Productivity with the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is the only time management method named after a tomato. Each 25-minute work session is called a pomodoro after the creator, Francesco Cirillo’s, tomato-shaped kitchen timer. To those of us who speak English as our first language, calling it the “Pomodoro Technique” was probably a better marketing move than the “Tomato Technique.” Either way, this technique attempts to maximize productivity by alternating focused work times with regular breaks.

Productive with the Pomodoro Technique

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How to Use the Pomodoro Technique

The basic idea is that you work for 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break. After four of these sessions, you take a longer 15- to 30-minute break.

1. Choose a task

This can be a single task or a batch of related tasks, such as answering e-mails. Remember you will have 25 minutes to fill so if you want to work on shorter tasks they should be lumped with related tasks.

2. Set a timer for 25 minutes

During this 25 minutes, focus exclusively on your task at hand. No checking your phone or Facebook allowed! Challenge yourself to see how much you can accomplish in 25 minutes.

3. Take a short break

When your 25-minute timer goes off, take a 3- to 5-minute break. You can use this time to refill your water glass, take a bathroom break, or stretch your muscles. I often practice piano for a few minutes during this time.

4. Repeat steps 1-3 three more times

The official method is to do four sets of pomodoros before moving on to something else.

5. Take a longer 15- to 30-minute break

Once you’ve finished four pomodoros, take a longer break. This allows you to rest your mind for a bit, eat lunch, and relax.

Tools to Implement the Pomodoro Technique

All you need is a timer and some way to record your progress.

Any timer will work, but Francesco Cirillo recommends using a real, wind-up kitchen timer. He believes the act of physically setting the timer solidifies your commitment to work and hearing the ticking reminds you to stay focused.

If using a real timer, you would record your progress in a notebook. Track when you get distracted and how many pomodoros you complete through the day, as well as what work you accomplished during each one.

That’s the analog approach. The popularity of the Pomodoro Technique has led to many apps that make it easy for you. I have been using a highly-rated one called Focus Booster. It allows you to customize the length of your work and break times, as well as how many pomodoros you want to complete before taking a longer break. Over time it will track how many pomodoros you complete in any particular category and compile the information into reports you can access online or through the app.

Benefits of the Pomodoro Technique

One benefit of the Pomodoro Technique is that it helps you record your progress. By tracking how many pomodoros a certain task takes, you’ll learn to estimate your time needs better in the future.

Another benefit is that the Pomodoro Technique allows you to break a large task down into smaller chunks. If you’ve been following my blog, you probably know that breaking large tasks into smaller ones is my favorite way to avoid overwhelm!

It also helps you focus more intently during the time you are working. Knowing that I only have 25 minutes spurs me to focus on the task at hand without allowing myself to get distracted. It’s easier to ignore e-mail notifications because it won’t be sitting there for 2 hours, only 25 minutes or less.

If those aren’t enough reasons for you, research indicates that sitting still for long periods of time is detrimental to health.  Those regular breaks help both your mind and your body.

Challenges to the Pomodoro Technique

Each pomodoro is meant to be an all-or-nothing affair. This creates difficulties because life is not naturally segmented into 25-minute chunks of time. What if you have a project that will take less than 25 minutes? What if you only have 15 minutes left until an appointment? According to the strict rules of the Pomodoro Technique, you would not be allowed to record anything less than a full 25-minute Pomodoro as productive work-time. This leads to results which may not accurately reflect all that you accomplish on a particular day.

Criticisms are also leveled at the idea of taking a break after such a short time of work. Software engineer Mario Fusco thinks this is laughable:

“I honestly hope that the pilot of my next intercontinental flight will be able to pay attention to what he is doing for all the 8 or more hours of its duration. …. I think that, like any other serious professional, I can stay concentrated on what I am doing for hours. I honestly don’t need a pomodoro to keep myself focused for just 25 minutes. And if somebody can stay focused for no more than 25 minutes I am afraid that he should really rethink the way he works.”

In one way he may have a point. I’m sure we’ve all worked on something for more than 25 minutes at a time. However, the purpose of the technique is to keep focus at peak level all day. That airline pilot Fusco mentioned is not just staring at the instrument panel for 8 hours; he would have different sub-tasks related to piloting and also take breaks during that time.

Why It Works

Some research indicates that taking regular breaks is helpful because your brain starts to get “habituated” to whatever you’re working on. You begin to lose focus on your project the same way that the color receptors in your eyes turn off after you’ve stared at the same image for a while. Briefly changing your focus keeps your brain on alert.

In the study, this was tested on a 50-minute project, with one of four groups having two short breaks from the task. While the other three groups’ performance declined over the 50 minutes, the fourth group did not show a decline in performance.

Productive with the Pomodoro Technique

Adjusting It to Fit You

The Pomodoro Technique is meant to be an all-day productivity method. However, I’m happy with how my days are scheduled right now, and it wouldn’t work very well with the type of work I do for my part-time job.

While testing it out recently, it has been most helpful for me on tasks where I often allow myself to get sidetracked. If I want to put two hours of work into a project that can seem intimidating. However, it’s not so bad when I know in 25 minutes I’ll be able to take a break.

You can also make adjustments to the length of pomodoros or break times. Maybe you find that working for 50 minutes followed by a 10-minute break works better for you. Maybe none of your work sessions are the same length but it makes you think more about instituting regular breaks throughout your day.

People are not all the same, and not every productivity technique is going to work for everyone. The full-on Pomodoro Technique seems too regimented for me, but I’ve found certain aspects of it helpful. Will it help you? Only you can decide.

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