Updated: Jul 13
One of the secrets to productivity is focus. But staying in focus all the time is not an easy feat. Enter the Pomodoro Technique timer, a simple method that can help you focus and boost your productivity.
The year is 2021 and WFH is the norm. Albeit being a reason to celebrate for many who don’t love interacting with people directly, WFH is not all fun and games. It's easier to get caught between the hectic work and home affairs and ends up not knowing what to do.
Even if you're doing WFO, it's easy to lose focus and get distracted by menial things. If you have too many things on your plate without knowing the priority, you'll just do whatever comes your way - or play those cat videos and do nothing at all. Imagine turning off the computer at the end of your workday, feeling exhausted, but achieving nothing. Sounds familiar?
Meet your savior: The Pomodoro Technique timer. It is a productivity-enhancing technique that will help you manage your work time and finish your tasks. It also helps you understand yourself better, reevaluate your understanding of productivity, and improve your approach to project management.
What is the Pomodoro Technique Timer?
In its basic concept, Pomodoro is a time management technique that breaks your regular working (or studying) hours into 25-minute chunks of work sessions and five-minute breaks in between. At the end of every fourth set, the break is set to be longer - usually around 20-30 minutes. You can restart the sets from the beginning if you need to.
Why 25 minutes? One interval - or commonly said one Pomodoro - is set to 25 minutes work sprint because it's the perfect length of time to stay in focus before one starts mind wandering. This setting will also keep the productivity level high and stop procrastinating.
In a single Pomodoro, you must focus on doing ONLY ONE task. You'll learn to resist the self-interruptions and re-train your brain to focus. The breaks are designed to reset, refresh, and help bring your attention back to the current task at hand.
The technique becomes popular because it's simple. Different from many productivity methods out there, there are no complicated rules and conditions to memorize. All you need is a timer. Even glancing at your watch or wall clock is enough.
A Brief History of Pomodoro Technique Timer
Where did this Pomodoro method originate from? And why named the productivity slash time management method "tomato"? Pomodoro is the Italian for tomato.
It goes back to the late 1980s, the time when young Francesco Cirillo needed extra time to live as a college student. Since he couldn't exactly create more time, he needed to improve on his productivity to free more time. Thus, the Pomodoro Technique was born.
There was no Pomodoro timer app back then because the mobile phone hasn't been invented yet. And also, because he's just invented the technique. So, he used the available tool in the vicinity - a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to time the 25-minute and 5-minute chunks.
And, like everybody always says, the rest is history.
How Could the Pomodoro Technique Timer Improve Your Productivity?
The Pomodoro Technique timer allows us to be human. We do love our regular breaks, be it a 15 or a 5-minute break after some amount of work periods. The breaks keep us sane. That said, having more frequent breaks than your focus time will kill your productivity. You need to find the best balance.
And how do you use the Pomodoro technique to optimize your productive days? The key is effective planning. Here are a few pointers that you can implement.
Set Up Your Priorities
How do you expect to achieve anything if you don't know what to do? And how do you know that you don't end up doing random things just to look busy?
So, before you do anything else, list down all the important and urgent things to tackle first. Limit the number of tasks to handle each day so that you can work efficiently and won't get overwhelmed.
How many tasks should you put on the list? Only you know your capacity. Don't overestimate yourself, but don't undersell yourself either. The rule of thumb is between three and six important and urgent tasks per day.
To know more about setting up priorities, read the INI UNU - Ivy Lee Method.
Decide on the Number of Pomodoros
The next step of the Pomodoro Technique is to plan how many Pomodoro slots you need and how many Pomodoro sessions per day that you can fit into your schedule.
This calls for an honest review of what you can do and how you work. You’re the only one who knows how many slots you need. It questions you about how much real work you can do in each twenty-five-minute sprint.
There’s no right or wrong answer here, it’s just an objective question about how much you can produce, and once again, only for you to answer.
For example: if you predict a task will take you about one hour or two to finish, then you'll need 2-5 pomodoros - 25+5 minutes each. Take into consideration that at the end of the fourth Pomodoro, you'll have a longer 30-minute break. So, the total time you'll need is about two and a half hours. But remember, you might finish your task faster as you'll be more focused during the pomodoros.
The key is to practice, experiment, and refine your workflow. You'll get better over time.
Do The Routines
When you know what to do and estimate how much time you need, the next step is to do it.
Go with the first item on your task entries, and get your hands dirty. Use the Pomodoro technique timer to do only that task until you complete it, then move on to the next items until you call it a day. If you have any unfinished tasks, move them to tomorrow's list while you plan your next day.
