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What Is the Pomodoro Technique? 6 Ways It Helps You Work Smarter, Not Harder

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When I decided it was time to write this article, I started my Pomodoro Technique timer. Now, I’m locked into a 25-minute focus period that should help me write this article distraction-free — and I might even get it done faster than I thought. 

>>MORE: 8 Ways to Improve Your Time Management Skills

While the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t magically make you a faster worker, it can magically transform your work habits and build a valuable soft skill employers are looking for. So, what is the Pomodoro Technique, and how can you use it to optimize your workload?

In this guide, we’ll cover:

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Pomodoro Technique Defined

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management technique that started with a stressed-out and overwhelmed Italian student. In an attempt to focus, Francesco Cirillo turned to a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to challenge himself to work distraction-free for just two minutes

>>MORE: Feeling stressed out and overwhelmed about the job search? Try these eight tips for calming your job search anxiety.

After feeling impressed with himself for focusing — and experimenting with how long he could really focus — the Pomodoro Technique was born. (If you haven’t guessed already, “pomodoro” is “tomato” in Italian.)

The Pomodoro Technique follows a series of steps:

  1. Decide on one task you’d like to work on.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes, and focus on that task.
  3. When the timer rings, take a five-minute break.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 until you’ve done four 25-minute sessions (pomodoros).
  5. Take a 15-30 minute break.

There are also a couple of rules for using the technique:

  • Focus on one task or a group of smaller tasks. Set your intention before the pomodoro about what you want to accomplish.
  • Pomodoros shouldn’t be broken by any distractions. This includes texts, emails, or your friend in the same room. If anything comes up, you should address it after the pomodoro has ended.

Pomodoro Technique vs. Other Time Management Techniques 

The Pomodoro Technique is a great way to time-block and set your focus, but “you may need extra insights to develop your to-do list, as well as decompose and prioritize tasks,” Anton Pavlovsky, CEO and founder and productivity expert at Headway, says. 

Other time management techniques include:

  • Get Things Done Approach: This is a method where you write down everything you need to get done, then clarify, organize, and sequence the tasks. “You can combine the Getting Things Done approach and Pomodoro to ensure the tasks you work on are clarified and aligned with your major goals,” says Pavlovsky. 
  • Eat That Frog Technique: Identify your most challenging task (the frog) and complete that first.
  • Pareto Analysis (80/20 rule): Based on the principle that 80% of outcomes come from 20% of causes, you focus on tasks you think will make the most impact. 
  • Eisenhower Matrix: Organize tasks on a grid by their importance and urgency.
  • Mega-Batching: Like the Pomodoro Technique, you focus on one task or groups of similar tasks; however, you usually do this for one to two hours. 

“Time management techniques are not necessarily one-size-fits-all,” says Rashelle Isip, productivity consultant and time management coach. “Feel free to experiment with different time management techniques. You’ll learn about your personal preferences and how you like to work. You may find you prefer using different time management techniques for different subjects, classes, tasks, projects, and assignments, or you may stick with one main technique. It’s completely up to you.”

6 Benefits of the Pomodoro Technique

Why should use the Pomodoro Technique? It can be a quick and helpful way to get you to focus, even if you don’t feel like you have a strong work ethic — and ensures you’re taking adequate breaks. Here are some of the top benefits.

1. Makes It Easy to Get Started

“If you’re struggling with focus, even thinking about concentrating for multiple hours in a row can feel overwhelming,” Elizabeth Grace Saunders, time management coach and author, says. “But if you can tell yourself that you only need to make it 25 minutes and then you can have a break, the exertion feels more manageable.”

Jessica Bledsoe, time management expert, co-founder, and CEO of Pav*r, a productivity tool, agrees, citing the technique’s unique breaks as an accessible entry point.

“I think giving yourself permission to take those short breaks after 25-minutes creates flexibility that we don’t typically see in other suggested time management techniques or ‘hacks.'”

2. Prioritization

Because you’re focusing on one task at a time, prioritization is necessary.

“You are forced to decide which of your tasks is most urgent and important right now,” Isip says.

>>MORE: Learn how to answer behavioral interview questions about time management and prioritization.

