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January 14, 2021 · 10 min read

The Pomodoro Technique

How to beat procrastination and boost your productivity with the Pomodoro Technique

Since Francesco Cirillo first introduced it in the early 1990s, the Pomodoro Technique has helped transform millions of people’s lives. This simple time management technique is designed to help you become more productive by improving focus and reducing time lost through procrastination.

The Pomodoro Technique asks you to alternate work sessions (or pomodoros) with frequent short breaks to sustain focus and prevent mental fatigue and stress. The method has proven to be efficient, but simple and easy to apply in your daily work.

When to use the Pomodoro Technique and who it’s for

The Pomodoro Technique is suitable for anyone who is looking for ways to improve their habits, work efficiency, and health. And since this method is so easy to learn and use, you can apply it to almost any activity. The technique is perfect for those, who…

  • Often get distracted throughout the workday
  • Forget taking breaks and tend to overwork
  • Forget to drink water or take a short walk
  • Feel inefficient and unproductive
  • Enjoy a gamified and structured work experience
  • Find it difficult to get started with work
  • Suffer from ADHD

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

You might know the word Pomodoro from your favorite Italian restaurant and know that it means tomato. What has a tomato to do with effective time management? Well, it’s not about Italian food or the tomato itself – the inventor named the Pomodoro Technique after the tomato shaped kitchen timer he used to structure his time with.

The Pomodoro Technique was developed in the late 1980s by the Italian (at this time) student Cirillo. He wanted to find a better way of focusing on his studies and work. Today, he is worldwide recognized as a mentoring specialist from startups to Fortune 500 corporations. While Cirillo wrote a 130-page book about his method, the technique itself remains simple and easy to use.

What makes the Pomodoro Technique so unique is its simplicity. It generally says, if you take regular breaks, you can ensure optimal focus on your work without getting tired quickly. Frequent pauses are necessary to reduce distractions, blockages and to stay concentrated. In its core, this popular productivity hack is about committing to short 25-minute work and focus intervals. A pomodoro can be described with one simple equation: Pomodoro 🍅 = 25min work session + 5min break

How to use the Pomodoro Technique

It really is as simple as it sounds. You only need your to-do list and a timer. Now…

… set the timer for 25 minutes and focus on one task at a time until the timer rings
… enjoy a short 5 minute break and repeat
… after 4 pomodoros you take a longer 15-30 minute break

That’s it! 🎉

There are however 3 additional rules you can practice if you want to make full use of the Pomodoro Method and each interval:

1. Break down complex tasks into digestible subtasks. A rule of thumb is to break down a task if it takes more than 4 pomodoros to complete. This rule not only helps you get the task done but it also allows to see a complex task more clearly and to free some creative space in your mind.

2. Similar to breaking down complex tasks, simpler tasks go together. Again there’s a rule of thumb. If a task takes less than a pomodoro, it needs to be combined with other smaller tasks.

3. Once you’ve started a pomodoro, you must commit to it. The whole benefit of this technique evolves around the idea of having absolute focus on the task at hand. Any other passing thoughts or ideas can be taken note of in order to do later.

If you really can’t complete a pomodoro for whatever reason, take a short break and restart the last pomodoro. It’s best to keep a log of such interruptions in order to learn from them in future pomodoro sessions and to better avoid them. If you get your job done before a pomodoro ends, just focus on the next task in line until the pomodoro ends.

It’s also important to make good use of your breaks. Don’t skip your breaks even if you feel like having enough focus and energy left. In the long run, you’ll get tired quicker and your concentration and efficiency will start to lack. Additionally, it would be best to leave your working place, get some fresh air, move your body, have a snack, a warm drink, or take a short walk around the block to clear your head. Try not to think or talk about your task and what still has to be done. Then you will be fresh to jump back in.

What makes the Pomodoro Technique so awesome?

It’s much easier to work focused for 25 minutes than to work over a longer or undefined time frame. Because we have to face constant digital distractions nowadays – like e-mails, notifications, calls, etc. – it becomes even more crucial to have a way of staying focused.

Especially if you have to work online, it’s too easy to just quickly search for something on the internet, check your Facebook, Instagram or any other social media, and end up wasting time on non-relevant tasks. Stay focused by blocking distracting media, disable any notifications like messages and calls, and even e-mails.

The simplicity of this method and its application makes the Pomodoro Technique so unique. The term productivity hack describes it perfectly. Its simple and dummy-proof daily use is offset by a scientifically proven and effective boost in productivity. Not only that, the Pomodoro Technique has also been proven to prevent stress. Here are some of the many reasons that make the Pomodoro Technique so awesome:

Easier to fight the inner couch potato

Oftentimes, the hardest part of the job is getting started. It’s difficult to take the first step in view of a long workday ahead or the task that appears to be far too challenging and complex. However, this attitude doesn’t have much to do with laziness or lack of self-control as research has shown. Rather, we move things around to avoid negative feelings, disappointment and failure. It feels much easier to turn to YouTube or Facebook to get a brief feeling of happiness instead.

As difficult as it may seem to fight your inner couch potato, the solution isn’t that difficult at all. Studies have shown that the best way to get out of this behavior is to break down and simplify the first task or step of what you’re trying to achieve. Let’s say you want to program an app. Start by writing 10 lines of code. It’s a lot easier to face a simple task that takes just a few minutes to accomplish instead of the whole project.

