Where does the time go?
This is a familiar question for many of us. In fact, research shows that up to 80% of people report that they occasionally put off tasks, feel unorganized, and don’t get their to-do lists done. Moreover, between 20% and 50% of people do so consistently, and to such an extent that their time management woes become a real challenge in their lives.
There are a million strategies people use to boost productivity, from making a to-do list to eliminating distractions to giving themselves a longer break period, helping them stay focused on one thing at a time. People find different levels of success with various methods. But one highly effective strategy, a popular time management method called the Pomodoro Technique, uses all of the tricks, and works startlingly well for many that try it.
We’ll get into the nitty gritty below, but one reason the Pomodoro method is so appealing is that it is so simple. It is a productivity system that essentially combines some of the best productivity tips and hacks into one easy-to-implement process.
Learn more about how the Pomodoro Technique works in this comprehensive and practical guide. We’ll explore exactly what it is, why it works, and how to use it to achieve your goals.
As a technique, the Pomodoro time management system can help you:
- Become more productive with the time you have,
- Improve your focus on individual tasks
- Help you prioritize your efforts
- Increase your awareness of how you’re spending your time.
Additionally, the Pomodoro Technique gives you a framework for organizing your day while stopping procrastination and other forms of self-sabotage in their tracks.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The beauty of the Pomodoro Technique is that it provides a straightforward method that is a breeze to understand, and is accessible, adaptable, and truly easy to use. All you do is make a to-do list and divide the items into manageable chunks of work that will take 25 minutes to complete.
Once those important tasks have been identified, you set “pomodoro timers,” that count down for each of your designated tasks. Using a timer (and this can a manual timer that you wind, a simple timer app on your phone, or, if you really feel like keeping things literal, you can use a Tomato-shaped kitchen timer, since “pomodoro” is an Italian word that means “tomato”).
The point is, by making sure you add tasks that can fit into those 25 minute periods, this method keeps you on schedule as you work your way down your list. Keep in mind, after the timer rings and each 25-minute increment is completed, make sure to take a well-deserved five minute break. A short break can be quite refreshing!
This process was created by Italian college student Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. Cirillo wanted to become more productive with his time, so he tried using a timer to give himself set periods of time to do his work. The timer he grabbed was shaped like a tomato, or pomodoro in Italian, which is how the process got its name. In Pomodoro Technique speak, each unit of work is called a pomodoro.
Cirillo soon discovered that the ticking clock—and the mandated short breaks—helped him become far more focused and efficient. After fine-tuning the technique, Cirillo shared it with the world, ultimately creating a company and brand around the process.
Today, millions use it daily to overcome procrastination, keep on task, and get more done. Extensive research also backs up its efficacy. Incorporating making your do-list into your morning routine can help you to start off your day right.
In fact, the National Institutes of Health promotes the Pomodoro Technique as an “effective time management tool.” Whether you work in an office, working remotely, or just want to tackle some home projects, this approach can offer big rewards.
How to do the Pomodoro Technique
Essentially, the process amounts to following these steps:
- Create a to-do list of items to accomplish in one day, prioritized from most important to least
- Break down (or pair) items into units of work that will take around 25 minutes to complete—each of these is one “pomodoro”
- Use a timer to work on each pomodoro in intervals of 25 minutes
- Alternate each pomodoro session with a 5 minute break
- After every four pomodoros, take a longer break (extended periods of 15-30 minutes)
While the method is very simple, there are several key rules you need to adhere to for it to be successful.
Firstly, distractions must be avoided during each work session. So, no checking email, Facebook, or Twitter. Turning off your phone’s notifications can help. In fact, silence your phone. Choose a quiet, distraction-free space to work in. No, texting your friend or getting up to get a snack. Aim to go to the bathroom before setting the timer.
Basically, to the best of your ability, ignore the world outside of the task at hand—or your pomodoro. If something does come up that you can’t ignore. You can simply tend to it and then restart a new pomodoro.
Secondly, work on your assigned project until the timer dings. If you finish before it goes off, you can either dig deeper into the task, work on something related, or reflect on it until the 25 minutes are up.
