The first time I learned about the Pomodoro Technique, I was standing in my manager’s office as she was staring at a tomato. She was convinced it would help improve her focus and her productivity. I remember being very confused and asking myself, “How in the world will this tomato help her get work done more efficiently?” Turns out, she was onto something. Well, actually Francesco Cirillo was on to something first.
In the late 1980s, Cirillo developed the Pomodoro Technique while attending business school in Rome. How does the tomato timer come into play? “Pomodoro” in Italian means “tomato”, and Cirillo originally used a tomato timer when he first coined this productivity technique.
My manager isn’t the only person who’s been intrigued by the Pomodoro Technique. Since its creation over 30 years ago, more than 2 million people have used this method to increase their focus and productivity—but how does it actually work? Here’s everything you need to know.
So, what exactly is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that breaks a large task, or series of tasks, into short, timed intervals of work. Francesco Cirillo used a kitchen timer to break his work into 25-minute intervals followed by short breaks. Each interval of work and break is called a Pomodoro. The Pomodoro Technique is meant to improve focus and increase productivity by reducing distractions and reducing complexity. Each Pomodoro helps create smaller, more manageable tasks and improve concentration.
How do I give the Pomodoro Technique a try?
There are six steps to the Pomodoro Technique. Let’s break them down.
- Step 1: Select your task. This task can be big or small. It’s totally up to you! The most important thing to keep in mind is that it’s work that requires your full, undivided attention.
- Step 2: Set a timer for 25 minutes. You can use a traditional timer like Cirillo did, or an online timer. You can even set a timer on your phone or download an app, but keep in mind that during this time you are committing to no interruptions. That means that you won’t pick up your phone to check social media, answer a text, or even respond to an email.
- Step 3: Work on the task until the timer rings. As soon as you start your timer, your only objective is to immerse yourself in the task at hand. Remember, no distractions. But because it’s not uncommon for random thoughts to pop into your head (think that one item on your to-do list you totally spaced on), keep a piece of paper handy. If you have a thought that pops into your head, quickly write it down, and then get back to work.
- Step 4: When the timer goes off, stop working. Metaphorical pencils down! Your 25 minutes are up, and it’s time for a break. At this time, put a checkmark on a piece of paper so you can keep track of how many Pomodoros you’ve completed.
- Step 5: Take a short break. The key word is short. The break should only be 5-10 minutes long. Set a timer and do anything unrelated to work. Go for a quick walk. Refill your coffee cup. Grab some water. Do a few breathing exercises. Literally anything other than work.
- Step 6: Lather, rinse, repeat. Congratulations! You’ve completed one Pomodoro. It’s time to get back to work. Once you’ve completed four Pomodoros (approximately two hours if you’re working for 25 minutes with a five-minute break), it’s time to take a longer break. This break should be around 20 minutes, but it can be up to 30 minutes. This time is used as a reset before you begin your next set of Pomodoros.
A few tips and tricks when implementing the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is fairly simple, but staying focused, which is the reason you’re probably trying out this technique, is often easier said than done. But I promise, you’ll get the hang of it after a few tries, and it works! While you won’t find a tomato on my desk anytime soon, I can attest to the magic that is a Pomodoro.
As you’re working through your Pomodoros, here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Working in intervals is meant to instill a sense of urgency. So while you might find your flow right before the timer sounds, the built-in breaks are there for a reason (i.e., to help reduce fatigue and burnout). It’s important to trust the process.
- The Pomodoro Technique is a great way to take a larger, more complex project and break it into smaller, more digestible tasks. So just because you think a task will take longer than 25 minutes, doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of this technique.
- If you finish a task in the middle of a Pomodoro, use any remaining time to review your work or take a look at your to-do list to identify what you’d like to work on next.
- By keeping track of how many Pomodoros it takes for you to complete an item on your to-do list, you can begin to learn where your time is spent throughout the day to start to create efficiencies in your work week.
Can I use the Pomodoro Technique with others?
Yes! While the Pomodoro Technique was originally developed for solo work, there’s a benefit to adapting it to use with your colleagues and teams. For example, try scheduling time with a friend or co-worker to sync up your Pomodoros. Whether in person, over Zoom, or via text, holding each other accountable for knocking out your to-do list is a win-win scenario.
You can even try the Pomodoro Technique with teams. Say you need to brainstorm for an upcoming project, set a timer for 25 minutes, and let your minds run wild. When that timer is up, take a team walk or snack break before diving back in. Accountability is a powerful tool, and the Pomodoro Technique allows you to hold yourself and others accountable for achieving your goals.