The Pomodoro Technique 5.

 In Time management

External Interruptions


People who work in social environments can be interrupted: your study partner asks you to explain a paragraph or suggests going to a movie after dinner; a phone call doesn’t get effectively filtered by the secretary; a colleague asks you how to compile a report; an email program constantly beeps every time a new message comes in. What should you do?

the pomodoro technique


External interruptions call for the ability to “protect” the ticking Pomodoro. Up till now a major effort has been made to eliminate internal interruptions. Now the risk is that someone on the outside prevents you from having the pleasure of marking an “X” on your To Do Today Sheet.

The main difference between internal and external interruptions is that with the latter we need to interact with other people: we need to communicate. The mechanism for dealing with external interruptions is the same as that for internal ones: invert the dependency on interruptions, and make the interruptions depend on us.

A few examples are helpful to clarify what we actually need to do. Incoming phone calls can always be taken by the answering machine and messages listened to later. Emails can keep coming in without distracting our attention simply by deactivating acoustic signals for incoming messages. If a colleague or study partner comes over, you can politely say you’re busy and can’t be interrupted. (Some people use the humorous expression “I’m in the middle of a Pomodoro.”)

Then tell the person that you’d rather call them back in 25 minutes, or in a few hours, or tomorrow, depending on how urgent and important the matter is. Speaking from experience, true emergencies that need to be dealt with instantly are rare in real life. A 25-minute or two-hour delay (four Pomodoros) is almost always possible for activities that are commonly considered urgent. This delay isn’t usually detrimental to the person who wants to communicate with you, but gives you an enormous advantage in terms of making your mind work effectively, finishing activities the way you want to, and rescheduling urgent tasks. With practice, you’ll come to realize how often apparently urgent activities can even be postponed until the following day while still satisfying the person making the request.

So, Protect the Pomodoro means: inform effectively, negotiate quickly to reschedule the interruption, and call back the person who interrupted you as agreed. The Inform, Negotiate, Call Back Strategy enables you to control external interruptions by simply rescheduling them in a later Pomodoro the same day or another day according to the degree of urgency. The dependency inversion for interruptions lies in this mechanism: we’re no longer dependent on interruptions, interruptions depend on us (i. e. the Pomodoros we allocate for calling back).

The feedback from people who start applying the Pomodoro Technique is often the same: they discover they can have up to ten or even 15 external interruptions during a single Pomodoro (25 minutes). If the people doing the interrupting learn that you’ll really call them back, and you’re not just putting them off, it won’t take long to see our habitual interrupters actually protecting the Pomodoro too. Many people who work with Pomodoro users say they have the feeling they’re working or studying with people who know how to appreciate the value of their own time. In operational terms, handling this type of interruption is like dealing with internal interruptions. In this case, too, we work on two fronts simultaneously:

Make these interruptions clearly visible. Every time someone or something tries to interrupt a Pomodoro, put a dash (-) on the sheet where you record your Pomodoros, apply the Inform, Negotiate, and Call Strategy. Then, do one of the following:

– Write down the new activity on the To Do Today Sheet under Unplanned & Urgent if it has to be done today, adding the promised deadline in brackets in the left-hand margin.

– Write it down in the Activity Inventory, marking it with a “U” (unplanned); add a deadline in brackets if need be.

– Intensify your determination to finish the Pomodoro. Once you’ve marked down the dash, continue working on the given task until the Pomodoro rings.

This way, you’ll achieve the objective of remembering the commitment you made, as well as measuring daily external interruptions, without interrupting the Pomodoro. The example below shows two external interruptions handled in different ways during the second Pomodoro of Write an Article on How to Learn Music.

To successfully delay these Pomodoros as far as possible, downgrading the degree of apparent urgency and incrementing the extent to which these activities can be controlled and scheduled.

To gradually cut down on the number of Pomodoros used for organizing the interruptions that come up throughout the day.

People who start applying the Pomodoro Technique are always amazed when they measure the Pomodoros spent on work and study (without unhandled interruptions) and those used for organizational activities (which in part come from dealing with interruptions). In some teams, members start off with no more than two to three Pomodoros actually dedicated to work per day per person; the remaining Pomodoros are spent on meetings, phone calls, and emails.


Estratto di: Cirillo, Francesco. “The Pomodoro Technique.” FC Garage, 2013-05-10. iBooks.

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tecnica del pomodoro