Do you find that the day passes by and you wonder where all the time went? And why so little work got done?
You’re pulled in so many directions that you’re just not sure how to manage your time and get through your to-do list anymore.
If so, there are many methods that can help you improve your time management skills. And you’ve likely tried a bunch of them already.
But perhaps you haven’t yet found the one that works for you?
If you’re looking for a systematic approach to boost your productivity, then the Pomodoro Technique may be for you.
Let’s take a look at the method and how you can get started today.
Why the funny name “Pomodoro” ?
Who would ever imagine that a tomato could be the inspiration for one of the most popular time management tools?
It may sound a little strange, but it’s true.
The technique was developed in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, an entrepreneur and software developer, to help him focus on his studies during university.
He had a clever idea to use a tomato kitchen timer to track his work and study time. And so the name of this method was born. “Pomodoro” means “tomato” in Italian.
Cirillo wanted to share his technique to help others. So he wrote an international best-selling book by the same name, which is still popular today.
The technique has become widely used all over the world and has helped millions of people improve their productivity.
What’s the premise behind the technique?
The goal of the Pomodoro Technique is to maximize your focus and productivity by working in structured intervals, separated by short breaks.
The method is fairly simple: you work for 25 minutes (one pomodoro session) and then you receive a reward. You take a 5-minute break. When you complete four pomodoros, it’s time for a longer break of 20 to 30 minutes. The cycle then repeats.
The reason it works so well is that the timer forces you to concentrate fully during the working periods. It’s easier to avoid distractions knowing that you have a break coming up. And then the break helps you recharge your brain.
When you have a million things on your to-do list, it can be a great tool that helps you power through all your tasks.
There are 7 steps in the process:
Step 1: Plan your tasks
The first step is to review your to-do list and select the tasks you want to complete that day. Make sure to list them in order of importance so you can tackle the most significant ones first.
Next, include the amount of time you expect for each task, and express this as the number of pomodoro sessions (25-minute sessions with a 5-minute break).
For example, if you expect a task to be about an hour, then this would convert to 2 pomodoros (50 minutes of working time and 10 minutes of break time).
You can always revise the number of pomodoros required as you work through your tasks. The point of this exercise is just to help you create a schedule for the day.
Step 2: Set the timer
Find a timer that you can use for your work session. This can be a manual or digital timer depending on your preferences. We’ve listed some ideas for pomodoro apps towards this article so you can check these out to get started.
Select the amount of time for each pomodoro. You can use the traditional 25 minutes based on Cirillo’s recommendation, or you can choose the amount of time that works best for you. For instance, some people can work productively for longer durations such as 30-45 minutes and then take a 5-10-minute break.
The most important thing is to find the work and break pattern that’s right for you.
Step 3: Focus fully on the task until the timer rings.
Start the timer and work continuously on your task until the timer goes off.
It’s essential to avoid distractions in order for the technique to work. Just remind yourself that you made a promise to work straight through the pomodoro session. And a break is coming up soon (within 25 minutes).
If you’re committed to improving your productivity, you will be able to focus your full attention and follow through on your tasks.
Step 4: Keep track of each pomodoro
After you complete each pomodoro, put a checkmark on your to-do list or on a piece of paper. The purpose of this step is to keep track of the number of pomodoros completed.
You can then use this to review your progress and compare to the expectations you set out at the beginning. The good thing about this step is that it gives you a sense of accomplishment as you see how well you’re able to focus and complete your tasks.
Step 5: Take a quick break (5 mins)
At the end of each pomodoro, take a short break of 5 minutes. Use this time to get up and walk around, do some quick stretches, or get something to drink. The goal is to get you away from your desk and give your mind a quick rest.
You might also want to avoid checking social media sites or surfing the web. Sometimes these temptations might be too great and end up sucking you in for long periods of time. After all, you don’t want to do anything that would ruin the great momentum you’ve built up.