In the beginning, as you’re figuring out how long tasks really take, you may have to do a bit of trial and error to figure out how much you can get done in each unit of work. That’s fine, adjust as needed. The key is just to keep plugging away at your to-do list.
Don’t forget to take breaks!
Thirdly, take a five-minute break to refresh between pomodoros. Activities for these breaks can be whatever works for you. But, ideally, the break is not related to the task you just completed—and if possible, not on screens.
So, you might get something to eat, do some stretches, make a quick phone call, fold laundry, or go on a walk. The key is to take a breather from the intense focus on your pomodoro before shifting your attention to the next one.
Other practical details
After each work interval, jot down what you accomplished. That way you can track your process. You can also use this information to make any needed adjustments, such as how to best divide your projects into 25 minute chunks and what kind of breaks are the most restorative.
How many pomodoros are there in a day?
Note that for a person working an eight-hour day, you’ll have time for 16 pomodoros. However, you may want to aim for just 12 to 14 to allow time for interruptions, last minute items, distractions, and practical items like lunch or using the bathroom. If you end up doing more pomodoros, that’s great. But adding buffer time into your day allows you to intentionally account for all the little things that might otherwise derail your productivity.
Additionally, depending on the type of work you’re doing, specific tasks you want to complete, and your personal needs, you can also consider adjusting the length of your pomodoros to avoid mental fatigue. Many people find the 25 minute blocks to be just right. But others may need more time, say if doing projects that require sustained thinking or effort, such as writing.
These people might opt to work in 50 minute units, alternated with frequent breaks of 10 minutes each. Other people may find that their minds start to wander (particularly with some types of tasks) by 20, 15, or even 10 minutes. If you’re in this camp, that’s fine, simply try shorter pomodoros, with the goal of maintaining full attention during each one. Then, simply take your break, before diving back into the next pomodoro.
What makes the Pomodoro Technique so effective?
This time management system works because it organizes your time while curbing distractions. But what really makes it effective is that it helps you overcome emotional obstacles at the same time as practical ones.
We think about procrastination as a means people use to avoid their work, but research tells us that this avoidance isn’t really about laziness, lack of willpower, or lack of time. Instead, the hidden force behind putting things off is often fear-based. These fears may be rooted in doubt of one’s self-worth or ability. Or simply spring from getting overwhelmed. Distractions and avoidance are then used as coping mechanisms.
For example, if deep down you worry that you won’t do a good job on whatever project you need to do or that you’ll fail at something, then you might avoid getting started. Instead, you “waste time” by other things, such as watching Netflix, going on a run, or cleaning the kitchen. You might tell yourself that you’re gearing up to tackle your project. But then keep putting it off because deep down taking it on feels scary. Self-doubt can quickly creep in, as can guilt for putting off your work. You might also just feel confused about how or where to begin.
The Pomodoro timer is your friend
The Pomodoro Technique provides a potent antidote to all these worries and obstacles, by quickly reducing the enormity of a project down into more manageable 25 minute (or whatever time period works for you) segments.
Research shows that getting started is often the biggest impediment to accomplishment—and can become an immense source of stress. This method works because it directs you to just begin, focusing on each small piece without getting bogged down by figuring out the whole puzzle.
Plus, the laser focus required for each pomodoro encourages you to zap every distraction that pops up, including negative self-talk. So you won’t get mired in any self-doubt that could derail your productivity. In fact, if counterproductive feelings keep coming up, you could decide to designate a pomodoro to examine them, freeing you to focus on your to-do list items during your other work sessions.
How the Pomodoro Technique boosts productivity
This evidence-based time management strategy boosts productivity because the process gets you to evaluate what you need to do, prioritize tasks, and break them down into achievable segments. It also gives you a sense of accomplishment throughout the day. Even if your larger project is far from being done, each 25 minute chunk of work completed becomes a mini success. Each break becomes a reward.
The system also provides a flow and routine to your day that allows you to focus on the work one step at a time without having to get embroiled in thinking (or worrying) about what to do next. With this system you know what you’re supposed to do, if you’re making progress, or what your priorities are.
