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Having trouble getting work done? The Pomodoro Technique can help

If you want to strengthen your time management skills, the Pomodoro Technique may help. This popular technique can both improve your work focus and self-efficacy.
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Written by Matthew Sweeney, Contributing Writer on

Looking for ways to boost your productivity and reduce procrastination? Consider using the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that can improve your mental focus while working and your confidence in your ability to perform.

The technique alternates effective work sessions with restorative breaks. Learning this technique can change your work-life balance, especially if you work from home.

Read on to learn about how the Pomodoro Technique works, how it benefits people, and what digital tools you can use to supplement it.

What's all the fuss about the Pomodoro Technique?

You can thank the stresses of college life for the Pomodoro Technique. As a university student in the late 80s, author Francesco Cirillo was struggling with procrastination and looking for ways to improve his focus. 

He found success working in 10 minutes increments using a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. Cirillo dubbed this method the Pomodoro Technique, after the Italian word for "tomato."

Cirillo went on to write a book on the merits of his technique. His company claims the Pomodoro Technique is now one of the most popular time management techniques, used by millions to more effectively focus on work and study.

The Pomodoro Technique may be helpful when …

  • You get easily thrown off your game by everyday distractions
  • You frequently take on large projects that can feel overwhelming
  • You're looking for ways to improve your focus when working from home
  • You often feel like "there aren't enough hours in the day" get things done
  • You need help with open-ended work such as studying for an extended period

How to follow the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is easy to master due to its simple structure. 

To begin, decide on a task to tackle. Set a timer for 25 minutes and begin working. When the timer stops, stop and record one "pomodoro" completed, along with your progress. 

Take a five-minute break. Then, reset the timer and resume your task. 

After four repetitions, take a 15-30 minute break to recharge.

The technique's efficacy depends on following three additional rules:

  • Break down complicated tasks
  • Combine small tasks
  • Don't pause a pomodoro once you've started it

Following these rules prevents "cheating", i.e. undermining the core principle of working effectively in short bursts.

Five steps to the Pomodoro Technique: Choose a task, set a timer to 25 minutes (which equals one pomodoro), work on your task until the timer is up, take a five minute break, and then repeat the cycle. Take a 15-30 minute break after four pomodoros.
Tori Rubloff/ZDNet

Why does the pomodoro technique work?

The Pomodoro Technique is effective because it removes mental blocks to undertaking projects. Research suggests many people procrastinate because of low self-efficacy, or confidence in their own ability to perform, making them overly-anxious about initiating large tasks. 

Like other time management strategies, the Pomodoro Technique breaks large projects into manageable blocks.

 Additionally, the technique clarifies the amount of time you really need to complete tasks and recharge. You can easily lose track of time when goofing off, and the Pomodoro Technique allows you to measure progress over set intervals.

Tips to get the most out of each pomodoro interval

Break down large tasks into smaller ones

Think about the sequence of actions you will need to take to complete more complicated tasks, and how much time they will separately take. Divide the complex task into smaller tasks and then work through them one-by-one. This way, you will not feel as overwhelmed.

Group smaller or similar tasks together

Smaller or related tasks can be combined so that you can get more done in less time. If you dedicate a whole pomodoro to one small task, you may feel tempted to drag your feet completing that one task. Bunching small tasks together prevents you from feeling this temptation.

Don't succumb to checking your email, Slack, etc.

Once the pomodoro is set, you cannot pause it. This means no distracting yourself with mundane things like checking your email, Slack, or social media accounts. These distractions will interrupt your flow. Set a boundary by sticking by this rule, because otherwise you can get derailed quickly.

Plan out your pomodoros in advance

Decide what you're going to try to accomplish for each pomodoro. This makes it easier to stay organized and on track. If you set a pomodoro without knowing what you're going to do first, you can end up wasting that time just figuring out how to approach the task.

Try out different interval and break lengths

Twenty-five-minute work sprints and five-minute breaks are not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution. If you feel like you can only work intensively for 15 minutes, then try that interval length. You may need to tweak the exact timings to fit your unique needs, especially if you have ADHD.

Use an app, rather than manually timing

You can use productivity apps to set timers for work sprints and breaks automatically. This streamlines the process by taking it out of your control. If you don't need to waste time manually setting timers, you can devote more effort to getting tasks accomplished without work and break time overlapping. 

Pomodoro apps and websites to try: Our picks

Platforms: iOS, Mac computer
Price: $2.99

This Pomodoro timer app allows you to create tasks, configure short and long breaks, and track progress with projects. You can also use the app to affix tasks with notes, due dates, and priority tags. 

Platforms: iOS, Mac computer, Apple Watch
Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Focus is a Pomodoro timer app for iOS and watchOS. Users organize tasks into deep and concentrated Focus Sessions, followed by regenerative breaks. You can track and manage tasks on your Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.

Platforms: iOS, Android, Mac computer, Windows desktop
Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Forest is an organization app that allows you to visualize projects as trees in a forest. As you successfully manage and complete tasks, the forest thrives. If you neglect tasks, the forest falls into decay.

Platforms: iOS, Android, Google Chrome, Mac computer, Windows desktop
Price: Free

This online learning site allows you to study in customizable "rooms" where you can drag and drop productivity tools such as Pomodoro timers and to-do lists in front of a customizable screen. Creating a LifeAt account is free.

Platforms: iOS, Mac computer
Price: Free, with in-app purchases

MinimaList is a checklist app that allows you to view lists in full-screen to-do lists, organize-able multiple lists, and widgets. The app also features a Pomodoro timer and time and location-based reminders.

Platforms: iOS, Android, Google Chrome, Windows desktop, Mac computer
Price: Free

Pomodor is an online pomodoro timer website that allows you to customize work durations, short break durations, long break durations, and number of rounds in settings. Completing several rounds allows you to look at productivity stats.

Platforms: iOS, Android, Google Chrome, Mac computer, Windows desktop
Price: Free

Pomotodo is a workflow management app based on the Pomodoro Technique that allows you to organize tasks, collect ideas, and get timesheet reports on your productivity delivered to your inbox. 

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