5 Simple Ways to Hack the Pomodoro Technique and Increase Your Productivity Today

Here’s how to make the classic system work even better for you.

Stephanie Thurrott
Sep 13 · 5 min read
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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

m a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique. I have a timer set on my phone, ready to go with a single click. It motivates me to focus on my most important task for 25 minutes without letting me get distracted or interrupted.

If the technique is new to you, here’s the gist:

  1. Decide on a task you want to focus on
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task for 25 minutes, a unit of time called a Pomodoro
  4. Take a 5-minute break
  5. Reset the timer for 25 minutes and continue working on the task. If you’ve completed the task, start working on a new task.
  6. Take a longer break after four sessions, or Pomodoros.

Why Pomodoro? Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. Francesco Cirillo, who invented the technique, used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato when he developed his idea.

The technique’s been around since the 1980s, and there are all kinds of apps and charts you can use to track your progress with it.

I love it. Knowing I have a break coming up makes it easy for me to focus on my task. I’m using it right now to write this story.

Over time, I’ve found five ways to make the Pomodoro Technique work better for me.

I break the 25-minute rule.

Cirillo chose 25 minutes for the Pomodoro Technique. But I like to play around with the length of my Pomodoros.

In the morning I’m more focused and energized. I don’t need a break after the first 25 minutes. When I was setting a 25-minute timer in the morning I would often just reset the timer right away, skipping over that break.

So now, I set my first Pomodoro of the day for 50 minutes. After that, I take a break, reevaluate my energy, and decide how long my next session should be.

What you can do:

If you’re new to the technique, try it as designed.

If you’re like me and you find that 25 minutes is too short, experiment with the length of time that keeps you focused and gives you a break when (or right before) you need it.

I switch tasks.

After 75 minutes or so, no matter how I break those minutes up, I lose focus on a task.

I used to try to force another 25-minute session. But my productivity wasn’t there.

Now, as long as I can make it work with my deadlines, I move on to something else:

What you can do:

List the tasks you want to complete in a day, and estimate how long they will take. Then plan your Pomodoro sessions around your energy level.

Once you pay attention for a week or two, you’ll discover how to prioritize your tasks in ways you find most energizing.

I plan around with my calendar.

The 25-minutes-on/5-minutes-off schedule is great if your calendar is clear for the day. But most of us have meetings and phone calls that we need to handle in our workdays.

I plan my Pomodoros around those obligations.

Say I start work at 9 a.m. and I have a phone call scheduled at 10 a.m. I might do a 55-minute Pomodoro, giving myself five minutes to prep for the phone call.

If I can walk around while I take the phone call, great. If not, I’m still getting a break from the task I was focused on.

And I eat lunch at noon every day. So I plan for that — I work through my Pomodoros so I’m ready for a bigger break by then.

What you can do:

Take a look at your schedule for the day. What do you need to do?

Plan out your Pomodoros so the interruptions in your schedule line up with your breaks.

I move around during my breaks.

It’s tempting to use those 5-minute breaks to check email or “treat” yourself to a peek at social media. But ideally, you want to get away from your desk and move around for a few minutes.

I use the breaks to make sure I get a little movement in my day.

I’ll go downstairs for a glass of water, put some laundry in the washer, walk out to pick up the mail, or water my plants.

Tessa Palmer shares more great suggestions:

What you can do:

Make a list of 5-minute activities — tasks or treats — that you would like to get done.

Then when your timer goes off you can start from the top, or pick your favorite, and take your break.

I use it when I know I’ll be distracted.

The Pomodoro technique is designed to help us focus on our priority tasks for a set period of time. But I also use it to force myself to stop when I’m tackling a task that I know will distract me.

Cleaning up my email is a perfect example. I feel like I can get through it quickly. But then I start reading newsletters and sending long replies. An hour can disappear before I realize it.

So I set a timer.

I take 25 minutes to get through as much of my email as possible, and then it’s time for a break. After that, I can do another 25 minutes on email, or move on to another task.

What you can do:

Set a timer whenever you’re starting a task that you know will distract you. That way you won’t lose track of time.

The Bottom Line

The Pomodoro technique is a time-tested productivity booster. But you don’t have to follow the method religiously to see benefits. Experiment with:

  • Timing
  • Task-switching
  • Scheduling
  • Breaks
  • Reducing distractions

You’ll discover the best ways to make the system work for you so your days are energized and efficient.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Stephanie Thurrott

Written by

I write stories that make our lives better. I learn something with everything I write, and I hope you do too. Get my newsletter: stephaniethurrott.com/medium

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 129,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Stephanie Thurrott

Written by

I write stories that make our lives better. I learn something with everything I write, and I hope you do too. Get my newsletter: stephaniethurrott.com/medium

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 129,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

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