The Pomodoro Technique is a time management philosophy developed in the early 90s by an Italian graduate student named Francesco Cirillo to help with his studies. The basic premise is to do work in short, 25-minute bursts called ‘Pomodori’, separated by 5-minute breaks. The name comes from the fact that the creator used a kitchen timer that happened to resemble the shape of a tomato, and the Italian word for ‘tomatoes’ is ‘pomodoro’. The effectiveness of the method is based on the theory that frequent breaks can reduce mental fatigue and limit procrastination, leading to a net gain in productivity.
Now that you know the general technique, the real question becomes, “Does it work?” After trying the method for a couple of days and completing a number of ‘pomodoros’, I can see how it can be useful. If you have a large, daunting on your todo-list, using the Pomodoro Technique can help you overcome procrastination by encouraging you to spread the work over several pomodoros. The constant measurement of activities gives you a simple way to track your progress. For me, this created a gamification side where I set a daily goal for myself to beat my average PDPD (Pomodoros Done per Day). Over time, it is really rewarding to see yourself make progress not only in 25-minute intervals, but also in weekly productivity.
Another aspect many people found helpful was the use of tools that the technique suggests, specifically the Activity Inventory, daily todo sheets, and Record sheets. These items can add a lot of organization to workflow, and come with all the other benefits of a todo-list. Additionally, the timer itself is a critical tool because the physical act of winding up the timer signal your intention to start the task, the ticking sound drives you to complete the task, and knowing that the ringing is coming soon encourages you to wrap up quickly. Once a connection is made, you can almost trigger maximum focus and creative freshness through external stimuli in your control.
On the flip side, the system is not without it’s flaws. Like most productivity techniques, the Pomodoro Technique pays little attention to the other areas of true productivity. In particular, while the method is great for overcoming procrastination (Do), it doesn’t really touch upon what should be done (Discover) or how it should be accomplished (Decide). Without first considering if what we are doing is useful in the first place, we might head in the wrong direction. Additionally, without properly allocating our time and resources, we might spend considerably more ‘pomodoros’ than necessary to complete a task.
Moreover, as others have suggested, using a full system just to keep out concentration can seem a bit silly and contrived. If we handle our work professionally, we should be able to crank through it whether or not we’re especially passionate about any given activity. Sometimes, it’s just about breaking down mental barriers and pushing ourselves to get things done. Personally, after trying the method for a couple of days, I’ve just gone back to working until I’m tired. Sometimes this is just a couple of minutes, but more often than not, I’m in the flow for over an hour. The important thing is to let your body signal a break, not some timer set to an arbitrary time limit.
(As a side note, I discovered something extremely intriguing during my research. Another blogger mentioned that, “Pomodoros are an all or nothing affair. Either you work for 25 minutes straight to mark your X or you don’t complete a pomodoro. Since marking that X is the measurable sign of progress, you start to shy away from engaging in an activity if it won’t result in an X. For instance, managers love meetings … Meetings get in the way of pomodoros. Say I have a meeting set for 4:30pm. It is currently 4:10pm, meaning I only have 20 minutes between now and the meeting. If I start a pomodoro, I won’t be able to finish it because I only have 20 minutes.” Later on though, the author responds to his own critique by pointing out, “I think overall my main problem might not even be with the technique at all, just meetings. It’s an area to consider.” This is less a point on the Pomodoro technique, but simply another reminder that meetings suck.)
In the end, the Pomodoro Technique isn’t ideal for every person, but it does provide a systematic way to tackle your daily to-do list. As such, the process can quite useful certain people, especially those who are members of Quantified Self. To get all the nitty-gritty details of how to implement the system in your own workflow, check out the official guide from the creator: http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/book/. Thoughts or responses? Reply in the comments below.