Repeat the routines every day until it becomes your habit.
The Good, The Bad, and The Compromise
As ideal as it sounds, the Pomodoro technique timer is not for everyone. There are types of tasks that are better off done without using this method. Let's see the advantages, disadvantages, and the compromise to the method.
The Pomodoro Method is Good For...
If you have tasks that you don't like doing, or the type of routine tasks that you just need to go out and just do, then the Pomodoro is perfect to help you finish them on (or ahead of) schedule.
The method is also perfect for handling larger tasks or projects that require a longer time to finish, because you can chunk the big milestones into smaller tasks and spread them into sessions or days until you finish all of them. You can also continue working on an unfinished task later without missing a beat.
The Pomodoro Technique is Not Fit For...
If you are doing creative/imaginative endeavors that require long thinking / pondering / problem-solving / daydreaming time, or you are the type of person who needs to warm up your inner machine before you can start the race, then the method might not be for you.
Those who work in these kinds of fields - like writers, coders, and designers - know too well that it will take time to go into the "zone" where torrents of ideas come pouring down and the work pace accelerates. The interruption will break the concentration and flow state, and you can't just simply continue where you left off. You need to restart building the momentum from scratch.
In this case, the constant mandatory "work - break" arrangement of the ticking Pomodoro timers might backfire and end up becoming an annoyance instead of helping you focus on your work.
But it doesn't mean that writers or designers or anybody along that line can't use Pomodoro. You can use it for the non-day-dreaming part of the work.
For example, an architect can take the sweet time on the concept building and designing part, and use the Pomodoro to speed up the technical drawing work later. A writer can work on the story plot, craft the outline, or create the content brief early on; and then use the Pomodoro technique timer for the researching/typing/editing process.
The method itself is also open for adjustment. As each person works differently, you can set the work and break time to fit your needs. It doesn't have to be the 25-5 sprints. It's possible to work for a longer time and have an extended break.
That leaves us with the question: is there any alternative to Pomodoro for the kinds of work that should not be interrupted with breaks every now and then? The main advantage (and also disadvantage) of Pomodoro is its short pattern. For the kinds of work that needs longer cycles or with no set of exact time chunks, the pomodoro technique time becomes useless.
That's why people come up with alternative work rhythms. Here are some of them.
The Ultradian Rhythm
A study about the habits of elite sports players and musicians revealed that they follow a different routine compared to Pomodoro. These elites use 90 minutes of highly focused work with a 15-minute break in each sprint. A supersized Pomodoro.
This setting is backed by Nathan Kleitman's research about the "basic rest-activity cycle" conducted more than 50 years ago. He found out that human bodies operate following a 90-minute rhythm - from higher to lower alertness, both during the day and during sleep.
Adapted to work rhythm, there should be an extended break - 15 minutes or more, at the end of every cycle.
The Desktime Variation
If 25 minutes is too short while 90 minutes is too long, you can meet them halfway.
A time-tracking tool called Desktime.com found out that their most productive users work for 52 minutes and take a break for 17 minutes before repeating the cycles. This arrangement is called the Desktime variation, and it's a work rhythm that you can try.
Another variation is the one with free-flow focus sessions called Flowtime created by Zoë Read-Bivens. It's the alternative of the Pomodoro method for people who dislike the consistent alarms telling them when to start working and when to take a break.
The basic rule of Flowtime is no rule. You start working until you feel that you need a break. Then you get back to the sprint when you're refreshed and feel ready. To track your work time, make sure to note down in a simple spreadsheet what you do during the session, the start and end time, and the interruption(s) - if any.
The downside of using this technique is that you must be someone with a strong will and focus. Otherwise, the absence of a fixed rule might sway you away from your main tasks.
Recap: The Step by Step to Use Pomodoro Technique Timer
If you're sold to try the method (or the alternatives), here's the step by step on how to use Pomodoro Technique Timer.
1. Plan on the tasks that you want to do - use the INI UNU - Ivy Lee method.
2. Set the Pomodoro timer to 25 minutes.
3. Start working and focus only on ONE task.
4. When the timer rings, stop working and take a 5-minute break.
5. Repeat the process - do the 25-plus-5-minute work sprint.
6. At the end of the fourth Pomodoro, take a longer break - about 20 to 30 minutes.
7. Go back to number 2 and repeat everything until you finish your task.
8. If you still have time, move to the second task on your list.
9. Rinse and repeat.
Bonus: Tools to Help You Implement Pomodoro Technique
Pomodoro is one of the easiest productivity methods to implement as all you need is a timer. But there are tools - both manual and digital, that can make the process so much easier. Here are some of the alternatives.