This is where the Pomodoro Technique really comes into play. The method is perfect for helping you break down big tasks into manageable small chunks.

Work is acutally fun

Each pomodoro can be seen as a challenge. And since a pomodoro is only 25 minutes of work and focus, it’s not that difficult to get one pomodoro done. The feeling of completion sets in and it starts to feel rewarding crushing pomodoro after pomodoro after pomodoro. The method turns work into a game and every pomodoro into an achievement. It changes your perception of time passing from something negative – an abstract source of anxiety – to something positive and enjoyable – an accurate measure of productivity.

You can further reinforce this sense of achievement by adding your own goals and challenges. For example, you can set a number of focus sessions for the day you want to achieve and try to exceed that number the next day. The Pomodoro Technique is a great way to turn work into a game that is actually fun.

Relaxing hustle

Wait, what?! Yes, you’ve read correctly. Focusing on a single task at once without distractions is in a way meditative. It can feel liberating and even relaxing not to think about anything other than the task at hand. Even if it’s work. This is probably best described by the psychological state called flow. Being in a flow is widely accepted as one of the most productive, creative and effective psychological states today. Flow is technically defined as an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best. You often hear athletes referring to it as being “in the zone”.

Better management of your time

When planning future projects, we’re often optimistically biased and underestimate the time that is needed for the project – we experience the so-called planning fallacy. Even if we know that similar projects in the past have taken longer than originally planned, according to the planning fallacy there’s always a tendency to underestimate the time needed to finish a task which makes it harder to meet deadlines.

The Pomodoro Technique can be helpful in overcoming the planning fallacy and comes in handy if you have to get things done quickly or have a strict deadline. Start working in short, timed sessions, one task after another, step-by-step. Time is no longer an abstract concept but a concrete event. You have a clear measurement of your finite time, you’re able to control your progress, and you’re able to estimate how long it’ll take to meet your deadline. Always plan more time than you think it’ll take to be on the safe side.

Stay motivated

Completing small tasks in just 25 minutes plus a 5-minute break gives you a feeling of your time concept, and instead of thinking, „I don’t have enough time to finish this“ you will move into the mindset of „I get things done“. You shift your expectations and time planning from negative to positive. You’re no longer blocked by the fear of failing but get confident in completing your projects.

The use of the Pomodoro Technique not only manages your time to complete tasks but also provides you with the self-esteem and motivation you need to get things done. The more you practice the Pomodoro Technique, the more confident you’ll get and won’t need to push yourself to start projects and tasks. You will also become a lot faster in what you do.

“Concentration and consciousness lead to speed, one pomodoro at a time.“ – Francesco Cirillo

Useful tips to get started

1. Plan in advance

Plan your tasks in advance, either before your workday begins or at the end of your day, to prepare for tomorrow. Tasks that will take more than 5 pomodoro sessions should be broken down into smaller tasks. On the other hand, smaller tasks, like responding to e-mails, making a call, should be combined in one session. 

Also, be careful not to plan too many sessions in one day. You might have a go and want to do more than 16, which equals a workday of eight hours. But in the end, you’ll be out of energy the following days and not able to get even 16 sessions done. There’s no shame in transferring tasks to the next day if you’ve done 16 already.

2. How many pomodoro sessions per day?

It depends, and you’ll find out over time what’s best for you. It’s not a rule to finish 16 sessions for an eight-hour-day; instead, plan 12-14 pomodoros a day. Use the extra 2-4 pomodoros a day for tasks that take longer than expected or for unexpected tasks that come up during the day. If it turns out you don’t need those extra pomodoros because you finished all your tasks for the day, then great. Either take the rest of the day off, or you could also use them to tick off tasks that always get pushed back on your to-do list.

3. Find the best length of your sessions

Depending on your work, you can, of course, extend the sessions. If you’re, for example, writing or coding and need to be in a flow state for longer periods of time, 25 minutes can often be too short. Do sets of 45 minutes with a 15-minute break or something comparable. Experiment a bit and see what’s best for you. But be careful to not focus too long without a break so you can’t concentrate anymore after only two sets.

On the other hand, if you’re, for example, working with numbers, calculating, or have to focus intensely on something you see or hear, or if you have trouble getting started with a task, 25 minutes can be too long. In that case, it’s absolutely fine to do sessions of only 10 or 15 minutes.

4. Take your breaks away from your workplace

It makes a difference how you take your breaks. You shouldn’t read your e-mails or make a call; that’s another session. If something comes up, you can add an extra session. Also, don’t check social media or private messages. Try to get away from screens, catch some fresh air, get a coffee, or stretch a bit. Your break will be much more mentally refreshing.

5. Set up recurring tasks

Some of your work is recurring. You can set up those tasks at the same time, with the same number of sets and same length. It helps you plan your daily routine, and you’ve got less to prepare for the upcoming days. The Pomodoro Technique is like training a muscle. The more you use it, the more it grows and becomes a fixed part of your work.

6. Use an app that is based on the Pomodoro Technique

An app can help you stick to your tasks, your pomodoro sets, and your breaks. It also gives you the freedom of not needing to set up a timer every time, and if you forgot to do so, your whole day’s schedule would be disrupted. Some apps automatically lock you out after a session or block your screen, so you’re forced to take a break. If you’re working on a digital device, it’s best to use a dedicated pomodoro timer app, like Flow.

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