How to use the Pomodoro timer technique for better productivity

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As we work, our minds wander. No matter how hard we try, we lose focus. And we fight to bring ourselves back to the tasks at hand. By the end of the day, we’re mentally exhausted. So we have to find other ways to stay on task.

The Pomodoro Technique® is a time management technique that encourages short spurts of focus, followed by short breaks. Business consultant Francesco Cirillo created the technique in the early 1990s. Since then, the technique has gained popularity among students and workers for being a useful productivity hack. If you struggle with time management, the Pomodoro Technique might be the ticket to mastering your to-do list.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity and time management technique. It involves setting a timer for 25 minutes and working uninterrupted. After the 25 minutes are up, users can take a five-minute break. After four rounds, users can take a 30-minute break. If a session is interrupted, users can postpone the interruption or abandon the session entirely.

The goal is to reduce the impact of internal (mental) and external (environmental) interruptions to improve focus. The short bursts of work can help you be more productive. Over time, your attention span and concentration may improve. And larger tasks may feel more manageable when you break them into 25-minute sessions. The breaks between rounds can also help you stay motivated to continue working.

What does Pomodoro mean?

Pomodoro is Italian for “tomato.” It’s a reference to the tomato-shaped timer that Cirillo used to develop the technique while studying in Italy. The pomodoro timer is sometimes called the “tomato timer.” The term “pomodoro” refers to any timer you can use to track your work. “Pomodoro” can also be used as a unit of measure for 25-minute segments.

How to use the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique uses a six-step process.

  1. Choose your task.
  2. Set the pomodoro timer for 25 minutes.
  3. Focus on your task for 25 minutes.
  4. Stop working when the timer ends, and track your session.
  5. Take a five-minute break.
  6. Reset your 25-minute timer and begin to work again. After four sessions, take a 30-minute break.

Other fundamental aspects of the technique are planning, tracking, recording, processing, and visualizing your tasks. Users are encouraged to follow three phases to determine the effectiveness of the technique.

  • Plan: Determine each task’s priority and estimate how much effort it will take to complete.
  • Record: Keep track of the number of pomodoro sessions it took to complete a task.
  • Visualize and process: Determine how effective you were at completing a task by visualizing and processing your results. This can help you self-observe and improve your productivity.

A successful pomodoro session is uninterrupted. If another task or person interrupts a session, postpone or abandon the session. You cannot leave a pomodoro session and come back to it. Pomodoros can only last 25 minutes. And if you complete a task before the pomodoro ends, dedicate that extra time to learning.

If you encounter an emergency interruption, you can abandon the pomodoro. If you can postpone the interruption, Cirillo suggests a four-step strategy.

  • Inform: Notify the interrupting party that you’re currently unavailable and working on something.
  • Negotiate: Ask if there is a time when you can get back to them about the interruption.
  • Schedule: Settle on a time when you can follow up with them.
  • Call back: Once you finish your pomodoro session, reach out to the other party.

Why are pomodoro sessions 25 minutes?

Cirillo decided on 25 minutes when he developed the technique. There is no known reason why he chose the number, other than he found it a reasonable amount of time to focus on a task. However, the 25-minute sessions have helped the Pomodoro Technique become so popular.

Is the Pomodoro Technique effective?

The Pomodoro Technique can help make big tasks feel more manageable. It can also help the brain transition between moments of focus and unfocus. Science has shown that the brain operates best when transitioning between focus and unfocus. Unfocus allows our minds to wander and think creatively. Focusing enables us to accomplish tasks. Doing both makes us productive and innovative workers.

By focussing intensely for 25 minutes, followed by a short break, you may be less likely to tire yourself out. You can be less prone to burnout and may feel more motivated to complete work on time. The technique can also prevent multitasking, which can hinder your productivity. However, one common critique is that 25-minute sessions can disrupt workflow.

“Working for only a short length of 25 minutes is not long enough for the average employee to get tasks done,” said entrepreneur Jameson Brandon. “Just when they get into [a] flow state, they have to pull themselves out of it to take a mandatory break.”

Depending on how you work and how long it takes to get into your flow state, the Pomodoro Technique might not be right for you. If you’re struggling to complete tasks—especially tedious or undesirable tasks—the Pomodoro Technique might help you complete them faster.

Are there variations of the Pomodoro Technique?

Cirillo’s original Pomodoro Technique does not offer any variations. But that hasn’t stopped other productivity hackers from trying other versions.

One popular suggestion is a routine of intense focus for 90 minutes, followed by a 15-minute break. The 90-minute solution is popular among athletes and musicians. Another option is 52 minutes of intense focus, followed by a 17-minute break.

The original Pomodoro Technique may not have offered variations, but that doesn’t mean it’s not adaptable. You can do the Pomodoro Technique in sprints of 45, 52, or 90 minutes—whichever works best for you. Find the combination that best matches your ideal flow state. Only you can know what works best for you.

Popular Pomodoro timer apps

The Pomodoro Technique only requires a simple timer. You can use a standard kitchen timer, your phone’s default time, or a pomodoro timer app.

  • Marinara Timer: This timer is available online, and you can adjust it to whatever time interval you prefer. It does not require a download. 
  • TomightyThis timer is a free desktop download for Mac and Windows. You can use the traditional Pomodoro Technique or adjust the timer to your personal preference.
  • Focus Time Activity Tracker Download this pomodoro timer to your iPhone or iPad. You can adjust the time increments to your preferences and color-code activities. The app provides graphs to help you visualize how much time you’ve spent on tasks.
  • TomatoTimerThis free online timer uses the traditional Pomodoro Technique.

Finding the right time-management technique for you

Time management can be a difficult skill to learn, but hacks like the Pomodoro Technique can help. Taking on projects in small sprints of 25 minutes can make them feel more manageable. And with practice, the Pomodoro Technique can help you improve your focus and concentration.

But the Pomodoro Technique isn’t for everyone. Try different variations to see what works best with your style of work. And if none of them work, you might try time blocking, the kanban method, or the “eat that frog” method. Any method of time management can help your productivity and efficiency soar.

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