Does The Pomodoro Technique Improve Productivity?

I’ve tried many ways to make myself more productive.  One of them has been the Pomodoro Technique.  Perhaps you have too.  It’s a popular approach that got its start in the late 1980s and has attracted many fans.  I’m not one of them.  Before I explain, let’s review what the technique is all about.

The Pomodoro Technique uses a simple timer to break down all of your work into short 25-minute intervals.  After each interval, you take a break.  Each of those sessions is called a Pomodoro.  According to Wikipedia, that is an Italian word for ‘tomato.’  When Francesco Cirillo developed the technique, he used a kitchen timer, thus referencing a tomato.

Advocates of the system suggest that you begin by finding the project you want to work on, set a timer for 25 minutes, and get to work.  When the timer rings, you stop.  For the first four work cycles, you take a short 3-5 minute break.  And then your resume.  After four Pomodoros you take a 15-30 minute break before resuming.

This system is said to work because our brains tune out after extended work periods.  The journal Cognition featured an article by a Psychology Professor at the University of Illinois.  Alejandro Lleras writes, “When faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will help you stay focused on your task!”

Other research demonstrates that when we are bored, we do not do our best work.

I don’t doubt that some people need breaks and that when we are working on tasks that don’t stimulate us, we can get bored.  But, I think that kind of negative thinking is counterproductive.

If I have set aside an hour to work on an important project, I had often found that I hit a stride when I kept working.  If a timer told me to stop after 25 minutes, I might lose momentum.  The first time I experimented with Pomodoro, I found myself thinking about what I was going to do during my five-minute break.

To keep from getting bored, I take a break whenever I feel that I need that break.  That could happen after 25 minutes, or maybe 45 minutes.

I also look for ways to reward myself for completing a project.  For example, promising myself a nice lunch or time for exercise after I’m done is better motivation than taking a break.

If I face a very big project, I break it down into smaller steps.  

You might also want to try focusing on what you’ve done rather than what you need to do.  University of Chicago Professor Ayelet Fischback explained this in a Harvard Business review article.  He suggests that “My research has found that this shift in perspective can increase motivation. For example, in a frequent-buyer promotion, emphasizing finished steps (“you’ve completed two of 10 purchases”) increased customers’ purchases at the beginning and emphasizing missing steps (“you are two purchases away from a free reward”) spurred consumption as buyers neared the goal.”

Because we are all individuals, you may do your best work following the Pomodoro Technique or following some of my ideas.  However, you probably should try different things until you find what works best for you.


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