The Pomodoro Technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo in the mid-’80s. He named it after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used to track his session time with. Francesco found that he was most productive when he was focused on doing one thing without interruption. This is called mono-tasking.
In the decades since, the Pomodoro Technique has become popular with people who need to work in uninterrupted blocks of time, like programmers and writers. However, it can be used for any block of activity.
A “pomodoro” is a 25-minute period where you focus on one task. When it is finished, mark your Pomodoro down on your tracking sheet. Then take a five-minute break. After your break is done, follow it with another Pomodoro session, then another break. That takes you to a nice round sixty minutes.
Four pomodoros form “a set”.
Follow your set with a 20-minute break, and hopefully another set. Four sets is a full day. I rarely hit this. I can do two sets very consistently though.
If your Pomodoro is interrupted, and you can’t resolve your interruption in 15 seconds, then you have to restart the Pomodoro. It is not tracked as finished. You will want to resist this rule. The main point is that you can play with this amount but there should be consequences that motivate you to stay focused. This is serious work and it’s far too easy to be distracted.
Do anything you want during your five-minute break. I don’t recommend checking texts or emails unless you know you can cut them off, and return to work without being distracted. It’s always good to move, so stand up and stretch. Give your hands and wrists some variety of motion. Grab a drink or hit the restroom, if you won’t get distracted along the way. Get your blood pumping so you can think more clearly.
Tracking your sessions is important for many reasons. I use a spreadsheet where each row is a new day, and each column is a session. This makes a bar graph of my monthly productivity that looks like something like this:
The letters are my own system of notation. W means writing. V means video. SP means speech. R means reading.
This lets you see your most productive days at a glance. It also shows you how many steps you took towards your goal.
I resisted tracking my sessions at first. Now I love seeing what I accomplished, and that I didn’t waste my day.
When I first started tracking my time, I was surprised to see how much time I was wasting. By the time I had checked my phone, made my breakfast, and taken a shower, I had lost two hours of my morning. If you are going to get serious about this as a daily ritual, tracking your progress will help you see how much work you are actually getting done.
You now understand the basic Pomodoro technique, and can just start doing it. Pretty simple, right?
In theory, yes. But I find the devil is in the details. There are quite a few nuances that make this simple discipline much harder. For example, how do you build a habit so you do it every day? How do you configure your external and internal work space to eliminate distractions and overcome resistance? Let’s find out.