Time Management for an SEO: The Pomodoro Technique

Time Management for an SEO: The Pomodoro Technique

14th July 2011

“For every minute spent in organising, an hour is earned”

As an SEO, or in any industry where time is spent earning value for your clients, the ability to manage time effectively is a skill that needs to be learnt. I think this is particularly true for anyone, at any level, within search marketing and that mainly holds true because there are normally several activities that needed to be done yesterday.

A well thought out and constructed timeline can help with project management but if you are the account manager of numerous clients a certain amount of overlapping is bound to inevitable. Clients are not the only thing that requires your time and attention during a normal day at the office, reading and keeping up to date with news, strategies, studies and methods is essential. Add to this the constant stream of information pouring through Twitter and now Google + and you are faced with a persistent fight against your urges to check whether you have missed anything in the last minute.

One time management method that I have been trying recently with great success (if I do say so) is the Pomodoro technique (available for free download). There used to be occasions where I would come home from work and even though I knew I had worked hard all day I would still think “What have I actually done?” Speaking to a few other SEOs the feeling of ‘treading water’ is quite a common emotion. Alas, no more. As the creator of the Pomodoro technique Francesco Cirillo states:

“If we try to measure ourselves against the passage of time, we feel inadequate, oppressed, enslaved, defeated, more and more with every second that goes by.”

The aim of the Pomodoro Technique is to provide a simple process for improving

Productivity which is able to do the following:

  • Alleviate anxiety linked to becoming
  • Enhance focus and concentration by cutting down on interruptions
  • Increase awareness of your decisions
  • Boost motivation and keep it constant
  • Bolster the determination to achieve your goals
  • Refine the estimation process, both in qualitative and quantitative terms
  • Improve your work or study process
  • Strengthen your determination to keep on applying yourself in the face of complex situations

The process underlying the Pomodoro Technique consists of five stages:

What When Why
Planning At the start of the day To decide on the day’s activities
Tracking Throughout the day To gather raw data on the effort expended and other
Recording At the end of the day To compile an archive of daily observations
Processing At the end of the day To transform raw data into information
Visualising At the end of the day To present the information in a format that facilitates

When you arrive at your desk you should look over your emails and timelines and see what tasks need to be done today. You should then scale these tasks by priority and importance of completion. One of the great things of the Pomodoro technique is that it also factors in internal and external interruptions as these can’t be avoided. Whether this is an urgent email from the client, an issue with web develop/designer/programmer or a phone call. Unexpected tasks that come up sporadically during the day can be classified under ‘Unplanned & Urgent Activities’

So how does it work exactly?

The traditional Pomodoro is 30 minutes long and this is broken down into 25 minutes of work plus a 5-minute break. When you start your Pomodoro you need to fully commit to finishing it and focus on the task at hand. It is surprising how much you can get done in this small space of time and you will soon realise just how rare it is to get 25 minutes of undistracted and devoted time on one task.

If you manage to finish a task with some time left over, it is recommended you go back over your work, looking for mistakes or areas to improve. This is an seen as an opportunity to “overlearn”.

What to do during the 3-5 minute break?

During the small break it is recommended not to:

  • Start talking about work-related issues with a colleague
  • Composing important emails
  • Make imperative phone calls

All of these activities can lead to being distracted for more than the scheduled 3-5 minute break and will also not provide the break you need. I use this time to run through my Twitter feed or Google + and any articles that catch my eye I ‘BOOKMARK’ for a later Pomodoro.

After 4 Pomodoro’s you are advised to take a longer break, this can be determined by you.

Working through Pomodoro’s

If you follow the method step by step then you need to keep on working, Pomodoro after Pomodoro, until the task at hand is finished. You then move on to the next priority task.

Dealing with Distractions

If you working withthrough a Pomodoro and you suddenly realise you need to do something, either client or personal, try not to follow your instincts and do it but quickly classifythe importance and priority of the task and then add them to a document/spreadsheet titled Unplanned & Urgent. These can then be dealt with at a later point in time.

“You can’t start concentrating until you’ve stopped getting distracted”

My Personal Adaptions

Some tasks can take around 6+ Pomodoro’s to finish and if you know this is going to be the case then I prefer to complete a large chunk of the task and then go on to the next task, coming back to the original task at hand a few more Pomodoro’s later. This is because I find when I return with a fresh mind I can be analytical and can judge my own work which makes it easier to pick out any mistakes.

I also find it helpful knowing I can break down larger tasks into small manageable chunks.

Exceptions to the Rule

There may be a few caveats to the success of the Pomodoro time management technique. Caveats might be:

  • Whether you are In house or at an Agency
  • The size of your agency – smaller agencies with less people often have more clients to look after and often activities which might be passed down the levels can’t be

I understand that the nature of a task can also determine how effective you find the Pomodoro technique but the point I am trying to make is that a 25 minute slot of pure focus can be more productive than 50 minutes of work with distractions. I don’t need to support this claim with science but I will (it’s not a research paper I admit…)

“What science tells us, though, is that not only does multitasking make our work 50% less valuable; it takes 50% longer to finish.”

For anyone that has got the time, this is an interesting article which surrounds 8 things people should know about concentrating.

Helpful Tool

For everyone that has a iPhone out there you can download a simple app to replicate the windup pomodoro. It is available here

Anyway….. happy tomatoes!

*BIG nudge to Ciaran Oliver who introduced me to the Pomodoro Technique, show him some groupie love, you know you want to…


Written By
Sam Murray graduated from University with a BA (Hons) in Marketing in 2007 and wrote his 10,000 word dissertation on Search Marketing. Sam is a freelance search manager.
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