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Pomodoro technique: much more than a tomato timer

Saturday, December 12, 2009 Alf 4 Comments

I’ve been using this method for about a month, and now I’m able to say that just following some easy rules it is possible to noteworthy increase your productivity.

The Pomodoro technique is a really simple way to increase your productivity by trying to be focused in an affordable task during shorts periods of time. Everything unrelated to this task should be delayed until you have finished an atomic time interval: what we call a “Pomodoro”.

The only material you need to start using the technique is:

  1. A timer: the author uses a Tomato Kitchen timer, hence the name. You will use intervals (Pomodoros) of about 25 minutes (never more than 40 minutes). Keep in mind the golden rule: only one task in a Pomodoro. If you finish before the timer rings, you can check your work for a while. Try to run the Pomodoro out.
  2. An activity inventory: a list with everything you’ve to do, and an estimation of the time you will need to complete each item (it is preferably to measure the time in Pomodoro units! Note: this reminds me the “ideal time” vs “story points” units used on agile methods for estimation).
  3. A to-do today list. So, once you have an activity inventory, you are ready to make up a new list, where you will assign the available Pomodoros of a day to the tasks listed in the previous inventory.

Well, you have a timer, an activity inventory, a to-do today list… and of course, a day of work ahead! You start setting up the timer, and focusing into your job. So, interruptions will come, sooner or later. The silver rule is to manage them in order to never break the pomodoro. If you receive a phone call, say politely that you’re busy and that you will phone later (it’s the same idea of the annoying interruption environment stated in the outstanding book Peopleware). Then, check it at the bottom of your to do today list, in a sub-list called “Unplanned & Urgent”. You will record in this new subsection everything that you will have to do later, but never during the current pomodoro. Of course, you can arrange a pomodoro a day to read mails, make phone calls… whatever. Ok, the timer rings, so you check, beside the task you’re doing in the to-do today list, that a pomodoro is completed. Then, you will keep track of how many pomodoros you actually need for your tasks, and, as a complementary advantage, you will improve your estimation capabilities. When a task is finished, cross it out in the activity inventory.

After a pomodoro, you have a 3-5 minutes break, and after every four pomodoros comes a 15-30 minutes break. These are not strict rules; maybe you need more than 5 minutes after the first two pomodoros after lunch. So you can plan your day in order to increase your productivity assigning shorter or longer breaks between the different pomodoros, but try not to exceed the limits of 30-40 minutes in a set of four pomodoros.

One last tip, if a task lasts more than 5-7 pomodoros, break it down. Complex activities should be divided into several ones, so you gradually feel that a big and complicated matter is being finished.

To sum up, all of us have faced the problem of being annoyed by ourselves or by others, so the only effort of achieve 25 minutes of concentration will be a giant leap for your productivity.


  1. It's a good technique that does work.

    I use it and track how much I get done with a tool called Qlockwork (full disclosure, I also work on that tool). Accordingly to Qlockwork, I definitely get more work hours in on a Pomodoro day, the only trouble is forcing myself to actually use the technique! Biggest thing that distracts me is email. I definitely have to turn off all email notifications before I can make Pomodoro work.


  2. At the end is the same that scrum and other techniques related with split the time in small fractions and fit the tasks inside them.

    good post!

  3. A good description of the technique. Thanks.