What is the Pomodoro Technique?

Aug 18, 2022

Table of contents:

  1. How does the Pomodoro Technique work?
  2. What are the benefits of the Pomodoro Technique?
  3. What are the drawbacks of the Pomodoro Technique?
  4. When should you use the Pomodoro Technique?

The pomodoro technique is a productivity method that breaks tasks into short, focused periods of work. During each work period, you focus on the task at hand, and then after the period has finished you would take a short break.

As you are forced to break tasks down into small chunks, the pomodoro technique is good for people that face an overwhelming to-do list and don’t know where to start. The technique also promotes regular breaks as a way of resetting your mind between tasks.

In this article we’re going to be looking at how the Pomodoro Technique works, the benefits, drawbacks, and when you should use it.

How does the Pomodoro Technique work?

The Pomodoro Technique was first created by Francesco Cirillo as a university student in the late 1800s. Francesco was struggling to focus on his tasks, and so he used a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato to commit to working in small focused sessions. Focusing your attention on a single task for a short period of time, he discovered, was much easier than attempting to tackle a large open ended project. As the kitchen timer Francesco used was in the shape of a tomato, he decided to call it the Pomodoro Technique because tomato is “pomodoro” in Italian.

The Pomodoro Technique splits work into short focused tasks that can be completed in a single sitting of typically 25 minutes. Each period of time, (also known as a pomodoro) should be focused on a single task or a batch of highly related tasks that would take 25 minutes as a collection.

At the start of each pomodoro, you would set a timer for the set amount of time, usually 25 minutes, and then you would work without stopping until the time had finished.

The Pomodoro Technique is said to promote focus and concentration whilst reducing fatigue. This is because you only have to concentrate for a short period of time before being able totake a break. You could think of the Pomodoro Technique as a version of working with your ultradian rhythm.

What are the benefits of the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique forces you to break your work down into smaller chunks that will fit within the interval of a single pomodoro. This means each task your breakdown has to be able to be completed within 25 minutes. Working through this process is a good practice to ensure everything on your to-do list is actionable.

As you are only required to focus your concentration for a relatively short amount of time, the Pomodoro Technique makes it easier to work at a high level of intensity in small bursts because you know you will be getting a rest soon. This means that the work you do will likely be of higher quality, with less errors or mistakes.

Having regular fixed rest periods also makes it less tempting to get distracted when you should be working because you know it won’t be long before you are “allowed” to procrastinate during your break. It doesn’t take a lot of willpower to not check social media for 25 minutes at a time. You could think of this as a form of Interrupt Coalescing.

And finally, the Pomodoro Technique helps with staying consistent. You might not feel like working at any given moment due to your fluctuating energy levels, but working in small increments can mean it is easier to make consistent progress, particularly if you feel overwhelmed by everything you need to do.

What are the drawbacks of the Pomodoro Technique?

The main negative aspect of the Pomodoro Technique is that a lot of people find it to be a rigid structure for working. For example, you probably need longer than 25 minutes if you want to tackle any type of creative, or complex work. A single pomodoro is not long enough to get into the flow state of creative work.

The “interruption” of the timer going off can actually be seen as a negative aspect of the Pomodoro Technique, as taking a break from working on the task could have detrimental effects on your productivity.

In my experience, the Pomodoro Technique is only really valuable if you are working on a task that you don’t really want to be doing. It’s a relief when the timer goes off and you can escape the drudgery of the task for 5 minutes before resuming. I’ve never found it conducive to the creative work I enjoy most where long periods of time can slip by without me noticing.

The Pomodoro Technique also only works if you are working through a list of tasks on your own. It wouldn’t work for example, if you were collaborating with someone on a project. Splitting that kind of work down into small chunks and then taking a break between each period of work just doesn’t make sense in that scenario.

And finally, there’s a lot of busy work required in using the Pomodoro Technique. You need to pre-vet your task list and chunk the work into appropriately sized units so that each task will fit within a single pomodoro. I’ve seen people skip this step and just do 25 minutes of work on a much larger task, leaving the task unfinished during the break before picking it back up again in the next pomodoro. However, I think this leads to disjointed work and so it’s something I would avoid.

When should you use the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique can be a very useful tool in your productivity arsenal, particularly if your workload or mindset fits with the characteristics of the method. For example, if you are the kind of person who needs a fixed, rigid work structure in order to have the discipline to do the work, you might find value in the Pomodoro Technique.

You might also find the Pomodoro Technique useful if you find yourself easily distracted, or you procrastinate a lot. Focusing your concentration for shorter periods of time is often a good strategy for dealing with this because it’s so much less of a burden than having to maintain focus for a long period of time.

However, in my experience the Pomodoro Technique is probably a method you will only call upon given a specific type of work. I often do a form of the Pomodoro Technique if I’m working on something that I’m struggling to get through either because I lack motivation or I’m going against my own advice and working on a task that is mismatched for my energy. I will work for a short period of time and then reward myself by watching a single video on YouTube, usually a single music video so I’m not distracted for too long. However, if I’m working in almost any other context, particularly creative work or tasks that I don’t find oppressive, I find that the Pomodoro Technique’s rigid structure is actually a hindrance to my progress.

Philip Brown


© Yellow Flag Ltd 2024.