Increasing Productivity with the Pomodoro Technique

As recorded by J.D. Bentley June 4th, 2018
Increasing Productivity with the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a method of managing time and increasing productivity by breaking down tasks into short intervals, or bursts, of work followed by a break.

The method itself was developed in the late 80s by an Italian man named Francesco Cirillo and is named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used while developing the method. (Pomodoro is Italian for tomato).

How The Pomodoro Technique Works

To implement the Pomodoro Technique, first you decide on what task you want to accomplish. When you’re ready to begin, you set the timer for a substantial but not lengthy period of time, traditionally 25 minutes. As the timer counts down, you focus exclusively on performing your chosen task. When the timer rings, you put a checkmark on a piece of paper to record a successfully completed time block. If you have completed less than four time blocks, you may take a short 5 minute break after each time block. Every fourth completed time block earns a longer break of 15-30 minutes.

So, to simplify:

  • Choose a task.
  • Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  • Work.
  • When the timer ends, record your successful time block with a check mark and take a 5-minute break.
  • When you’ve completed four consecutive time blocks, take a 30-minute break.

Why It Works

For those like myself who tend to procrastinate or otherwise have trouble executing, the Pomodoro Technique removes quite a bit of friction. Instead of allowing yourself to become overwhelmed by the total number of tasks you have for the day or how long those tasks might take to complete, the Pomodoro Technique asks you to focus on only one task for twenty-five minutes. Anyone can work on something for just twenty-five minutes.

The Pomodoro time blocks (usually referred to themselves as "pomodoros") encourage focus and flow because they are viewed as indivisible chunks. Not only are you encouraged to work on one task, which helps you stay focused, but that they exist in unbreakable chunks helps you attain creative flow, or "get in the zone."

If during a running time block you are interrupted with the demands of some other task, there are only two options: ignore or reschedule the distraction, or abandon the time block and lose whatever progress you’ve made on it. The time blocks being so short, you’re much more likely to continue working.

How to Start with the Pomodoro Technique

The only things required to start using the Pomodoro Technique are a timer and some means of recording your completed time blocks. This could be as simple as opening the Clock app on your phone and setting a timer, then recording each completed block with a pencil on a scrap of paper.

The original intent of the Pomodoro Technique was to establish physical stimuli that encourage both focus and flow, which is why it was built around a mechanical kitchen timer. As you utilize the method, eventually you associate winding the timer with getting in the zone, the ticking noise with working, the ringing with victory and relief. Your productivity becomes associated with external events, which means the external events themselves can become a trigger for productivity.

There are many phone apps that utilize the Pomodoro Technique, but the one I use is called Forest, because I especially enjoy its premise. With Forest, beginning a time block plants a sapling. Throughout the duration of the time block, that sapling gradually grows into a pine. When you’ve completed the time block, the full-grown tree appears on a patch of land that represents the day. As you complete more time blocks, you add more trees. At the end of the work day, you’ll have planted a forest. It’s an interesting and, frankly, motivating way of visualizing the work that’s been accomplished, especially if your work is digital or something as abstract as writing where you don’t always have some physical artifact about which to feel accomplished. Apart from being an implementation of the Pomodoro Technique, Forest also exists to limit your temptation to mess around on Facebook or play games on your phone. If you leave the app for any reason, the tree is killed and the time spent discounted. You have to start a new time block.

The Pomodoro Technique, and specifically its Forest incarnation, has been incredibly helpful for me. For those who struggle with distractions and procrastination, especially those who’ve been diagnosed with some disorder of executive function, the Pomodoro Technique is an effective way to just get started, which is often the toughest part.