How To Use The Pomodoro Technique To Increase Productivity

By Chris Kolmar - Aug. 29, 2021
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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With a limited number of hours each day, the challenge of completing all of your work can feel overwhelming. Even the most self-disciplined among us aren’t immune to the perils of procrastination and loss of focus.

That’s why it’s critical to utilize time management techniques created and tested to help us work more efficiently. You’ve heard to to-do lists,

The Pomodoro technique is one such method that has proven itself so successful that it’s used by CEOs and millions of other professionals.

In this article, we’ll explain what the Pomodoro technique is, exactly how to use it, and how it can benefit your life and career.

What Is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro technique is a time management method developed in the early 1990s by the author Francesco Cirillo.

Cirillo was struggling to focus on his studies, overwhelmed by the variety and length of the work in front of him. He decided to commit just ten minutes to focused study time, using a Pomodoro (Italian for tomato) shaped timer. This cleared Cirillo’s mind of distractions, enabling him to effectively complete the tasks at hand.

Seeing potential in his new method, Cirillo further developed it into the Pomodoro technique.

Now, the technique is taught and used by millions of professionals around the world. It’s championed by designers, programmers, and others who have to meet regular deadlines.

Pomodoro Technique Core Process

Although there are variations of the Pomodoro technique, the basic process is extremely simple.

The six original steps are:

  1. Decide on the task at hand.

  2. Set a timer to 25 minutes.

  3. Work solely on the task.

  4. When the timer rings, end work and put a checkmark (one Pomodoro) on a piece of paper.

  5. Enjoy a short five-minute break.

  6. After four checkmarks (one set), take a longer breaker of 15-30 minutes to recharge. Cross out the checkmarks and return to step 1.

In the context of the technique, a “Pomodoro” refers to each interval of unbroken time spent working. A “set” constitutes the combination of four Pomodoros and their accompanying breaks.

If you complete a task before the Pomodoro ends, the remaining time should be devoted to activities such as:

  • Review and edit the work just finished.

  • Review the activities from an improvement perspective: What was learned? What could be done better or differently?

  • Review the upcoming tasks for the next Pomodoro. Begin planning or updating those tasks.

Tips for the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique’s goal is to reduce any interruptions to one’s focus or flow while working. Thus, there are a few key guidelines to follow when planning and practicing the technique. These are:

  • Break down complex tasks. Any tasks that require longer than four Pomodoros to finish should be divided into smaller, actionable tasks.

  • Fuse small tasks together. Individual tasks should ideally take as close to a single Pomodoro to complete as possible. If tasks are too short, then combine them into a single Pomodoro.

    For example, “check new homework,” “upload assignment,” and “read instructions” could likely be done in one 25 minute session.

  • Plan ahead. Plan the day’s tasks at the beginning of the day or the night before. Make a to-do-list of each task and estimate how many Pomodoros they’ll take. If you have 12 or more tasks, consider postponing some to the next day.

  • Use low-tech. It’s recommended to perform the Pomodoro technique using a low-tech approach, such as with a mechanical kitchen timer, pencil, and paper. The physical act of winding the timer and marking each Pomodoro enhances your determination to start and continue the task.

    The clock’s ticking externalizes the desire to complete the task, and the ringing clearly announces a break. Research shows that your brain will begin to associate these stimuli with increased flow and focus.

  • Avoid screens while on breaks. Rather than scrolling through your phone during a break, perform physical actions such as moving, stretching, or looking outside the window.

    Your break will be much more mentally refreshing and you’ll have fewer lingering thoughts when the next Pomodoro begins.

  • Once a Pomodoro begins, it must ring. The Pomodoro is the smallest indivisible unit of time in the technique.

    If you finish early, do not use the remaining time to start the next task (preparation is acceptable). But it’s best to focus solely on improving the original task at hand. Review what you’ve done, reflect on possible improvements, and note what you’ve learned.

  • Use the INSC method when interrupted. When interrupted, Cirillo recommends employing the following method:

    1. Inform. Let the distracting party let you know you’re working on something.

    2. Negotiate. Give a time when you can get back to the other party about the distracting issue in a timely manner.

    3. Schedule. Schedule the follow-up immediately.

    4. Call back. Reach out to the other party when you complete the Pomodoro and are ready to tackle the issue.

Why the Pomodoro Technique Works

Don’t let the lighthearted nature of using tomatoes as stand-ins for units of time lead you to underestimate the serious effectiveness of the Pomodoro technique.

The method directly targets the common pitfalls of procrastination and loss of focus in a few clever ways:

  • Makes complex tasks less intimidating. One of the greatest contributors to procrastination is one’s perception of how long and arduous a task is.

    Many people are also perfectionists and struggle to break out of the mindset of “If I can’t do it perfectly, I shouldn’t even bother.”

    By breaking complex work into small, bite-sized portions, the Pomodoro technique eliminates these factors and makes it easier to simply get started.

    The method’s focus is on the consistency of action rather than on accomplishing perfection every time.

  • Combats distractions. Once you’ve been interrupted from your flow state, it’s often challenging to regain it.

    It doesn’t help that with our phones and laptops, there’s a constant stream of information tempting us in the form of social media, emails, and websites.

