The Pomodoro Technique: The Tomato-Inspired Productivity Philosophy

As professionals, we struggle to balance our time and energy to make sure we get our tasks done. Yet, there are days when we push ourselves to exhaustion just to discover we’ve accomplished little at the end of the day. This makes us feel anxious and stressed, sometimes even close to burning out. In situations like these, the Pomodoro Technique can be a useful tool to help us buckle down and get more things crossed off our to-do lists.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique is a simple yet effective way to manage your time and improve your work habits. It helps you break down your workload into small, manageable chunks. This technique helps you stay focused on tasks that require long periods of concentration.

Who invented this technique?

The Pomodoro Technique was created by software developer and entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo. He named the system after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer that he used to keep himself focused and productive when he was a university student.

“Every day I went to school, attended classes, studied, and went back home with the disheartened feeling that I didn’t really know what I’d been doing. The exam dates came up so fast, and it seemed like I had no way to defend myself against time. I was easily distracted and unable to focus. So I decided to give myself a challenge: study without interruption for 10 minutes” Cirillo said.

How does it work?

Each 25-minute work block is called a Pomodoro. The principle behind it is to have you focus for a short period of time, then take a break afterwards. Most sources suggest linking four Pomodoros together, and then taking a longer break.

The Rules:

  • A Pomodoro can’t be interrupted; it marks 25 minutes of pure work.
  • A Pomodoro can’t be split up; there is no such thing as half of a Pomodoro or a quarter of a Pomodoro.
  • If a Pomodoro is definitively interrupted by someone or something, that Pomodoro should be considered void, as if it had never been set; then you should make a fresh start with a new Pomodoro.
  • You are not allowed to keep on working “just for a few more minutes” even if you’re convinced that in those few minutes you could complete the task at hand.
  • When the Pomodoro rings, mark an X next to the activity you’ve been working on and take a break for 5 minutes.

How To Use The Pomodoro Technique

We begin by creating a list of the things we want to accomplish. Then, estimate how much time it would take us to accomplish each task. Cirillo suggests we call this list the Activity Inventory Sheet. Then, sort all these tasks according to priority and put them in a separate sheet called the To Do Today list.

My Activity Inventory sheet
My To Do Today list

Each time the Pomodoro rang (which marked the end of a 25-minute limit), I placed an X on those activities that I worked on. After every 25-minute block, I took a 5-minute break.

Taking Breaks

After completing a Pomodoro, take a short break to “disconnect” from your work. Stretching, brewing coffee, or getting the mail in are some options for your breaks. Never engage in activities that call for heavy mental effort during breaks.

Cirillo explains that tasks like talking to a colleague about work-related issues or writing important emails will reduce alertness at the start of the next Pomodoro.

At the end of the day, create another sheet to visualize and analyze the day’s work.

Dealing with Interruptions

Experience shows interruptions can happen when you’re in the middle of a task. Cirillo designed an effective strategy for minimizing unhandled interruptions while increasing the number of Pomodoros that can be accomplished consistently.

There are two kinds of interruptions: internal and external.

Internal interruptions occur when you initiate the interruption. These actions are often associated with having little to no concentration to focus on the task at hand. Standing up to look for something to eat, or checking your Facebook feed are internal interruptions.

Meanwhile, external interruptions happen when others disrupt your workflow. External interruptions can be very common if you work in a social environment. These can be an incoming phone call, or a colleague asking for your help.

Cirillo recommends the Inform, Negotiate, Call Back strategy:

  • Inform effectively — Politely tell the person that you’re busy at the moment
  • Negotiate quickly to reschedule the interruption — Tell the person that you’ll get back to him/her after you’re finished working.
  • Call back the person who interrupted you as agreed. — Get back to the person when your Pomodoro ends

Make sure you write include interruptions in your To Do list

  1. At the moment that terrible urgency comes to your mind, add a symbol. Cirillo proposes using an apostrophe (‘) for internal interruptions and a dash (-) for external interruptions on the same column where you score your Pomodoros. Then, add the interruption (which could also be a task you needed to pay attention to immediately) to the end of the sheet under the title: Unplanned and urgent
  2. Ultimately, strive to finish the current Pomodoro. Remember the rule: If a Pomodoro begins, it has to ring.

In both cases, we reverse the nature of these interruptions. Simply, we are no longer dependent on interruptions, rather, interruptions depend on us. The best way to measure your productivity is to protect the Pomodoro and complete your task.

Here’s a sample To Do list with interruptions that happened while I was working:

The Pomodoro Technique fights procrastination

Focusing on process, not product, is important to avoid procrastination. Productivity gurus Neil Patel and Tim Ferriss recommend using the Pomodoro technique to overcome procrastination?

If the Pomodoro technique sounds like something you’d like to try, or if you do not have a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, check out the list of some of the Pomodoro-friendly timers available for your browser and mobile:

No Kitchen Timer? Use These Web And Mobile Pomodoro Apps:

Desktop/Web:

Tomighty - Tomighty is a desktop timer specifically designed for the Pomodoro Technique. Tomighty also has a Chrome extension available. It features a clean interface that does not distract you from staying focused while working on tasks.

Focus Booster - Focus Booster allows you to take the Pomodoro technique to the next level. This app lets you track your sessions, use stats to improve and measure your progress, and even send invoices to your clients using your Pomodoro session data.

PomoDoneApp - PomoDoneApp is another great app to manage your tasks in Pomodoro style. An especially useful feature is that you can connect it to your favorite task management tools (like Trello) to improve your overall workflow. It also has a Chrome extension so you can start sessions right from the browser.

Mobile:

Pomodoro Keeper (iOS)- The timer on this app features a clean and sleek interface. It also has a nice graphical representation of your past Pomodoro sessions and shows you how productive been in the last 30 days.

Be Focused (OS) - If you’re looking to truly refine your work focus, Be Focused is a great little app that will help you complete your tasks and achieve your project goals. The app is free to use, it also has a pro version that allows you to synchronize your task list between multiple Apple devices and even import and export task lists for easier access.

ClearFocus (Android) - ClearFocus’s best feature is its ability to block other apps that might distract you. For it to work, you will need to install another app from the same developer called ClearLock.

5217 (Android) - The 5217 app takes inspiration from this story from The Muse. The app advocates the Rule of 52 and 17. According to the article, the most productive workers are those who work for 52 minutes and take a break for 17.

Aim For Progress, Not Perfection

The Pomodoro Technique is a good way to organize your workflow efficiently. It helps maintain the delicate mental balance between discipline (finishing a task) and flexibility (dealing with interruptions). It also promotes a healthy sense of urgency to keep you focused on the work, without making you feel pressured. Over time, you become a better judge of how much time it takes to accomplish a task.

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