Feeling guilty about not getting things done? Don’t seem to have the inspiration, motivation, and dedication to even get started? You’re not alone. Thousands of people all over the world experience the same feeling. The good news is the Pomodoro Technique, and Flow may just be the answers you’re looking for.

Two particular time management techniques have risen to prominence in today’s modern world. One time-based, the other time-agnostic. Two productivity techniques, which appear to be diametrically opposed, have the power to produce exponential results. The two are the Pomodoro Technique and Flow. Are you a Pomodoro person or a Flow fanatic? Learn about both here and find out which productivity self-hack is right for you.

The Pomodoro Technique

Brief history

If you speak Italian, you might be scratching your head as to what exactly a tomato has to do with a time management technique. To scratch that itch, let’s briefly explain. Francesco Cirillo created the Pomodoro Technique in the 1980’s. The named Pomodoro Technique derives from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Francesco used to track time while using the method.

Behind the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is effectively designed to help you stay focused in short, concentrated bursts. The philosophy behind the Pomodoro Technique is to eliminate distractions and manage to-do lists by training the brain to focus for short periods of time. If you’re the type of person who feels the need to immediately check your inbox when you see or hear a new email come in, then, the Pomodoro Technique might just be for you.

How it works

The Pomodoro Technique involves setting a timer for 25 minutes of work (a “Pomodoro”) followed by a five-minute break. After three of these cycles (about 90 minutes), you then take a longer break of 15 or 20 minutes. The key to this technique is managing distractions. For instance, during a “Pomodoro”, any message notifications that pop up during a 25-minute sprint, are to be ignored. Once your 25-minute sprint is over, however, you’re then free to do whatever you like for the next 5 minutes.

What else is it useful for?

While the Pomodoro Technique is an incredibly useful time-management technique, it’s also super efficient with task-management. For example, if something else comes to mind you need to do during a Pomodoro but on another task, you simply write it down and return your focus to the task at hand.

This technique can also be helpful to the perfectionist suffering burnout from looking at the same screen for hours upon hours. So, the next time you find yourself continually distracted or unable to will yourself to start a task try the Pomodoro Technique. Set a timer for 25 minutes, and see how much you can accomplish in under a half hour of zero distractions. Who knows, you may just surprise yourself and better yet — ignite the sense of accomplishment inside of you.

Harnessing the Power of Flow

In contrast to the Pomodoro Technique, people describe a Flow state. Achieving a state of “Flow” is all about immersing yourself completely to the point where you are no longer aware of the time passing. Many people describe a Flow state as being “in the zone”.

It’s a state of mind

The term “Flow” in the modern workplace describes a state of mind entered when the work is optimally challenging and engaging. A state of mind whereby something (or someone) has your full attention. And that, it is in these moments that all else but the very thing that has you engaged seizes to exist.

Where did the time go?

You’ve probably experienced a Flow state before. For instance, can you think of a moment in your life when you were completely immersed in something yet you didn’t realize until afterward that had time whizzed by? Perhaps you were wrapped up in a mystery novel, figuring new ways to solve a puzzle, or engaged in an in-depth conversation.

Getting “in-the-zone”

If you’ve experienced anything like it before, you’ll know that the flow state is achievable in any activity. To reach it, all you need to do is maximize how challenging and engaging the task is at hand. For instance, a sense of control and skill-appropriate challenges are crucial to achieving a Flow state. You must be in complete control of the activity you’re doing, and feel autonomous in your actions.

The sweet spot

To achieve Flow, it’s important to strike a balance. To achieve this, the work must be challenging enough to engage you, but not so difficult that it prevents you from doing it completely. Unlike the Pomodoro technique, the methodology behind creating a flow state is somewhat less defined. However, several factors exist that may help you unlock this mindset.

Gamify it

Gamification” a term coined in 2002 by Nick Pelling to describe a task incorporating game-like elements is extremely popular in the corporate world. In particular with helping improve employee productivity. The concept of gamification draws incredibly similar parallels to the state of Flow due to the state of mind an individual adopts while gaming. This is because the activity related to gaming directly parallels the activity characteristic of a flow state.

The feedback loop

Clear goals and immediate feedback are characteristic of activities that engage a person in a flow state. Consider a gamer who spends hours defeating virtual foes. Gaming is optimal for Flow, as the gamer can immediately see the results of their actions, and how the actions progress towards higher achievement.

Sense of control

A sense of control is also crucial to flow. The person engaged in the task must be in complete control of the activity he or she is conducting. Whether it’s driving in Mario Kart or coding in C++, the person engaging in the task must feel autonomous in their actions.

Finally, skill-appropriate challenges are crucial to achieving a flow state. Remember, the work must be both challenging enough to engage the individual, but not so difficult as to prevent the user from accomplishing it. In our example above, the gamer might quit or take a long break after failing to defeat the level-ending boss, just as an employee might find it difficult to accomplish a task that requires a certain level of skill beyond his or her expertise.

The Flow-Modoro Hybrid

So which technique is right for you? It depends on the task and the individual. Not all tasks will be suited to immerse you in a Flow state. Plus, not all projects can be easily chunked into 25-minute segments. An easy way to gauge what kind of task you are working on is to start with Pomodoro. At the end of the 25 minute fully focused burst of activity, think about how you feel. Did the time go by quickly? Or, did it drag by? Did the timer startle you or was it a welcome relief?

Familiarize yourself with the types of tasks that put you in a Flow state. Then, use it to immediately to bring elements of engagement, interest, and curiosity to otherwise mundane tasks. Use what you’ve learned here to help discover how you work best. Whether it be to maximize your productivity with study, work, or any other task that needs your attention. Put the Pomodoro Technique and Flow to work and discover which is best for you. Because, not only will you achieve more, you’ll have the satisfaction of a job done and more time to yourself! Now that’s productive.