If you ever get side-tracked or feel unsure, the answers are all right there in your to-do list. And if you ever decide your needs aren’t aligned with the list, you can simply adjust it. But the framework for each day is always right there on the list.
Another key way the Pomodoro Technique improves efficiency is by using the timer. The ticking down of the clock can be motivating for a variety of reasons, depending on your personality and what you need to accomplish.
Creating a sense of urgency
It can spur you on out of competitiveness, as the set amount of time can feel like a game where you try to get as much done as you can in each session. Yes, it may feel like pressure, but it also may feel exciting and encourage you to let go of any concerns and just forge ahead simply because your allotted time is happening now.
This is often what people talk about when they describe working well “under pressure” or “under the gun.” Essentially, each pomodoro creates a deadline to meet, so it gives you a sense of urgency that you might not otherwise have to get your work done.
Additionally, this method can provide comfort when dealing with an unpleasant task. You know the task will end as you’ll only need to keep at it until the timer goes off. You may even work harder to get the said project done simply to be finished by the time the timer goes off.
This system also offers built-in rewards, which many people find motivating. The rewards are two-fold: there’s noting what you accomplished in each work unit as well as the breaks in between them.
These periodic refreshers inspire you to ignore distractions because you know that you can indulge in whatever urge you have—say to text a friend, have a cookie, or post on Instagram—once your break time arrives. Plus, the chance to reflect on what you got done and cross off those accomplished tasks from the to-do list can be highly satisfying. In fact, many people create a whole new “done” list as a way of celebrating and reinforcing their productivity.
The Pomodoro Technique and ADHD
This technique isn’t specifically for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but it works well for them. Studies show that approximately 10% of the population have ADHD. This condition impacts executive function, typically making, organization, focusing, and time management more challenging.
Of course, being prone to procrastinate, get distracted, or become disorganized does not necessarily mean you have ADHD, but some people with these issues do have neurodiverse brains. Plus, the hectic, stressful, distraction-filled world we live in, makes these skills increasingly difficult for many people.
And research shows that the average person picks up their phone once every 5.5 minutes. Just imagine what you could get done with 25 distraction-free minutes. So, regardless of whether or not you are diagnosed with this condition, this productivity method can be a big help.
In fact, research shows that strategies like the Pomodoro Technique are effective for a wide variety of people, including those that need a little extra support for their executive function skills.
The best mobile Pomodoro Technique apps
The Pomodoro Technique can be customized to rely on either low or high tech supports. So, you can use non-digital supports (as in a kitchen timer and paper and pencil) or digital aids like the timer on your phone or apps that facilitate the method.
The benefit of going low tech is that it isolates you from the tempting distractions of your phone. Also, it is just so simple.
However, some people find that using electronic versions of this method are very helpful. You’ll need to consider how well you can use an app while also not letting it impede your focus on each pomodoro. If you want to try out a Pomodoro Technique app, here are two to consider.
Paymo Pomodoro is a project management app that offers time tracking, billing, project and team management, and other features to help keep individuals and teams organized and productive. It also has a pomodoro timer and to-do list features that allow you to integrate the pomodoro principle into your workflow.
With PomoDone you can link your projects to the app to help you track your productivity. The app is essentially where you’ll create to-do lists, monitor your progress, and time your pomodoro sessions.
It’s all too easy to get bogged down with our ever-growing to-do lists. And it’s very common to feel like we’re never making any headway, despite our best efforts. Don’t give up! Try the Pomodoro Technique. It just might be the secret to boosting your productivity.
Best of all, you’ve really got nothing to lose. There is no cost and no equipment to gather (aside from a timer). All you need to do is simply begin. So, make a prioritized to-do list, chunk your tasks into 25 minute pieces, choose a distraction-free work area, and then set your timer. The key really is as simple as getting started.
Soon enough, you’ll have the satisfaction of hearing that timer ding. Before you know it, you’ll likely have made some serious progress. And if you still have a ways to go—or things go sideways, don’t worry.
You’re doing great! Simply create more pomodoros to tackle later in the day, week, or year. And start again. That’s the beauty of the Pomodoro Technique. It’s like scaffolding for your dreams. The work won’t magically disappear, it just gives you a practical structure to get you started—and get the work done.