The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity method that breaks complex projects and overwhelming to-do lists down into discrete, manageable chunks. The core process involves setting a 25-minute timer for uninterrupted work on a specific task, followed by a five-minute break. After completing four intervals of uninterrupted work, the user takes a longer break — typically 15 to 30 minutes.
What Is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity method that encourages a user to break their workday down into 25-minute intervals with five-minute breaks in between. It also includes processes for organizing the day, handling interruptions and assessing one’s priorities in light of new information.
Each 25-minute interval 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.”
How Does the Pomodoro Technique Work?
Steps to the Pomodoro Technique’s core process are as follows:
- Pick a task.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes.
- Work on the selected task until time expires.
- Take a five-minute break.
- Repeat the above sequence three more times before taking a longer break (usually 15 to 30 minutes).
- Return to the first step and repeat.
As Staffan Nöteberg notes in Pomodoro Technique Illustrated, new Pomodoro practitioners might be surprised to learn just how frequently they are interrupted, either by external factors like a notification or a colleague stopping by, or by internal interruptions like new ideas to explore, errands to do or messages to pass along. The Pomodoro Technique contains strategies for handling these interruptions (more on that later).
While the process may seem arbitrary or difficult to follow at first, succeeding is 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 like social media, top-heavy to-do lists and low energy levels.
Once problems are identified, adjustments can be made accordingly. These can be as simple as clearing your desk, keeping a snack handy, setting your 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.”
“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.”
Tips When Using the Pomodoro Technique
“The Pomodoro Technique is not flawless,” said Kimberly Wilson, an organizational psychologist and CEO of Leadership and Resilience Consultants.
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.
MAKE NOTE OF INTERRUPTIONS AND MOVE ON
If you think of something else you need to do while in the middle of a Pomodoro, you should make a note of it and return to it after your next break. In his book, Nöteberg recommends leaving space on your to-do today sheet for writing down things to revisit later. Similarly, if you get a non-urgent call or message, you should make a note to return the call once your Pomodoro is complete.
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.
The 25-minute interval is a good starting point, but you should feel free to experiment with different durations to see what works best for you. That said, Nöteberg cautions against using different-length Pomodoro intervals within the same day, as variation can disrupt your rhythm and mess with your estimates and productivity tracking. Likewise, as you get more familiar with the technique, you can adjust the way you plan and document your work and experiment with some of the different apps out there.
What Are Pomodoro Worksheets?
Pomodoro practitioners rely on three separate worksheets: the activity inventory, the to-do today list and the records sheet.
The Activity Inventory
The activity inventory is an unordered list of all the things you need to do — at some point. You’ll choose tasks from the activity inventory at the start of each day while creating your to-do today list.
In Pomodoro Technique Illustrated, Nöteberg offers several tips for making the activity inventory more useful:
- Don’t make your notes too long, or too cryptic. You need to be able to refer to them weeks later.
- Focus on results, rather than tasks.
- Put important or recurring words first in the description so you can easily scan the list.
- Add estimates of the number of Pomodori required to complete a task.
When a task is completed, cross it off the activity inventory, which carries over from day to day until it’s full.
The To-Do Today List
The to-do today list includes only the activities you intend to do that day. Each morning, write down all the activities you intend to do that day and add a square for each Pomodoro you think a task will take to complete. For example, if you need to prepare for a presentation, you might assign three Pomodori to creating the slides, one Pomodoro to review them, and another Pomodoro or two for practicing your delivery. For tracking purposes, it might be useful to create separate line items for each of these stages, so you can develop an understanding of which parts of your preparations take longer, or shorter, than expected.
The Records Sheet
The final sheet is for recording key statistics, like how many Pomodoro you complete each day and how accurate your time estimates were — or anything else you find helpful. This sheet is usually updated at the end of each day.
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.
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, Wilson said.
“If you need to maintain momentum and avoid the desire to procrastinate,” she added, “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.
Why Does the Pomodoro Technique Work?
The Pomodoro Technique imposes structure on your workday, making room for working on a single task with unbroken focus. It also helps you recognize and observe moments where you’re overwhelmed with too much to do. So instead of being chased by the clock, time becomes a tool harnessed by the user.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the Pomodoro Technique work for ADHD?
Billy Roberts, a licensed counselor specializing in ADHD, recommends the Pomodoro Technique as a way to promote structure and intentionality in one’s work, with the goal of becoming more productive.
Does a Pomodoro have to be 25 minutes?
No. The Pomodoro Technique suggests 25 minutes of work followed by a five-minute break, but many practitioners experiment with different durations. If you struggle to focus for a full 25 minutes, you might want to start with a shorter duration and build your ability to focus over time.