Step 6: Take a longer break after 4 pomodoros
Once you get through 4 pomodoro sessions (i.e. 100 minutes of work and 15 minutes of break time), you’ve earned a longer break of 15-30 minutes.
Do something that you enjoy and that can help recharge your mind and energy levels. Go for a walk, eat lunch, watch a funny video, and so on. Try pretty much anything that helps you relax, and then return to work ready to start the next pomodoro session.
Step 7: Repeat the cycle
Lastly, start over and repeat the cycle above until you complete all your tasks for the work day. You’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish using the technique.
How to handle interruptions
Interruptions should be deferred to the end of the pomodoro session as much as possible. For example, if colleagues stop by to chat, you can let them know you’ll get back to them within half an hour. Or if you get a phone call, let it go to voice mail and check it later.
Most distractions don’t require your immediate attention and can be put off for 25 minutes. This will enable you to maintain your focus and productivity levels throughout the day.
If you can’t postpone the interruption and you stop working during the pomodoro session, then the method states that the pomodoro should be abandoned. There wouldn’t be much point in resuming the session mid-way. Instead, save your work and start a new pomodoro once you have quiet time again.
The steps above form the basic guidelines to the process. Since everyone is unique, the steps can be customized based on individual work styles.
For instance, the duration of the work and break times can both be varied to suit personal preferences. It’s just a matter of testing various lengths to find the ones that enhance your productivity.
Also, some people prefer to use the Pomodoro Technique selectively. That is, for certain types of tasks that fit well with the process for specific times of the day when they need to focus and get in a good work rhythm. How you use the technique is completely up to you.
Watch the Video
For a recap of the process, check out the video below:
The Pomodoro Technique is an effective time management tool that has many benefits in terms of boosting your productivity. Here are some of the many advantages of using the technique:
Have you noticed how difficult it is just to get started on your tasks and get into a good working groove? Most people would even admit that getting started is the hardest part of the day.
But then once you’ve built up a good work rhythm, isn’t it easier to continue working and maintain a good pace?
Well, the Pomodoro Technique aims to help you accomplish just that. By breaking up your work into small timed chunks, you build the momentum you need to keep going and plow through your tasks.
You feel more efficient and that gives you the motivation to work even harder. With time, this becomes your normal work mode and you get a lot more stuff done.
Big projects become less scary
How many times have you put off a large project that you just weren’t motivated to start? And then rushed at the last minute and even pulled an all-nighter to complete the work?
We’re all guilty of doing this and we know that it’s not good for us. But have you ever considered why you do this?
One of the main reasons is because the size of the project is overwhelming. Simply thinking about the amount of time and effort involved in the work is intimidating. So it’s easier to avoid the work until the deadline approaches and you feel the pressure to get it done.
The good news is that the Pomodoro Technique offers a solution for handling big projects. It encourages the work to be broken down into smaller tasks, which can be completed in 25-minute intervals.
Breaking the project down makes it seem possible. It’s much easier to be motivated to work on smaller pieces for 25 minutes at a time than to start on a project that you know will take 50 hours to complete.
We could all use a little extra help to fight off distractions and stay on track with our work. Using a pomodoro timer serves that purpose.
As the clock starts ticking, you know that you have limited time to complete your task. So it forces you to focus on the item at hand with no room for interruptions.
Also, knowing that a break is just around the corner helps to resist the urge to procrastinate. You can defer the distracting thoughts and temptations until the break. Thus leaving your mind clear to concentrate and complete the work.
Preserve mental energy
Similar to the time you have in a day, your mental energy is a limited resource. You start the day refreshed and full of energy, only to gradually become tired as the work day goes by.
The problem is that fatigue is one of the biggest productivity killers. If you can’t think clearly, then how can you stay productive and complete your work?
So how can you keep fatigue at bay for as long as possible? The Pomodoro Technique addresses this problem since it forces you to take frequent breaks to rest and recharge.
