the tank” to invest in the other things you care about.

So…How’s your “saw” these days? Ready to give it a bit of sharpening?

Try playing with The Pomodoro Technique. Pay attention to how you feel. And let me know how it goes.

Let’s do this!