The Traditional Option
If you are a kinesthetic person, you can try the traditional option of using a pen, a piece of paper, and a kitchen timer - tomato shape is optional. The physical act of writing your task on paper and setting the timer can help you build your determination to start your task.
While it's physically stimulating, this method lacks the features offered by the more digital counterparts - this includes automatically-generated reports and charts showing your progress. And it's easy to lose your pen and paper while moving around.
A Tomato for Apple
Loving your iOS device is not a character flaw, and the good people of Apple have put some apps in the App Store for you to try. One that is easy to recommend is Be Focused Pro.
The free version is ad-galore. The Pro version will cost you USD 8. Not that steep a price to get a well-built app.
It’s iOS optimized. You can use your account on any iOS device that you have seamlessly.
Customizable alarm sounds and even customizable timing.
Progress tracking helps you to stay on track.
Tomato in Tree Form
If you’re not a tomato person, fear not. The people from Forest changed the Pomodoro image to trees. They’re not stopping there; Forest users are planting literal trees together with Trees for the Future.
Exchanging your time to being productive and green at the same time!
Symbolizes your projects/tasks as trees. If you leave the app halfway, your tree dies of neglect, as does your task.
The Simple Option
If simplicity is your way of life, the beautiful people from Pomofocus have prepared us a Pomodoro template to use. It's a software that's available as a stand alone app and also accessible via a browser.
It’s very intuitive to use. Type in your task and you’re ready to go. Logging in is optional.
The Report button gives you a summary of your Pomodoro sessions, details of your recent Pomodoro session.
A social feature in the form of Ranking is also available on the Report button.
There are tons of Pomodoro apps available out there for every platform, and it's impossible to mention them one by one. If you're still looking for the perfect one for you, Google is your best friend.
01. Why is Pomodoro 25 minutes?
When Francesco Cirillo invented the techchnique in the 1980s, his goal was to find a way to work for longer periods of time without getting tired by breaking down long tasks into smaller chunks of time. He chose the combination of 25-minute activity and 5-minute break which works well for many people and generally accepted as the basic rule. But you can use different combination according to your preference.
02. What is the best time for Pomodoro? Can Pomodoro be 50 minutes?
It depends on your individual flow state. While the suggested pomodoro sessions is a 25-minute work followed by a 5-minute break, you can try different combination. For those who have learning difficulties or concentration problems, it can be a shorter 15 and 5 minute combo. Alternatively, those who prefer longer working period, can opt for a 45-50 minute session with a 10-15 minute break.
03. How many Pomodoros should I do per day?
It goes back to how many hours are there in your typical workday and how much work your want to accomplish during the day. If you work for 8 hours and wanted to max out your Pomodoros, it's suggested not to exceed 16 sessions per day.
One note: You should break down tasks that will take longer than 5 Pomodoro sessions to complete into smaller and more manageable tasks. On the other hands, you can batch several micro tasks that can be done in a few minutes or less into one Pomodoro session.
04. What do you do in the 5 minute Pomodoro break?
The basic premise is, you'd want to switch away from your work during the 5-minute break. You can plan the next Pomodoro session, or go to the kitchen/pantry to drink water, play a short fun game, do meditation, have a quick stretching/exercise, doodle/sketch/draw, fold origami crane, ...anything. Just remember not to choose a highly engaging activity that your 5-minute break extends into a few hours long distraction.
05. Is Pomodoro scientifically proven?
While there are pros and cons about the method, it's scientifically proven that breaking down longer working hours into shorter chunks is helpful for memory and attention.
According to studies, during one learning episode, people tend to remember information presented at the beginning and end better than information presented in the middle. This is called the primary/recency effect. So, when the information is broken down into several chunks, there are more beginnings and ends, and more information retained in the memory.
Chunking also increase attention. During Pomodoro sessions, you can focus on finishing one task at a time and have better outcome than if you try to tackle everything all at once. As a bonus, you'll get a sense of accomplishment when you finish each chunk.
How do You Eat an Elephant?
One bite at a time.
The same thing goes for your life. If you see it as a whole, it can be overwhelming. But you can handle anything, no matter how big, by breaking it down into smaller chunks and doing it one chunk at a time.
That might be the philosophy behind the Pomodoro Technique timer - to take things one step at a time, achieve small wins, and build a sense of accomplishment.
Start your productivity journey today. Your future self will thank you.