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The Pomodoro Technique – A Cool Way To Stay Focused And Increase Productivity

Nov 17, 2012

Subject of this post is the Pomodoro Technique which I came across about a year ago. Since then it has helped me a lot to stay focused and get more tasks completed (this article being one of the outcomes, took me 3 pomodoros). Why don’t you try it too?  

The concept behind the Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo during his university days in the 1980's. Faced with a crippling productivity slump after his exams, he began to take a long hard look at his work habits and tried to figure out what was wrong. He came to the conclusion that the real issue was that it’s getting harder to fully focus intensively on a task, even if it is just for a short period of time.

And that's how the Pomodoro Technique was born. Armed with a tomato-shaped timer (“Pomodoro” means tomato in Italian), Cirillo set off to create one of the most simple yet innovative productivity methods that has helped thousands (millions?) of people around the globe manage their time better.

In a Nutshell: The Pomodoro Technique

Here's how it works; first off, you need a timer (any timer will do, though most followers stay true to the concept and get themselves those tomato-shaped kitchen timers), a pen or pencil, and a notebook where you can record your progress.

A Pomodoro consists of 25 minutes of intense concentration on a single task, followed by a 5-minute break. After four Pomodoros have elapsed, you can then take a longer break (a fifteen or thirty minute interval works fine) and then the whole cycle can be repeated again.

A typical Pomodoro cycle looks like this:

  1. Tasks to be accomplished for the day are listed down. You can use this To Do Today sheet provided by Pomodoro Technique website. It includes an area for pending tasks and a section labeled "Unplanned and Urgent Activities" where unexpected yet necessary tasks that pop up during the day are filed.
  2. The timer is set for 25 minutes and the tasks are worked on one by one. The breaks (both short and long ones) are to be used for activities that are NOT related to work. Once a Pomodoro is used up, a corresponding mark should be written down on your recording sheet or notebook. You can rest, eat, stretch or do any other activity that can help to refresh your mind.
  3. At the end of the day, observations regarding your performance need to be recorded. This part usually includes recording the number of Pomodoros that were spent on each task and the number of interruptions (if any). Writing these down will often help you predict the number of Pomodoros to be assigned for future activities.

The whole process is simple enough to comprehend, but there are two key rules to be followed if the system is to be used to its maximum potential.

  • Rule Number One: A Pomodoro is Indivisible
    An ongoing Pomodoro cannot be disrupted. If it is to be interrupted by an urgent matter, that particular Pomodoro needs to be crossed out and voided. Upon returning to work, you need to start on a fresh Pomodoro.
  • Rule Number Two: If a Pomodoro Begins, It Has to Ring
    Every Pomodoro should be worked on from start to finish. If a task is finished before the timer runs out, you could use this time to review your work and make improvements, if necessary. This process is called "overlearning."

Why It Works

I’m not alone. People like Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal and Steven Sande of The Apple Unofficial Weblog swear by the system. The Pomodoro Technique also seems to be useful people who have ADHD.

So how does the Pomodoro Technique work its magic?

Multitasking is clearly not for everyone. The Pomodoro Technique emphasizes the importance of working intensely on only one task at a time. This way, you can focus your concentration on the activity at hand and not get overwhelmed by your workload. Twenty five minutes is the perfect length of time to get a decent amount of work done without becoming exhausted. The regular breaks also keep your mind refreshed, ready to take on the next Pomodoro in line.

The system can make you work faster by making you stick into a strict yet perfectly manageable timeframe (the 25-minute chunks). Watching the timer tick away creates a sense of urgency that leaves no more time for procrastinating on things that are not essential to work.

A Few More Things To Consider

The Pomodoro Technique does not come easy to all people. For multitasking-hardliners it might take some time to get used to the one-task-only system. Some might be too suffocated by the strict twenty five minute chunks, since it also needs a certain amount of discipline to be able to focus, even for a short period of time.

Also note that while the Pomodoro Technique is a great strategy on its own for time management, it does not provide for the organization and categorization of tasks. For that I’d suggest other work productivity systems like the famous “Getting Things Done (GTD)” method (more about this in future post). [Update: Katrin from the official Pomodoro Technique website informed me that the Pomdoro Technique actually does help to organize your work. Check out the 6 objectives that can be achieved in the Pomodoro Technique manual]

So does the Pomodoro Technique work for you? There is only one way to find out… I’d strongly that you give it a chance as it may significantly enhance your productivity for a long time to come (what can you lose?). Happy to hear about your experiences!

[Update: Here’s a good youtube video I found explaining the Pomodoro Technique:]



  • Shara November 25, 2012 9:52 am

    I tried the pomodoro tecihnque for a couple weeks last year. It cut my productivity a lot.For people that are easily distracted, it’s very effective. For me, I find that limiting the allotment of my time to any single project (I work on dozens of projects for many of my clients), is a total waste of my ability to work on several projects simultaneously.For example, WordPress 3.3.1 was released this week it’s a security update for the 3.3 branch. Under the pomodoro tecihnque, I’d allot 25 indivisible minutes to each and every WP site as I update it and any related plugins and themes for that one site. Instead, I used four desktop machines (via ) across 5 displays to update and test 190+ sites simultaneously. Total time allocated? Just under 40 minutes. 40 minutes vs 80 hours? I win.

  • Nick November 25, 2012 12:37 pm

    Thanks a lot for your comment Shara, that’s a good point. In order to avoid situations like this I always try to define rather ambitious goals to achieve within the 25 minutes. So in your example I would always spend the first 5 minutes or so (can be less, can be more, depends on the situation) on figuring out what the most effective way is to do the task. So I dont dive into the task right away, but think how to go about it. For example for the next time, the question I would ask myself is “can the task be done in less than 40 minutes?”. Maybe I would then come to the conclusion that tasks like this can be outsourced (if they are easily delegatable) and I effectively only spend 5 minutes on it then. I also use the Pomodoro Technique mainly for “thinking work”, because I discovered for myself that the key to productivity lies in the approach to the task, not just simple doing.

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