The Pomodoro Technique can help you power through distractions, hyper-focus, and get things done in short bursts, while taking frequent breaks to come up for air and relax. Best of all, it’s easy. If you have a busy job where you’re expected to produce, it’s a great way to get through your tasks. Let’s break it down and see how you can apply it to your work.
We’ve definitely discussed the Pomodoro Technique before. We gave a brief description of it a few years back, and highlighted its distraction-fighting, brain training benefits around the same time. You even voted it your favorite productivity method . However, we’ve never done a deep dive into how it works and how to get started with it. So let’s do that now.
What Is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique was invented in the early 90s by developer, entrepeneur, and author Francesco Cirillo. Cirillo named the system “Pomodoro” after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student. The methodology is simple: When faced with any large task or series of tasks, break the work down into short, timed intervals (called “Pomodoros”) that are spaced out by short breaks. This trains your brain to focus for short periods and helps you stay on top of deadlines or constantly-refilling inboxes. With time it can even help improve your attention span and concentration .
How the Pomodoro Technique Works
The Pomodoro Technique is probably one of the simplest productivity methods to implement. All you’ll need is a timer. Beyond that, there are no special apps, books, or tools required. Cirillo’s book, The Pomodoro Technique, is a helpful read, but Cirillo himself doesn’t hide the core of the method behind a purchase. Here’s how to get started with Pomodoro, in five steps:
- Choose a task to be accomplished.
- Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)
- Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
- Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
- Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break
That “longer break” is usually on the order of 15-30 minutes, whatever it takes to make you feel recharged and ready to start another 25-minute work session. Repeat that process a few times over the course of a workday, and you actually get a lot accomplished—and took plenty of breaks to grab a cup of coffee or refill your water bottle in the process.
It’s important to note that a pomodoro is an indivisible unit of work—that means if you’re distracted part-way by a coworker, meeting, or emergency, you either have to end the pomodoro there (saving your work and starting a new one later), or you have to postpone the distraction until the pomodoro is complete. If you can do the latter, Cirillo suggests the “inform, negotiate, and call back” strategy:
- Inform the other (distracting) party that you’re working on something right now.
- Negotiate a time when you can get back to them about the distracting issue in a timely manner.
- Schedule that follow-up immediately.
- Call back the other party when your pomodoro is complete and you’re ready to tackle their issue.
Of course, not every distraction is that simple, and some things demand immediate attention—but not every distraction does. Sometimes it’s perfectly fine to tell your coworker “I’m in the middle of something right now, but can I get back to you in….ten minutes?” Doing so doesn’t just keep you in the groove, it also gives you control over your workday.
How to Get Started with the Pomodoro Technique
Since a timer is the only essential Pomodoro tool, you can get started with any phone with a timer app, a countdown clock, or even a plain old egg timer. Cirillo himself prefers a manual timer, and says winding one up “confirms your determination to work.” Even so, we’ve highlighted a number of Pomodoro apps that offer more features than a simple timer offers. Here are a few to consider:
- Marinara Timer (Web) is a webapp we’ve highlighted before that you can keep open in a pinned tab. You can select your timer alerts so you know when to take a break, or reconfigure the work times and break times to suit you. It’s remarkably flexible, and you don’t have to install anything.
- Tomighty (Win/Mac/Linux) is a cross-platform desktop Pomodoro timerthat you can fire and forget, following the traditional Pomodoro rules, or use to customize your own work and break periods.
- Pomodorable (OS X) is a combination Pomodoro timer and to-do app. It offers more visual cues when your tasks are complete and what you have coming up next, and it integrates nicely with OS X’s Reminders app. Plus, you can estimate how many pomodoros you’ll need to complete a task, and then track your progress.
- Simple Pomodoro (Android) is a free, open-source timer with a minimal aesthetic. Tap to start the timer and get to work, and take your breaks when your phone’s alarm goes off. You can’t do a lot of tweaking to the work and break periods, but you get notifications when to take your breaks and when to go back to work, and you can go back over your day to see how many Pomodoros you’ve accomplished over the day. It even integrates with Google Tasks.
- Focus Timer (iOS) used to be calledPomodoroPro , and is a pretty feature-rich timer for iPhone and iPad. You can customize work and break durations, review your work history to see how your focus is improving, easily see how much time is left in your work session, and the app even offers a star-based rating system to keep you motivated. You can even customize the sounds, and hear the clock ticking when you lock your phone so you stay on task.
These are just a few good tools to choose from. Don’t hesitate to experiment with others, but remember, the focus of the Pomodoro Technique is on the work, not the timer you use. If you would like an actual tomato timer like Cirillo uses, this one is available for $7 at Amazon. Alternatively, you can buy a tomato timer and a copy of the book together from him directly. If you want Kindle or ePub versions of the book, grab them directly from Cirillo’s store as well.