    By limiting you to a short, urgent length of time to complete a task, the Pomodoro technique forces you to power through these temptations and remain focused.

  • Fights boredom. Other people are the exact opposite of procrastinators, focusing too long on a single task. To combat this issue, the Pomodoro technique forces you to take short, frequent breaks.

    The frequency of breaks reduces mental fatigue, while their brief length limits your risk of becoming distracted for an extended period of time.

  • Simplifies self-regulation. It’s extremely easy to self-justify behavior such as “I’ll only take a quick peek at my messages.” Such small actions inevitably lead to reading one’s inbox or browsing the internet, eventually resulting in hours of wasted time.

    The Pomodoro technique’s rules are set in stone, eliminating your ability to self-justify even these small time-wasting behaviors.

  • Reveal where your time goes. Most people tend to vastly underestimate how much time they need to complete major tasks. This is often called the planning fallacy.

    The Pomodoro technique reveals how quickly you’re able to complete different forms of work, enabling you to plan more effectively in the future.

  • Gamifies productivity. Breaking large workloads into Pomodoros allows you to measure out concrete goals for improvement.

    You can compare how much work was finished in one Pomodoro when compared with the last, or how many distractions were present and how much focus was maintained.

    This makes it easier to identify exactly what areas need to be improved, motivating action.

The Pomodoro technique’s core strategy is to break complex tasks into more approachable ones and allow for refreshing breaks at predefined intervals.

As long as these principles are maintained, feel free to tailor the technique to better suit your personal working style.

Some popular variations include:

  • Change the length of each Pomodoro. It’s important to start with short Pomodoros to become accustomed to the technique.

    If you find it too difficult to focus for 25 minutes, feel free to try 15-, 10-, or even 5-minute Pomodoro sessions.

    Once the method feels natural, many opt to work in 90 minute time intervals to reflect a more natural concentration cycle.

  • Change the length of the set. It’s perfectly fine to use sets of varying lengths of times to accommodate your schedule.

    For example, one may work a two-hour set during the period between work meetings and then use longer periods after work-hours before the dishwasher finishes.

  • Constantly assess and improve. Monitor your periods of naturally high productivity and use this data to inform how else you can adjust the Pomodoro method to work best for you.

Pomodoro Technique FAQ

  • Why does the Pomodoro Technique work? The Pomodoro Technique works because it structures your work and breaks time into natural intervals of concentration. While attention endurance is by no means equal across individuals, the general idea of formatting your day around short breaks and sprints of highly focused activity is effective for most people.

    The Pomodoro Technique makes it easy to get started, combats distractions, and allows you to see precisely how you spend your workday.

  • What do you do during a 5-minute pomodoro break? Good things to do during a 5-minute pomodoro break include:

    • Walk around and stretch

    • Tidy up your workspace

    • Make a cup of coffee, tea, etc.

    • Practice meditation

    • Read a newspaper or magazine article

    • Play with your pet (if remote)

  • Is the Pomodoro Technique good? Yes, the Pomodoro Technique is good. Scientific studies and anecdotal reports from successful individauls both indicate that the method is very effective in increasing productivity.

    The Pomodoro Technique is especially useful for freelancers and other contractors who charge at an hourly rate. It helps ensure that your rate is equitable and profitable.

    That being said, the standard Pomodoro Technique might not be perfectly suited for your attention span, so be sure to play around with different pomodoro and set lengths.

  • What do you do during pomodoro long breaks? Good things to do during a long pomodoro break include:

    • Take a walk around the neighborhood

    • Do something artistic (that doesn’t involve screens)

    • Make a snack or grab a quick meal

    • Read a book, magazine, newspaper, etc.

    • Call a friend or chat with coworkers (as long as they’re also not working)

    • Work on a hobby

  • How many pomodoros can you do in a day? You can do 14 pomodoros in a day, assuming you work an 8-hour day and use the standard Pomodoro Technique. Here’s the breakdown:

    • Pomodoro 1: 9-9:25

    • Pomodoro 2: 9:30-9:55

    • Pomodoro 3: 10-10:25

    • Pomodoro 4: 10:30-10:55

    • Pomodoro 5: 11:10-11:35

    • Pomodoro 6: 11:40-12:05

    • Pomodoro 7: 12:05-12:30

    • Pomodoro 8: 12:30-12:55

    • Pomodoro 9: 1:30-1:55

    • Pomodoro 10: 2-2:25

    • Pomodoro 11: 2:30-2:55

    • Pomodoro 12: 3-3:25

    • Pomodoro 13: 3:30-3:55

    • Pomodoro 14: 4-4:25

    Note that this would be a pretty intense workday if followed strictly. We recommend starting with between eight and ten Pomodoros to start.

Final Thoughts

You may be skeptical of time management strategies, and we wouldn’t blame you. Countless websites tout all sorts of miracle methods. However, consider the millions of successful professionals who testify to the Pomodoro technique’s effectiveness.

The method is cleverly designed to be extremely simple to perform, while at the same time targeting the core cause of procrastination: loss of focus.

No matter what you’re doing, breaking complex tasks into simpler ones is a solid habit for organizing your work.

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Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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