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The Ultimate Guide to The Pomodoro Technique

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Thanh_pomodoro

Whenever I tell people that we help people become more productive and achieve their goals faster, the usual follow up question is: what’s your number one productivity tip?

Based on this article, you might think I would say the Pomodoro Technique. Actually, the number one tip is to eat your frog. The second best tip is to use the Pomodoro Technique.

(When you can combine both eating your frog and the Pomodoro Technique you’re pretty much unstoppable.)

Ever since we started AE in 2011, the Pomodoro Technique has stood the test of time. This is one of the very first strategies I teach people because it’s so damn powerful yet easy to implement. It’s truly an 80/20 to getting to focus and get ahead.

How the Pomodoro Technique Works

Back in the 80s, Francesco Cirillo invented the Pomodoro Technique as a personal system for getting more studying done. When he released his free whitepaper of how it worked others have found a lot of success with it.

The main idea behind the Pomodoro Technique is something called “time boxing”. The basic premise is to firewall your attention for a small amount of time and mentally recharge after each interval of work.

The Pomodoro Technique works in 25-minute intervals. All you need is a timer (also called a Pomodoro) for this technique to work. Here are the steps:

  1. Identify what the task at hand is.
  2. Set your Pomodoro to 25 minutes.
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro is over.
  4. Take a 5-minute break.
  5. For every four Pomodoros take a longer break (15-20 minutes).

It’s really that simple. Once you know what you need to do, set a timer for 25 minutes and all you do is work on your task during that time. You’re not allowed to do anything else but work on your task.

By setting this constraint, a lot of people find it very freeing to know that they can focus on just one thing and then do other stuff once the timer is over. People with ADD/ADHD find this technique very powerful.

What Francesco and others have discovered is that when you complete a small chunk of work, you build momentum so that you will feel more productive which in itself leads to getting more work done. I’m sure you’ve experienced this yourself. There was this one task you dreaded and procrastinated on for hours, maybe even weeks. One day you decided you start it anyway – even if it was only a few minutes. Before you knew it, you kicked yourself in the head because it was actually not that bad to finish the task and you wished you started it earlier.

We see this happen all the time. It’s often the initial resistance that’s holding us back but once you get past it, it’s often very easy to complete your work.

This is where the Pomodoro Technique really shines. By setting a short timer (and 25 minutes is really short) you give yourself a reason to get started and to fight the initial resistance. “Oh, I’m just going to do this for 25 minutes” and it’s not uncommon for people to want to continue to work.

If you haven’t tried the Pomodoro Technique yet, I highly recommend you try it out today.

What if you have tried it but it didn’t work for you?

businessman procrastinatingLet me see if I can correct your form. I truly believe everyone can benefit from this technique so there might be something that you’re missing.

One of the big benefits of running AE is that we get hundreds of thousands of people coming to the site, millions of people downloading our podcast The Productivity Show and over a thousand people posting on the Dojo forum (our private community and training library). I can see what’s working and not working for people in the real world with all vastly different backgrounds. I thought I’d share the insights with you to help you implement this technique more effectively.

Do you always stop after 25 minutes? What if I’m in the groove and I want to keep going?

This is something I keep seeing popping up over and over again. After working with many people, here’s what I’ve found to work as a general guideline.

  1. If you are new to using the Pomodoro Technique and you struggle with getting focused work done, then stop working after the timer rings.
  2. If you’ve used the Pomodoro Technique many times with success, feel free to continue to work after the timer goes off.

The reason we recommend for newbies to stop after the timer runs out is to build a sustainable habit of starting and stopping. I’ve seen too many people start the Pomodoro Technique for the first few times, continue to work after the timer, and then get back to their old ways of procrastinating on their work. You want to avoid that and that’s why it’s beneficial to first get used to just using the technique to get started. The more times you can force yourself to start a timer and focus, the easier it becomes in the future to work on things you don’t want to work on (which is usually correlated with stuff that moves you closer to your goals).

The timer is really just a gimmick to get you started and to build “productivity momentum”. Once you are used to running the timer and taking frequent breaks, you can then continue to work after it finishes. This is different per person but I’d recommend at least having a week of the Pomodoro Technique under your belt before you go beyond the 25 minutes.