The breaks are essential to maintaining your energy levels so you can keep up a good pace. Otherwise, you might continue working non-stop and tire yourself out even more quickly.
Gets you moving
There is a lot of buzz in the media about how sitting for long periods of time is bad for our health, and this is backed up by research studies.
To counter this, the regular breaks not only help you recharge your mind, but encourage you to get up and move away from your desk. During the breaks, you can do some quick exercises, stretch or take a short walk.
Anything that helps you be more physically active will have a positive effect on both your productivity and your health. So there’s no reason not to take advantage of the breaks and get moving!
Build better habits for the long-term
Developing good habits that stick over the long-term requires a great deal of time, effort and patience. And with good training and discipline, it’s possible to improve any skill when you set your mind to it.
In this context, the Pomodoro Technique can be viewed as a form of training to improve your productivity skills. By applying the method on a regular basis, it’s possible to master any of the following habits:
- Improved attention span and focus
- Consistency in productivity levels
- Improved follow-through and completion of tasks
When you master this skill set, just imagine your potential for success!
Every system has its limitations and won’t work for everyone. The same is true for the Pomodoro Technique.
Interestingly enough, the key features that make it a success are also the reasons why it doesn’t work for some people. In the end, it boils down to individual work style and personal preferences.
Below are some of the reasons the method isn’t always helpful:
Not suitable for all types of work
The technique is more beneficial for office workers who can use the structured format to tackle their to-do lists and manage distractions during the work day. It’s easy for them to implement and most tasks can fit well within the framework.
However, the method doesn’t work as well for creative professionals such as artists, musicians, designers and so on. They structure itself doesn’t inspire long periods of creativity so they may find the method too restrictive. The frequent breaks every 25 minutes may also be too disruptive to their creative process.
Often, these professionals have their own individual ways to get their creative juices flowing, so the Pomodoro Technique would not be the best fit for them.
One of the biggest complaints about the method is its lack of flexibility in terms of the fixed work periods and the treatment of incomplete pomodoros.
Specifically, many people find it difficult to work continuously for 25 minutes when faced with constant interruptions during the work day.
And if you have to stop working during a pomodoro, the session can’t be resumed. It’s considered incomplete and you can’t mark an X on your tracker.
Since you don’t get credit for this session, it negatively affects your sense of accomplishment. And if you don’t feel like you’re being productive, then you’re not likely to continue with this method.
So how can you get started? There are only a few simple things you need: a piece of paper, a pen and a timer.
The timer can be manual, similar to that used by Cirillo, or digital. Here are our top picks for free web timers that you can use on any computer.
We recommend using a web app versus a phone app in order to avoid the many distractions that exist on your phone.
However, if you would like to use a phone app, there are many choices available for iOS and Android on the Apple App Store and Google Play.
This is a simple web app based on the traditional 25 minute working period and 5 minute breaks. After 4 pomodoros, there is a longer break of 10 minutes.
The time periods are currently fixed and you can’t make any changes. However, the developers have indicated on the site that customization of time periods will be possible in future updates (no time horizon provided).
The app also offers audio notifications when the timer is up, and you can customize the sounds and volume settings.
The marinara timer is also easy-to-use, yet more customizable than the Tomato Timer described above.
On the home page, you can select either the traditional pomodoro timer or create your own custom version.
For the custom timer, you can create the intervals of work/break time that you prefer. Simply enter a name for each period of work/break and the corresponding length of time, and then you’re all set to start.
Is it for you? Give it a try
The only way to find out if the Pomodoro Technique is right for you is to give it a try. It’s easy to get started and the system is simple to use.
You don’t have anything to lose but a lot to gain. Anything that has the potential to help you become consistently productive is worth a try!
What do you think?
Have you tried the Pomodoro Technique? Did you have a good experience? If you haven’t yet tried it, would you be interested in testing it out? Please share any comments below. Thank you!