What is the Pomodoro Technique?

If you’re the type of person who prefers to what a video, here’s a quick introduction.

If you don’t like watching videos, let me explain. The Pomodoro Technique uses a wind-up timer to manage time and tasks. The name ‘Pomodoro’ is Spanish for tomato. I’m not sure how common wind-up tomato times are in the UK, but I think it’s more common for us to use egg timers. Perhaps it’s named after tomato timers because egg in Spanish (huevo) is not as obvious to pronounce.

The techniqued was devise by Francesco Cirillo in the late 80s and there’s even a book about it (and an illustrated version too).

The crux of the technique is this. You set the egg timer to 25 minutes, focus on a single task, and avoid distractions and interruptions like phone calls, emails and social media. Once the 25 minutes is finished, you have a five minute break. When you’ve completed four ‘Pomodoros’ (sets of 25 minutes + 5 minute break), you have a 15-20 minute break.

In theory, you can learn to predict how many Pomodoros a task will take. I track all my time using Trigger so I know, for example, my weekly finance update takes one hour (i.e. two Pomodoros). And say you have two hours in the afternoon, you know you can fit in four Pomodoro and you’ll know what tasks you can and can’t complete in that time.

Using a wind-up timer

There are hundreds of clever apps and software programs which can help you to do the timing, but actually there’s lots of advantages to using a wind-up timer. When I started using this technique I used an app on my phone but found it too inflexible. If I’d forgotten to set my time before starting a task I had no choice but to start the timer for 25 minutes. Using a egg timer means if I’m eight minutes into a task and I realise I’ve forgotten to set my timer, I can just wind it up to 17 minutes. If I finish the task while the timer is still running, I can just stop early and have a break, or switch tasks.

I find using a physical timer makes it easier to check how long you’ve got left. You don’t have to change tabs in your browser, or unlock your phone. Just glance to the right (or left).

I had read how the ticking makes it easier to concentrate but didn’t believe this would be the case for me. However, I find the ticking seems to trigger ‘work-mode’ in my brain and helps me to ignore distractions.

7 reasons I use the Pomodoro Technique

  1. I get much more done by grouping all my interruptions into one five minute window. Instead of answering every email as it pops up, I carry on with my current task and look at it in the break. And because the Pomodoros are only 25 minutes, clients don’t have to wait long for a reply, even if I don’t reply immediately. Having less interruptions means I do the main task I’m trying to focus on to a higher quality and with less mistakes, and I don’t lose as much time switching between tasks.
  2. The regular breaks reduce eyestrain. As my optician tells me every time I go, you should look away from my computer for at least 20 seconds at an object far away, every 20 minutes. This technique helps me to do this, rather than staring at my text editor or Photoshop for three hours straight.
  3. The regular breaks reduce tiredness. I am less tired throughout the day, even though I find I get more done. I’m still pretty tired at the end of the day, but don’t find myself in huge slumps during the day.
  4. It reduces the feeling of overwhelm when I’m working lots of different projects for different clients. When you run a business, you often have to juggle multiple projects. And sometimes when I have a massive list of things to do I feel too overwhelmed to get anything done. I don’t know which task to do first and I end up constantly switching between tasks. By using a timer, I pick one task and work on it for a full 25 minutes. If the priority of the tasks is obvious, I’ll do it in order of priority, but if not I’ll just start at the top of the list, and work my way through as it saves time trying to decide what order to do things in.
  5. I get less carried away in breaks. Because this technique makes you take regular breaks, I find five minutes is adequate. And I’m less likely to get distracted reading articles or checking social media, with the feeling of “where did the last half an hour go?”.
  6. It helps me break up tasks into more manageable tasks. Working in small chunks of time helps me break down large projects into smaller, actionable tasks. This will be a familiar concept for those of you who’ve read Getting Things Done. ‘Make e-Commerce website’ is not a task that can be completed in one Pomodoro, but ‘set up the local development site’ is.
  7. I’m more motivated. Instead of thinking there’s so much to do in the next 8 hours, I just have to focus on the next 25 minutes. It helps me get started, and it helps me get on with things when I’m not particularly motivated. The timer is always ticking down to the next break, and I just have to tell myself to carry on for the next 15 minutes instead of five hours.

Making the Pomodoro Technique work for you

I think the key to all these helpful time management techniques is not to stick rigidly to all the rules. The joy of using a wind-up timer is you can alter the times if you need to. You might need a longer break, so you can set it for ten minutes instead of five.

If I’m in the middle of something when the timer goes off and I don’t want to lose concentration, I carry on. And then when I come to a convenient stopping point, I start my five minute break and carry on as usual.

I still have my email notifications turned on so I know when I’ve got an email, but I don’t read it or reply to it until my break. And if I’m expecting an important phone call, of course I’ll answer it.

The technique works for me, but something else might work better for you. Just find what suits your personality, learning style and preferences and be confident in it.