In fact, a lot of people (including myself) will then change the duration of the timer to 50 or 60 minutes. Once you find yourself in situations where 25 minutes is too short for most of your work, it’s okay to change the timer for a longer duration. I still use 25 minutes to force myself whenever I’m procrastinating. The times I feel motivated, I’ll set it to 60 minutes and dive right in.

Which Pomodoro apps do you recommend?

Vitamin-R

If you’re on the Mac, Vitamin-R is by far the best Pomodoro timer. It’s not even close. The app comes with a hefty price tag but it has every feature you want:

  • You can customize the duration of your timer
  • It integrates with OmniFocus, Things and other task managers
  • The reminders and notifications help you to take breaks
  • It has time tracking built-in
  • The reporting and analysis is effortless which is ideal for a weekly review
  • You can play background noise if you desire to focus

There are a lot of features while it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

Be Focused Pro

Another popular app is Be Focused Pro – a Dojo community favorite (besides Vitamin-R).

Time-Management-Apps-For-Entrepreneurs-focus-booster-app-logo

For those who are on Windows, your options aren’t great. The popular timers are either web-based or cross-platform but there is no dedicated Windows app. With that said, we recommend Focus Booster. It’s free up to 20 Pomodoros a month and then after you’ll be looking into a subscription. As I have mentioned before, lots of productivity apps are moving towards a subscription model but in my opinion, that’s not worth a subscription paying for.

The best alternative is Focus 10. It’s very simple so if that’s your thing, go for it. Just don’t expect a feature-rich set like Vitamin-R has.

PomoDone

Another one is PomoDone that has a couple more features.

An alternative is to get a timer app on your phone. You can easily use the default timer that comes with every phone. Heck, you could even use Siri or Google Assistant as timers if you wanted to. A big benefit is that you use this timer anywhere you bring your phone and it works great when you also use the Pomodoro Technique with analog tools (like your paper planner). The downside of the builtin timers is that they have no reporting and customization.

Pomodoro Keeper

For iOS, we recommend Pomodoro Keeper and for Android ClearFocus.

ClearFocus

What are some activities you do on your Pomodoro breaks?

Morning walk with dog

I never thought of addressing this but this was a very popular forum topic in the Dojo (our private community and training library). Whenever I have my short break, I just sit on the couch, drink some water and relax for a bit before I hit my next Pomodoro. I’ve also taken short walks around the neighborhood and done some stretching.

On the Dojo forum people came up with a great list of other things you could do on your breaks:

  • Some form of simple exercise (kettlebell swings, pushups, jumping jacks, pull-ups)
  • Play a musical instrument (guitar, violin, piano)
  • A power nap
  • Reading a book
  • Juggling
  • Read the Dojo forum (I totally approve!)
  • Stretching

We usually recommend that you step away from your desk when you take your break. It allows you to mentally take a break from your “work” space and then re-engage when you sit down again. So clearing your OmniFocus inbox or checking email on your breaks are not something we recommend.

How many pomodoros do people typically aim to do in a day?

Let’s get a big myth out of the way: there’s no such thing as an 8-hour workday.

You might actually be at work for 8 hours but when you subtract lunch, water cooler talk, meetings and checking email…you really only have 1 to 4 hours of available time to get focused work done. Everyone’s job is different so there’s no hard and fast rule for how many Pomodoros you should aim for.

Personally, if I can do 4 Pomodoros in a day (that’s essentially two hours of focused time) I would consider that a highly productive day. In two hours of uninterrupted time, I can create massive value and solve a lot of complex problems. Do I achieve that every day? Absolutely not. Realistically, on a good week, I might achieve that 3-4 times. That would be considered a very productive week.

The bare minimum should be 2 pomodoros. If you can’t get at least one hour of uninterrupted time, you have a bigger problem to deal with. Your time allocation is way off and you’re probably wasting a lot of time in other areas. Now there’s an exception…

My line of work is very interrupt-driven. Can this still work for me?

Doctor giving patient a bunch of flowers as he leaves hospitalWhen your job is driven by people interrupting you, critical email notifications and phone calls it can be difficult to get focused time in. A lot of people who work in the medical field, IT and customer service roles experience this.