3. Controls the Amount of Time You’re Working

Have you ever felt like you’re more efficient under a tight deadline? There’s a reason — even a law.

“The Pomodoro Technique capitalizes on Parkinson’s law, the idea that work expands to fit the time allotted,” says Alexis Haselberger, time management, productivity, and leadership coach. “If we don’t allot time, work just expands.”

When we force ourselves to work in a specific timeframe, we challenge ourselves to see how much we can get done in a short period — and potentially make ourselves more efficient!

4. Blocks Out Distractions and ‘Work About Work’

One of the biggest distractions in the workplace can be “work about work.” This is the work you do that’s not the main focus of your job. Usually, this consists of communication about projects, meetings, or other logistical items. 

“Work about work” is essential to getting your job done, but it distracts you from the core of your job and can disrupt your focus. Using the Pomodoro Technique helps you stop those distractions from breaking your workflow.

5. Avoid Burnout

While the Pomodoro Technique is about getting things done, its regularly scheduled breaks can help you avoid burnout.

“If you have a tendency to hyperfocus, not realizing that you haven’t taken a break, eaten or gone to the bathroom in hours, the Pomodoro Technique can help!” Haselberger says. 

>>MORE: Take control of your work and personal boundaries and learn how to improve your work-life balance.

6. Gratification

When the timer goes off, you feel accomplished that you’ve done uninterrupted, focused work. Then, you get to reward yourself with a break.

How to Use the Pomodoro Technique

If the Pomodoro Technique benefits productivity, how can you apply it to your life? Besides finding a timer you like — there are Pomodoro Technique timers online — It’s important to ease into the method and figure out how to make it work for you.

Dip Your Toe in First (When You’re Not on a Deadline)

“It may sound counterintuitive, but you want your focus to be on the experience of using the technique, and not the pressure of an upcoming item in your calendar, like an exam, deadline, or study group,” Isip says. “You can’t bring your whole self to your work if you’re distracted. Look for a relatively quiet or less busy time in your schedule. This way, you can not only try out the technique, but evaluate your experience with the technique itself.”

Make It Work for You

If the 25-minute on, 5-minute off increments aren’t working for you, “match the timer to your attention span, or to the block of time you have available,” Haselberger says. “There’s nothing magical about 25 minutes. If your attention span is about 45 minutes, why stop your flow?”

The same goes for how many pomodoros you use. You don’t need to structure your whole day as pomodoros, Haselberger says. Even just one pomodoro can get you started.

“The key is the timer, not the number of pomodoros,” she says.

Use Your Breaks Wisely

“Create a distraction-free space to work,” Bledsoe says. “Turn off your phone notifications, close out any browser tabs you don’t need, and even during your 5-minute breaks, try not to pick up your phone and scroll. Stand up and stretch, grab a beverage, take a bathroom break, or just let your mind rest for a moment, but don’t find another distraction. That 5-minute break then turns into a 15-minute break, and the context switching can really hurt your progress.”

Here are a few other device-free ways to use your breaks: 

  • Clean up your workspace
  • Stretch
  • Take a lap around the block
  • Drink some water
  • Grab a snack
  • Listen to music

Build in Extra Pomodoro Time

If you’re just starting out, it’s hard to know how long tasks will take you. If you’re trying to estimate how many to use for each task, include more time than you think it’ll take. Once you understand how long it takes you to get things done, you can adjust. 

Use a Pomodoro for “Responding” Time

Because pomodoros are about focusing on work and ignoring incoming notifications, you should set aside time to get back to your coworkers, peers, friends, or anyone else who’s reached out to you every couple or so pomodoros. This way, you can batch your communication while still responding in a timely manner — and stop interrupting your focus every time the dreaded Slack sound goes off.

>>MORE: How long is it acceptable to leave your coworkers on read? Check out our modern guide to business etiquette

Be Kind to Yourself

“It’s important to give yourself grace while you’re trying out new time management strategies,” Bledsoe says. “If you try the Pomodoro Technique and feel like it didn’t work for you the first time, don’t abandon it right away. It takes time to create new habits and master your time management practice, but the benefit of finding something that works for you is well worth it in the long-run.”

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Image credit: pomofocus.io / Canva