What Is The Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique a very simple, but highly effective time management and productivity system that might just rock your world.

If you have read other posts here, you will know that I don’t really believe in individual quick-fix hacks that will immediately resolve all your time management woes.

Of course, there are quick fixes to help get you more organized, but great time management is the result of the gradual formation of the right habits and the implementation of effective routines and strategies.

There’s no real shortcut, I’m afraid.

However, if for some strange reason I lived in a world where I were only permitted to use one single strategy to help my time management and productivity, then the Pomodoro Technique would almost certainly be the one I would choose.

Don’t get me wrong, the Pomodoro Technique is not infallible and will not suit everyone, but is probably one of the best-known productivity techniques around.

And there’s a good reason why it is so well-known and that is because it works for so many people.

This is probably because it is so easy to implement, the results can be instantly apparent and the returns in terms of productivity and time saving are potentially massive.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

Ok, so what is the Pomodoro Technique exactly?

The Pomodoro Technique is the brain-child of an Italian by the name of Francesco Cirillo. You can check out his work here.

According to his short book (unsurprising entitled, “The Pomodoro Technique”), he came up with this way of working when he was a university student in the late 1980s and trying to find ways to get more done in less time.

The technique uses a timer to reduce tasks or work into intervals of 25 minutes with short 5-minute breaks in between.

But why is it called Pomodoro?

Well, Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to time the intervals Cirillo used at the time and Pomodoro is Italian for tomato – hence the name the Pomodoro Technique.

Within the system a Pomodoro refers to the interval of time spent working, so one Pomodoro equals 25 minutes, 2 Pomodoros equal 50 minutes, etc.

So, as you can see, the concept is pretty simple.

The Pomodoro website breaks the process down into 6 steps:

STEP ONE
Choose what you want to get done that requires your full attention.

STEP TWO
Set the timer for 25 minutes and commit to staying fully-focused for every one of those 25 minutes.

STEP THREE
Keep working until you hear the alarm- if anything else pops into your head during these 25 minutes, just jot it down and get straight back to the task at hand. You can come back to the thought afterwards.

STEP FOUR
When the alarm goes off, check off your Pomodoro as done.

STEP FIVE
Take a 5-minute break – talk a walk, have a coffee, do something not related to work.

STEP SIX
After 4 complete Pomodoros, take a longer break of 20-30 minutes.

The Pomodoro Rules

Cirillo lays out several rules that are required to make the technique work effectively. These are:

  • A Pomodoro consists of 25 minutes plus a five-minute break
  • After every four Pomodoros comes a 15-30 minute break
  • The Pomodoro is indivisible. There are no half or quarter Pomodoros
  • If a Pomodoro begins, it has to ring!
  • If a Pomodoro is interrupted definitively – i.e. the interruption isn’t handled – it’s considered void, never begun, and it can’t be recorded with an ‘X’
  • If an activity is completed once a Pomodoro has already begun, continue reviewing the same activity until the Pomodoro rings
  • Protect the Pomodoro. Inform effectively, negotiate quickly to reschedule the interruption, call back the person who interrupted you as agreed
  • If it lasts more than 5-7 Pomodoros, break it down. Complex activities should be divided into several activities
  • If it lasts less than one Pomodoro, add it up. Simple tasks can be combined
  • Results are achieved Pomodoro after Pomodoro
  • The next Pomodoro will go better!

Implementing this structure has several advantages. The Pomodoro website manages to stretch out the list of benefits, but fundamentally, you’re looking at the following advantages when you use this system of working:

  1. Using a timeframe in which most people can focus for the full duration.
  2. Reduce a complex task into a series of simpler, more manageable tasks
  3. Attention on one task only without interruption
  4. Improved planning
  5. Eliminate burnout
  6. Managing expectations and better predications of how long it will take to complete a task

Does the Pomodoro Technique work for all tasks?

The Pomodoro Technique by design is quite rigid, so it may work better for some tasks and activities than others.

Some people like to continue working through when they find themselves “in the groove” and an interruption every 25 minutes may break the creative flow. (I found this when I was doing a writing-related task.)

Can this technique be extended into work meetings and other tasks?

Possibly, but I think this type of structure is most suitable for writing and studying.

For some kinds of job, this type of structure may not work all day, but there are certainly periods when it could be used. For example, if you have scheduled 2 hours to work on a project, then you Pomodoro it for those 2 hours, but not the rest of the day.

Interruptions from colleagues, those impromptu, “just-a-quick-minute” meetings (that are never just a quick minute and always much longer) and other distractions are factors you need to contend with at work, so you need to select your Pomodoro times carefully and make sure your colleagues are on board, so they don’t disturb you when you’re in full flow.

Is the Pomodoro Technique effective?

From experience, I think that the Pomodoro Technique is a very effective time management and productivity tool.

Part of the reason why it is so appealing is because things are being broken down into more manageable chunks.

For many of us, the prospect of sitting down at a laptop for two hours to work on a project can be daunting and we know that a big chunk of that time is wasted due to a wandering mind, a lack of focus or other distractions.

Check out this post: How To Focus At Work And While Studying

Going hard at it for 25 minutes is much more achievable psychologically and so the likelihood of getting things gets done goes up exponentially.

Time Hack Hero Takeaway

The main question I had in my mind when I started looking at this was, “Is the Pomodoro Technique all just hype?”

Because from a very cynical perspective, Pomodoro is such a ridiculously simple concept, it seems a bit crazy that a whole system has been created around working in 25-minute blocks and Pomodoro is even a registered brand.

When I was a kid, my mother used a kitchen timer that was shaped like an egg. If Francesco had used the same one, I wonder if he would have come up with the “Uovo Technique” instead and then would it have caught on and become a global brand?

Presenting . . . “The Uovo Technique!” / Max Pixel

We’ll never know, but if you entrepreneurs out there ever wanted proof that a product can be created out of anything if you position yourself correctly, Pomodoro is it!

But simple or not, the fact is, most people do not naturally work in this way and it may not even occur to them that it is more effective than just sitting down and working until a task is done.

I’ve tried both ways and I can personally say that I am far more productive when I use this habit of working in blocks.

Once I get the technique down fully, I think I’ll prefer to use Pomodoros of 45 minutes, with 10-minute breaks, but maybe this will depend on the task at hand. I’m still experimenting.

If you’re new to this, using the standard 25-minute blocks with 5-minute breaks is a good place to start to see if this style of working works suits you, but don’t be surprised if you find it difficult to begin with. Any new way of working requires some time for adaption.

If you want some more information on how to implement the Pomodoro Technique yourself, I’d suggest reading Francesco Cirillo’s book, “The Pomodoro Technique”, which goes into more depth on the practicalities of using this method and covers how to deal with interruptions, how to estimate time required for activities, how to evolve the technique and more.

The book is very short and can be bought here on Amazon. If you want to go all-in, you could even get yourself a Pomodoro Timer.

To find out what I think of the Pomodoro Technique in practice, check out my post here: Does The Pomodoro Technique Work?

Useful Apps/Resources:

Pomodoro timers
Pomodoro Tracker

Online Pomodoro Timers:

tomato-timer.com
marinaratimer.com
tomatotimers.com
kanbanflow.com

[Featured image credit: Luca Mascaro / flickr]

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