If you find yourself in such situation, the first thing you have to accept is that the value of your role is being flexible and being interrupted is part of your job. Part of your salary and the value your offer is for addressing everything that would be considered interruptions.

With that said, think of the Pomodoro Technique as a tool you can use at a time that is suitable. Even though your day might be sporadic and all over the place, there will also be times when you know you’ll have pockets of time to focus. Use the Pomodoro Technique for those moments. It might not be a suitable tool for everyday use but very useful for those times when you know you have an hour or two for yourself. Especially if you know that you tend to procrastinate during those times.

Don’t shoot for a number of Pomodoros in a day. Your line of work doesn’t allow you to control your time like others can. You’ll have to be okay with not getting any Pomodoros done but when you do accomplish one, it would be a major victory! Again, use the Pomodoro Technique as a tool when you can but don’t beat yourself if you can’t.

Next Actions

The Pomodoro Technique is a great way to beat procrastination at the start of your day. If you begin your day right, it is much easier to get things done later in the day (hence why we love eating frogs). Some people use the Pomodoro Technique to get started and once they have that momentum going, they just free flow the rest of the day and don’t’ need the timer anymore. Use this technique to your own liking because all that matters is that YOU are getting work done. It doesn’t matter how you do it.

Set a 25-minute timer right now on your phone for your next task and then take a break. Commit to focus ONLY on the task and nothing else. Once the timer rings, take a 5-minute break and walk away from your desk. Congratulations, you’ve completed your first Pomodoro!

Once you see it’s working for you then it’s worthwhile to get one of our recommended apps.

Next week we’re doing a live workshop where we show you the Pomodoro Technique and many others to help you focus. Click here to register for it.

For any more questions, let us know in the comments. If you also want to get involved in the Dojo (our private community and training library), sign up for the waitlist here.

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35 Comments

Posted by Guillaume  | May 2, 2018 at 3:34PM | Reply

Regarding the apps, on IOS or Android, if you are not interested in advanced features like those of Vitamin R, you may simply use Gymboss !

It’s usually used for fitness (HIIT) but the idea is exactly the same… you can set custom times for both activity & break !

Posted by Mary  | January 26, 2018 at 9:12PM | Reply

I am taking a college course and am using this to see how well it will work for my classes. I am trying it to do my work at home. It does not sound very hard, and it is just making sure I keep interruptions away.

Posted by Wiilie Ware  | January 4, 2018 at 3:53PM | Reply

It’ a very good technique to use for order, and for memory.

Posted by Robert Boyd  | October 26, 2017 at 10:14PM | Reply

I like this for school. I would love to try this at my job. I am a manager for a Farm Retail chain called Tractor Supply. Think this would help?

Posted by Althea Baker  | February 22, 2017 at 2:41PM | Reply

Thank you. This is a great idea. I will be using the Pomodoro Technique from now on.

Posted by Junaedi  | June 16, 2015 at 9:57PM | Reply

Nice concept when I read it. But my assignment requires me to do some coding sometimes. Don’t know it is fit or not, I think I’ll gonna try it.

Posted by Lafatta Scott  | October 9, 2014 at 3:03PM | Reply

I loved it, but there is one thing that is wrong and that is that it is not great will longer taskes.

Posted by Kimberly  | August 21, 2014 at 12:33PM | Reply

I am an advisor at a community/technical college and I love to learn how people learn. I will include this advice when helping students transition from high school to college since successful college students need to learn to be self-taught, not just do their homework. It is taunting for most students to see how much work is necessary to be successful. I remind my students that their short-term memory is only designed to contain 7 to 10 concepts and the brain need a breaks to download the information into the long-term memory before moving on to new information. Pomodoro Techniques makes perfect sense for a college learner.

Posted by Sergio Felix  | April 9, 2014 at 4:11AM | Reply

Hey Thanh, I’m going to be trying the Pomodoro technique tomorrow because my productivity is literally killing me lately.

I have a very hard time focusing on getting things done and I seriously need to learn how to become more productive since I’m not used to work in a home office environment so I’m pretty sure the distractions have a lot to do with it but I will still try my best!

Sergio

PS. I have a secondary monitor, that’s where I’ll put the digital countdown timer and I’ll see how it goes.

