Why the Pomodoro Technique is Worth the Time


At first glance the pomodoro technique just sounds like timeboxing (an old standby of time management) and in many ways it is. But pomodoro’s real secret sauce, and its key to effectiveness, is adding a layer of methodology to timeboxing.

Why Timebox?

Let’s start at the beginning. Timeboxing refers to the concept of taking a set amount of time to do a specific task. It’s often mentioned as a technique to fight perfectionism.

For example, I have a bad habit of spending way too much time looking for the perfect digital devices. I don’t want any camera. I want the *perfect* one! So a few years ago, in the stone ages before everyone had a camera on their phone, I went looking for a digital camera. I probably spent 8 hours over a weekend looking for just the right camera. I read all the reviews and obsessively compared each feature. At the end of it all, I got a great camera, but I have to wonder if it was worth all the time I spent.

In the language from  The Pardox of Choice, I’m a maximizer (as opposed to a satisficer)– I need to compare *all* options before making a decision. For people like me, timeboxing is very useful and prevents us from wasting too much time analyzing everything.

Nowadays when I go to buy a new gadget, I timebox it to a couple hours of research and tell myself that I will make a decision after those few hours even if I haven’t done all the research. As the classic Patton phrase goes:

A good plan violently executed today is better than the perfect plan tomorrow.

Another useful aspect of timeboxing is that it focuses the mind. If I tell myself that I have only a half-hour to write a blog, I’m going to make a lot more progress on it then if I have all day and intersperse it with other tasks.

And that’s where the pomodoro technique comes in. It builds on the idea that timeboxing can help focus your mind and adds a specific set of rules around timeboxing. Timeboxing is a little too vague by itself to help in day-to-day life.

As I’m learning from the book Switch, we sometimes need very specific guidance to make a change in our life and the pomodoro technique provides that specific direction.

Enter the Pomodoro

The pomodoro technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo in 1992 when he was a university student struggling to concentrate. In order to track his 25 minute time blocks he used a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato (or pomodoro in Italian) and the rest is history.

The technique consists of the following rules:
1) Plan out what you want to accomplish
2) Break your tasks into 25 minute chunks
3) Take 5 minute breaks between each chuck
4) If a distracting thought or another task comes along while you’re working within your 25 minutes try to continue working and just log the task for later processing (similar to GTD).
5) After completing 4 work sessions take a longer break of 15-30 minutes

So, as you can see, it’s essentially structured timeboxing in 25 minute chunks.

Some other major takeaways and recommendations:

  • Use a visible timer – There’s something about the clock ticking in front of you that helps you to work harder.
  • Don’t use pomodoro for free time – It’s intended to be used for cranking out work and you’re trying to build up your ability to concentrate.
  • Breaks are a GOOD thing! – You can concentrate better when you give yourself mini-breaks rather than trying to concentrate for 8 hours straight.

Real World Experience

I’ve now been consistently using the pomodoro technique for the past few weeks and it has made a huge difference in my ability to focus. I feel like each time I consistently work through a 25-minute pomodoro, I’m not only knocking out work but increasing my ability to concentrate.

There is definitely something about that ticking clock that helps to focus the mind. I’ve been using a free digital pomodoro timer and it’s been wonderful.

Like anything else, your mileage may vary, but I think pomodoro is at least worth trying especially for those of us who have to focus to get our work done and are too easily distracted by other tasks, emails, Wikipedia entries and, of course, twitter…

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

6 thoughts on “Why the Pomodoro Technique is Worth the Time

  1. Hey Bryant, Good to see you back on the EE blog! Those technical ones were way harder to read.

    I like this for two reasons.

    1. Sherry’s FB status this morning, which I shared, sums up my daily conundrum perfectly: “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. – E.B. White”

    2. Today I am trying something new. Specific rewards for specific chores. I can do whichever ones I want, but I can’t, say, eat the fancy bacon chocolate bar (SPLURGE) until I unpack and put away all of my suitcases from the summer of travel. No episode of Glee until I organize my bookshelf. And so on. Usually I skip the chores and enjoy the rewards. I think I will pomodoro these things today and see how they go. Great blog!

  2. That quote is very true and hilarious!

    Let me know how it goes with the Pomodoro technique. Since I wrote this blog, lots of people have told me that they are going to try it.

  3. Well, it’s funny. Yesterday I was more productive than I’d been in at least a year, probably two. I cleaned and organized a wide swath of the bedroom, which felt great. Ironically, though, just keeping track of time was enough to help, I didn’t end up taking the breaks they reccommend. I also don’t have an egg timer, so I just used my stopwatch and would glance at it every so often.

    I didn’t finish all 6 tasks so I didn’t get all 6 rewards (finished 4 and got 4 rewards) which felt pretty nice. I’ll try the pomodoro technique for real (with all the rules) on Wednesday.

  4. I have been using Pomodoro for the last few months and it is by far the best time management tool I have come across.  I also have a Pomodoro timer APP for my iPhone which is perfect.  You can set the volume of the ticking and ding at the end.

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