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The Ultimate Guide To The Pomodoro Technique

The Ultimate Guide To The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time and task management methodology developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980’s, although you may be aware of it from it’s other name: Timeboxing.

During his time at University, Cirillo was looking for ways to study more efficiently and decided to break his studying down into more manageable chunks of 25 minutes, with a 3–5 minute rest in between. The name Pomodoro, which comes from the Italian for “Tomato”, was inspired by the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used to track his time.

Cirillo wrote a best-selling book based on his findings from the Pomodoro Technique and Staffan Noteberg jumped on the Pomodoro Technique bandwagon in 2010 with his take on the subject.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The idea behind the Pomodoro Technique is that frequent breaks when working on a task helps improve our ability to concentrate on the task. Cirillo even went further stating that the act of winding the timer gives us a mental cue that it’s “work time” and that the ticking of the timer helps us to focus.

Of course, when Cirillo developed the Pomodoro Technique we were living in a very much analogue world (hard to believe, I know!) and these days everything is digital so you may have trouble finding a wind-up timer for a reasonable price (the Pomodoro Website has one for approximately £20 or there’s this Tomato Kitchen Timer for around $4 that may work).

How does the Pomodoro Technique Work?

A “Pomodoro” is 4 lots of 25 minutes, each of these smaller chunks are called “Pomodori”.

The basic workflow for using the Pomodoro Technique is:

  1. Decide on all of the tasks that you wish to achieve that day
  2. Estimate the amount of effort each task will take. For example: if you think it’ll take 30 minutes, this is 2 “Pomodori”, if you think it’ll take an hour that’s 4 “Pomodori”
  3. Set your timer for 25 minutes. This seems to be the standard amount of time people use, presumably as it breaks evenly into the half- hour with breaks
  4. Work until your timer goes off
  5. Track that you’ve done a Pomodori against the task
  6. Take a 3 – 5 minute break and then re-set your timer
  7. After 4 Pomodori, take a longer break of between 15 and 30 minutes
  8. Repeat the process until the task is completed
  9. If you finish the task before the end of the Pomodori, use the remaining time for “reflection” or further learning

It’s important to note that you can’t “pause” a Pomordori or finish one early. Each Pomodori must be of the same amount of time so there’s no pausing the timer to go to the toilet or skipping ahead to the next task if you finish 15 minutes into your 25 minute Pomodori.

Tasks are prioritised in your “To-Do Today” list, and the number of Pomodori’s taken to complete each task are tracked against it. This serves a two-fold purpose: marking the Pomodori off gives a sense of achievement and also allows for better estimating of effort required for similar tasks in the future.

The Important Part

The important part of the Pomodoro Technique are the breaks in between each individual Pomodori and a set of 4 Pomodori. The breaks allow you to return to the task with fresh eyes, stops frustration building up and stops the tasks feeling overwhelming. It also helps to stop procrastination as you’re working in short bursts and don’t really have time to dwell on a subject.

The Problem Parts

I can see that the problem part of the Pomodoro Technique could be that you continually ignore items that have a high effort count as they won’t give you a finished task as quickly as others.

Another issue is that you put off starting a task as you don’t have a full “Pomodoro” or even “Pomodori” to work in. For example, it’s 3.15pm and I’m leaving the office at 3.30pm so I could technically sit there and do nothing rather than doing something productive.

Why do we need the Pomodoro Technique?

Perhaps it says something about our levels of concentration (or lack thereof) that we need to break tasks up into timed chunks. A quick google reveals that common perception is that an adult has around 45 minutes of useful concentration time (although no one has a definitive answer and no one seems to be able to agree) however a Wikipedia Article on Attention Spans indicates that we start to lose concentration after just 20 minutes. The one thing that everyone does agree of though is that splitting up a task into manageable small chunks of time does aid concentration.

How To Measure The Pomodoro Technique

Why not try my free downloadable Pomodoro tracking sheet? Alternatively if you’re more technically minded, here are some useful Apps to help:

iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch

Timers

Timers and Tasks

Android

Timers

Timers and Tasks

Mac

Timers

Timers and Tasks

Windows

Timers

Timers and Tasks

Web

Paper-Based Tools

Pomodoro Games

Games? Yes, Games! Pomodorium offers a “Gamification” App. Complete Pomodori’s and Pomodoros and you get to power-up your in game character. It’s available for Windows, Mac and Linux so if you’re looking for an added excuse to get work done, take a look.

Over To You

Do you use the Pomodoro Technique? If so how well does it work for you and how do you track your progress?

If you don’t use the Pomodoro Technique would you consider it or does it seem too much trouble?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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31 Comments

  •  

    Hi Katy! Really great article and even better resource! What you’ve compiled here is really is THE ultimate guide to the Pomodoro Technique. Will definitely be checking out some of the resources you’ve listed here! 

  •  

    Thanks for the lovely comment Harris, Don’t forget to check out my free Pomodoro Printable planner if you prefer going “old school”!

  •  

    Hi Katy.
    I must admit that the Pomodoro technique should keep me more focused.
    I’m old school and like the idea that the ticking says its time to get down and work.
    I really don’t need a Tomato Timer as a good old fashioned “egg timer” will do just as well.
    Interesting how studies show adults can focus around 45 minutes or so. I agree more with Wikipedia that that minute figure is much closer to 20 minutes than 45. I would see it in the classroom all the time.
    I like everything you wrote under “The Important Part” (old eyes do get weary 🙂 Plus all the other points are true for me.

    •  
      Katy Whitton

      I’m glad that you liked the post Edmund!

      I think that the Pomodoro technique is one of those things that can evolve based on each individual. Some may prefer 15 minute segments, others might cope up to an hour. The great thing is that it’s flexible so as long as you’re happy it’ll work for you.

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