Posted by Benedict Ursal  | March 27, 2014 at 7:13PM | Reply

I once had a hard time finishing tasks quickly. I lacked focus because I haven’t trained my mind to do it. I have a list of what I needed to do but when I do work on them, I just work for a few minutes then give in to the temptation of going to my Facebook or do a Google Search. I also didn’t work on one task at a time. My working habit was a cluttered one.

So what happened? I read a blog post on time blocking techniques for productivity. One popular method is the Pomodoro Method. I applied it and it worked very well. Working for 25 minutes of uninterrupted work and taking 5 or 10 minutes of rest after it not only made me finish my tasks a lot quickly, it trained my mind to focus. This doesn’t work like magic. It takes a bit of practice to master this. I started with working for 10 minutes of focused work then gradually increased it to 30 minutes until it’s automatic to me.

When I started, using my non-smartphone’s timer worked. But then, it became a bit of a hassle as I had to use two tools (a todo list, and a timer). I searched for online tools that merge these two features. Nothing satisfied me. So I decided to make my own. It worked seamlessly.

If you’re tired of using two tools and you’re working on your computer most of the time, I would recommend you to use my online tool.

Posted by JeanDream  | February 6, 2014 at 4:14PM | Reply

I use this beautiful and simple Windows gadget Pomodoro timer: http://mitchfournier.com/2014/02/04/a-free-and-simple-windows-7-gadget-pomodoro-timer/

Lets you use the standard 25/5 Pomodoro or customize for longer and shorter intervals. Gets the job done nicely.

Posted by Antonio D'Onofrio  | October 10, 2013 at 11:49AM | Reply

I have a few problems to come back to my duties after the 5 minute pause.
I don’t know what to do. Is it a good idea “organize” my short pause to force myself to a sort of autopilot?

Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 12, 2013 at 4:02PM

Yeah give it a try and see if that works for you. Usually just telling yourself to commit to finishing it helps too.

Posted by Maxi  | October 1, 2013 at 3:51PM | Reply

I would like to share another Pomodoro app for iPhone (disclaimer: I’m one of the developers). We think we’ve put the best UI out there! You can check it out here: bit.ly/1ePOUHH Hope you enjoy it!

Posted by Caroly  | August 29, 2013 at 1:33PM | Reply

This helped me blow through a major project task this morning that I thought would take all day – the Project Manager was quite pleased! Thanks for the amazing tips—I also utilized your Spotify “Work” playlists.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | September 2, 2013 at 11:05AM

Cheers Caroly!

Posted by Brian Parker  | May 2, 2013 at 6:01PM | Reply

Pomodoro seems to be interesting for people working on tasks that are unlikely to be interrupted, developers or writers etc but I can’t see it being much use in the busy tech support office environment that is my workplace. We move from constant to occasional interruptions while simultaneously attempting to work on longer term projects and the big challenge is to remain focused on what you were doing before the latest distraction. In this, Omnifocus keeps me on track (also using some of the AE techniques) however I’d be interested to see whether you guys could come up with an article focused on organisation and productivity in my sort of environment. I don’t believe I’ve seen anything like that done before.

Posted by JGARCIA  | June 19, 2013 at 10:09PM

i second that, working in the helpdesk and operational it role!!

Posted by Jaime Clifton  | October 31, 2013 at 3:03PM

Yes, I concure with this too. Most of the productivity books I’ve read seem to think that multitasking/switch tasking is a bad thing. In my line of work I have an enormous amount of changing small tasks to deal with in a day. If I carried out each task individually and waited until each task was completed until I moved onto the next it would waste enormous amounts of time. For me the key is to switch task, but to do it quickly and concentrate only on the task in hand, when your on it.

Posted by eWS5-Fundamentals of Teaching Online  | April 23, 2013 at 11:42PM | Reply

[…] The Pomodoro Technique – An Effective Method for Working on Tasks […]

Posted by maggy simony  | October 31, 2012 at 1:01PM | Reply

All you creators of systems–seem to be mostly men–need to read The Fly Lady. Her name is Maria, she lives in North Carolina, and has fans by the thousand all over the world. Although her basic goal is to get control of keeping house, running a family (with or without a career) she does some simple things that even work for me–a nonagenarian procrastinator who has yet to get my days into “routines” despite trying all my life, and buying so damned many books on it, could start a self-help library.

