How to Use the Pomodoro Technique and What Makes it so Awesome

I learned how to use the Pomodoro technique years ago when I was trying to find strategies for my kids and their homework, but I never considered applying it to myself. After all, I was proud of my workaholic tendencies. I knew how to focus and get work done, to keep my nose to the grindstone until the job was finished.

The Pomorodo Technique is the opposite of that. It’s the idea of working for a short period of time (called a Pomodoro), and then taking a short five minute break. After three or four Pomodoros, you can take a longer break.

This seemed like a great idea for kids struggling to stay on task with homework, but I thought it seemed like a terrible idea for me or any adult because it would disrupt my flow and make me less productive.

In September I became aware of online coworking (read my coworking blog post here), and the first group I joined used the Pomodoro Technique. I was skeptical, but I was willing to try it since it was the price of admission to the group. I ended up really loving the Pomodoro Technique!

How to Use the Pomodoro Technique

If you’re curious about how to use the Pomodoro Technique, all you need to get started is:

  • A timer. I started with mechanical timers, but now I use an app on my computer, the Smart Countdown Timer. I like it because I can glance down at the menu bar and see how much time I have left without breaking my flow, instead of having to pick up my timer to check.
  • A task. Pomodoro tasks are supposed to be small and specific, something that you could reasonably expect to complete in a single Pomodoro.
  • A notepad or post-its. This is technically not required for a Pomodoro, but I like to have one nearby so if something unrelated to my task comes up I can jot it down quickly and not take up any brain energy trying to store it in long-term memory so I can remember it later.
  • A decision about the length of the Pomodoro and the break. The classic Pomodoro is 25 minutes with a five minute break. After four Pomodoros, you take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. That’s my preferred length of time, but sometimes I do 45 minute Pomodoros with 15 minute breaks.
how does the pomodoro work?

9 Reasons I Love the Pomodoro Technique

1. It’s a great way to track your time if you write down your Pomodoro goals.

2. Because I am doing #1, I also have great data about how long tasks actually take me versus how long I think they will take me, like writing and publishing a blog post.

3. You take a break every Pomodoro and that lets you move around, stretch, and grab a glass of water. Research indicates that spending too much time sitting has harmful health consequences, ranging from heart disease and diabetes to tight hip flexors and back pain.

4. It’s an effective way to actually get stuff done. Breaking projects into small manageable steps has always been a hallmark of project management, but I rarely bothered to do that. I just kept running lists of projects and would give myself large, vague tasks like “Update my website” and then I would plug away until it was done. With the Pomodoro method, I’m much more specific because it’s very motivating to complete your tasks within a Pomodoro.

5. It’s easier to focus during a Pomodoro because it’s such a short period of time.

6. It deters multitasking (most of the time). Task switching and multitasking are highly inefficient, and the short time commitment of each Pomodoro makes it easy to avoid that. I know if it’s important I can do it in the next Pomodoro.

7. It allows me to make progress on dreaded tasks. I can work in one or two Pomodoros for tasks I don’t like, such as filing taxes.

8. I can make progress on tasks that are important to me but aren’t urgent, like taking an online course. Just one Pomodoro a day adds up!

9. It’s just a nicer way to work. Tough loving myself and putting my nose to the grindstone was getting really old and I was starting to rebel. Pomodoros are kind and flexible, not demanding and rigid.

What You Can Do In A Five Minute Break

You might be thinking that a five minute break is pointless, or wondering what you can do. It turns out you can do a lot! I almost always get out of my chair, and here are some of the things I do:

  • Take a 5 minute dance break
  • Read a poem
  • Do 5 minutes of exercises with my hand weights
  • Clean something — the sink, the stove, a random drawer
  • A short mindfulness or meditation practice
  • Cuddle with my dog
  • Water plants
  • Walk around the house and fill a box with stuff to donate or toss
how to use the pomodoro technique
  • Organize my desk
  • Do a 5 minute yoga video by Yoga With Adrienne
  • Do a load of laundry
  • Menu plan
  • Stretches
  • Make a list
  • Fill a small vase with flowers from my garden
  • Write a snail mail note to someone
  • Look at the next day’s schedule

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Final Notes

You would think given how much I love Pomodoros that I would schedule 16 of them a day and be well on my way to world domination, but that’s actually not the case. I usually get between four and six done a day, four or five days a week. I am after all human, not a machine! Plus I am a dog owner, and she does her best to tear me away from my projects.

If your time management strategies are not working well for you these days, I highly recommend giving the Pomodoro Technique a try! I hope I’ve given you enough information about how to use the pomodoro technique to get started, but if not, you can read more about it from the creator of the method, Francesco Cirillo, by clicking this link.

Photo Credit: Marcelo Leal

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