The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method where you set a timer and work for 25 minutes, followed by a five-minute break. This is repeated three more times before taking a longer (15-to-30-minute) break and restarting the cycle. The idea is to break up complex work projects into manageable chunks.
What Is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity method that encourages a user to set a timer and work in 25-minute intervals with five-minute breaks in between.
Each interval and its break is referred to as a “pomodoro,” which is Italian for “tomato.” Its namesake derives from Francesco Cirillo, who in the 1980s would regulate his university studies using a tomato-shaped kitchen timer.
By breaking sizable tasks into smaller portions, the Pomodoro Technique encourages users to work with the time they have, rather than against it.
Billy Roberts, a licensed therapist specializing in ADHD and owner of counseling group Focus Mind, calls Pomodoro a “behavioral skill designed to improve task completion by intentionally taking breaks during tasks,” which “allows a person to build structure and intentionality to their work.”
Who Benefits From the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique can be used by anyone, though it is especially helpful for people who get distracted easily, have heavy workloads or both. Students, professionals, perfectionists and procrastinators are a few walks of life that may benefit from this time-blocking system. Roberts’ clientele, adults with ADHD seeking a holistic approach to either supplement or forgo prescription medication, are a target demographic for this method too.
“If you need to maintain momentum and avoid the desire to procrastinate — this solves both problems.”
But really, anyone from young children learning the wonders of discipline to Fortune 500 executives juggling multi-million-dollar enterprises may find use for the Pomodoro Technique, said Kimberly Wilson, an organizational psychologist and CEO of Leadership and Resilience Consultants.
“If you need to maintain momentum and avoid the desire to procrastinate,” she said, “this solves both problems.”
Clueing into certain symptoms may be most telling. If you’re someone with a seemingly ever-growing to-do list, always racing against a clock or stuck in miserable cycles of recurring burnout — the Pomodoro Technique may be worth your while.
How Does the Pomodoro Technique Work?
Steps to the Pomodoro Technique are as follows:
How Does the Pomodoro Technique Work?
1. Pick a task.
2. Set a timer for 25 minutes.
3. Work on the selected task until time expires.
4. Take a 5-minute break.
5. Repeat above sequence three times.
6. Take a 15-to-30-minute break.
7. Return to first step and repeat.
While the process may seem arbitrary or difficult to follow at first, it’s just a matter of sticking with it, according to Daniela Wolfe, a work-life balance and habit expert.
“The first step to integrating the Pomodoro Technique is to start with understanding what stands in the way of your time management,” Wolfe said, pointing to common culprits social media, top-heavy to-do lists and low energy levels.
Once identified, adjustments can be made accordingly. These can be as simple as clearing a desk, keeping a snack handy, setting one’s phone in a different room, enabling ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode across devices or all of the above. What works for one user may not transfer to the next, Wolfe noted, as this will depend on specific triggers unique to each individual.
“Self-interruptions and subconscious procrastination can keep us from achieving our tasks,” she added. “[The Pomodoro technique] helps in that resistance by retraining your brain to focus, gradually increasing the length of time you are able to do so.”
Wolfe, who coaches people through burnout via her website Best D Life, credits this result to the frequent breaks threaded throughout a work session.
“The break is important as it is a chance to rest, recharge and reset,” she said, “thus bringing your attention back to what you should be working on.”
Why Does the Pomodoro Technique Work?
The Pomodoro Technique calms a flighty, frightened mind with too much to do.
“Time is limited. We can’t have as much as we want, neither stop it nor slow it down,” as explained by the Francesco Cerillo website. “When our mind realizes that it cannot control time, we get scared and time appears to us as a vicious predator.”
In response, Pomodoro does two things. First, it helps one’s brain recognize and observe said moments of panic. Second, instead of just coping with these feelings of overwhelming dread and impending guilt, it provides an easy-to-follow, time-blocked plan that creates the space for the user to tackle tasks with intention.
So, instead of being chased by the clock, time becomes a tool harnessed by the user.
Tips When Using the Pomodoro Technique
“The Pomodoro Technique is not flawless,” Wilson said.
For starters, its strict framework doesn’t allow for inevitable disruptions that come as a byproduct of life.
It does, however, supply a plan to minimize them, which is “absolutely in our control,” Wilson said. Keeping a sense of intentionality throughout the Pomodoro rotations is crucial to the method’s success.
Here are some top Pomodoro tips to finally curb procrastination:
Mute Digital Distractions
Notifications can ping at any moment. The second that happens, our brains pause to take notice of the incoming message — whether we pick up our devices or not. Even this slight break in focus is why disengaging from phones, tablets and social applications during work hours may be the surest bet.
Users may want to consider engaging a ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode across text messaging, team applications and email responders or, for the bravest at heart, parking phones in a separate room.
Establishing no-contact windows of time can be an excellent practice in both productivity and boundary setting.
“Sometimes, this involves setting boundaries with those we love,” Wilson said. “Let them know ahead of time when and how you would like them to get your attention or if it is acceptable to be interrupted.”
Take Mindless Breaks
Not much can be done in five minutes — but that’s kind of the point. Break time is an overlooked part of this tool, said ADHD specialist Roberts, and is often misused or even skipped. Actually taking the break is crucial to prevent burnout.
“It’s not a good idea to start doing tasks during the break that are time consuming or distracting,” he said. “The break should be somewhat mindless.”
This time should be spent spacing out, decompressing or in motion rather than mentally reinvesting in a new fixation.
Prepare Your Pomodoros
One full Pomodoro consists of a 25-minute interval followed by a five-minute break. Taking time to schedule specific tasks to each focus period can serve as a solid precursor before tapping ‘start.’
Or, if you’re feeling meta, using the first Pomodoro to configure the rest of the workday may be the more agreeable, head-first option.
Pomodoro Technique Apps
If Pomodoro users desire to upgrade from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer to something more digital, they have several apps to choose from.
Flora takes a unique approach in logging a user’s productivity by using visual cues and gamification. As full Pomodoro cycles are completed, for example, users collect cartoon trees that sprout in an in-app garden. If a user leaves the app to browse social media or play games, the tree dies.
Focus Keeper keeps time based on the intervals taught by the Pomodoro Technique. Its standout feature allows users to assign sound or music to each chunk of time. Whether it’s lofi hip hop or crashing waves, looped sound can further enhance focus by tricking your brain into routine while eliminating potential distractions that come up when trying to find the perfect playlist in a music app.
Users looking for a more data-backed experience can try FocusList, which is a Pomodoro Technique app that lets you track your task list in a calendar view. This way, users can review stats of their productivity down to the day.
Focus To-Do is a Pomodoro Technique app that comes with all the essentials, plus an option to add labels to each interval of time — an additional organizational hack that can boost focus.
Pomodoro - Focus Timer
The Pomodoro - Focus Timer brings classic functionality to the Pomodoro Technique, with sleek design, relaxing sound player and a minimalistic interface — because sometimes more features begets more distractions.
Pomotodo features dynamic to-do lists, which allow a user to record notes and set subtasks, recurring tasks and reminders. It also has iCalendar and Google Calendar integrations and sends weekly work reports that summarize productivity and performance.
Productivity Challenge Timer
Productivity Challenge Timer manages productivity with gamification. Alongside a timer set in Pomodoro-inspired intervals, it comes with a ladder-style ranking system that sets a user up to compete with themselves based on the hours they log over the course of a week. This aspect can trigger a user’s competitive spirit, in likeness to achieving a top slot on an arcade game scoreboard or, as blogger Ajai Ra describes, climbing Dragon Mountain in Mortal Kombat.