The Fly Lady’s system for keepin g track of one’s day is simplicity itself to set up. A Looseleaf 3-hole punch notebook, plastic 3-hole punch sleeves for the paper. She too has an AM routine (with few household tasks added), coming home from work routine, PM routine. Once inserted in plastic, one can tick off when done, erase at end of day, and re-use. Also has weekly and monthly task sheets.

Includes a Control Journal (all the things one must do, projects that require progress each week, etc. I think you spend an hour each Sunday planning next week. Always with plastic so can be checked off.

One thing she does that actually works for me. 15-minute time segments to speed up on stuff like housework, tackling clutter in short segments. Makes you speed up! I will do three different 15 minute tasks fast as I can, then sit and read 15 minutes.

But I’ve used 15 minute timer to get “into” a writing task for my blog and such, tackle something I loathe doing (clean the car, pay bills), so often I just go ahead and finish the damned thing.

In terms of getting control of housekeeping, Fly Lady says absolute must (like your water in the morning) is a shining kitchen sink! Plus make your bed first thing.

Just discovered asianefficiency this morning — and as usual, after 92 years of doing this!!! — got so intrigued with yet a new “system” haven’t done a damned thing on my blog!

Posted by Thanh Pham  | November 2, 2012 at 2:03PM

Hi Maggy,

Thanks for suggesting the FlyLady. She seems to have really great books! I’ve added a couple to my list to check out. From what you’ve told me, it seems like her thinking is very similar to how we see things.

Posted by srinivas.sista  | July 12, 2012 at 5:47AM | Reply

i like it

Posted by Kevin  | June 14, 2012 at 10:37PM | Reply

Good stuff, been using Pomodoro to keep my once-online poker playing brain focused on 1 thing for a while now. Tough to start, but solar flaring it up helps quite a bit :)

Posted by 10 Time Management Tips for New Media Artists  | March 12, 2012 at 2:51PM | Reply

[…] In the productivity world, pomodoros are the secret weapon that helps you get things done. […]

Posted by Pablo  | February 25, 2012 at 1:12AM | Reply

Pomodoro + Time Flex app by @danielpunkass:twitter .  

Posted by Vincent van Andel  | January 2, 2012 at 12:47PM | Reply

I’m a developer, and I love pomodoro technique.
The only downside is that it’s not so good for long sessions coding.

Does someone have an alternative for it then? :)

Posted by Thanh Pham  | January 4, 2012 at 1:20PM

Hey Vincent what I found is that 50/10 cycles are just as effective. Even for coding :)

Posted by Cheri Riley  | December 26, 2011 at 5:56PM | Reply

I love the app Vitamin R to implement the Pomodorp principles.  I will take my Omni Task list and paste it in or better yet read it in to the box for what I am to accomplish during that time period.   You can save your logs and rate your efforts.  Very very cool.  It is great for when I get too involved in research and can’t get back on task..

Posted by Jessica L.  | November 10, 2011 at 11:17AM | Reply

And there’s a very inspiring book Pomodoro Technique Illustrated: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1934356506

Posted by Thanh Pham  | November 10, 2011 at 1:29PM

That’s a lot of pages for explaining something so simple :)

Posted by Pomodorium  | September 22, 2011 at 8:03PM | Reply

Pomodorium – new GAME based on pomodoro technique .

Posted by Anonymous  | September 13, 2011 at 1:37AM | Reply

I found the Pomodoro Technique when my wife was tooling around for some apps for my 4G. Great for those of us with ADHD. Even if you have ADHD you can hone in in 25 minute segments and the click, click, click of the timer is the perfect reminder.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | September 13, 2011 at 7:14AM

Yes, I agree. I find that people who have very short attention spans work really well with Pomodoro Technique. For people who can focus for longer periods of time, I can advice to try out 50/10.

Posted by Our Top 10 Tips to Beat Procrastination [Audio]  | February 7, 2011 at 1:42AM | Reply

[…] So the first one is Pomodoros. What we mean with that is, the Pomodoro technique is a timeboxing technique. So what that means is timeboxing is when you set aside ‘x’ […]

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