The Pomodoro Technique

Beat procrastination and improve your focus one pomodoro at a time

    The secret to effective time management is...thinking in tomatoes rather than hours. It may seem silly initially, but millions of people swear by the life-changing power of the Pomodoro Technique. (Pomodoro is Italian for tomato. 🍅)

    This popular time management method asks you to alternate pomodoros — focused work sessions — with frequent short breaks to promote sustained concentration and stave off mental fatigue.

    Here at Todoist, we know the daily grind can be exhausting. That’s why we’re all about offering ways to help you live your most productive, stress-free life. The Pomodoro Technique is one of the most effective ways to maximize productivity and minimize overwhelm.

    The Pomodoro Technique may be for you if you…

    • Find little distractions often derail the whole workday

    • Consistently work past the point of optimal productivity

    • Have lots of open-ended work that could take unlimited amounts of time (e.g., studying for an exam, researching a blog post, etc.)

    • Are overly optimistic when it comes to how much you can get done in a day (aren't we all 🙃)

    • Enjoy gamified goal-setting

    • Really like tomatoes

    But because everyone learns differently — and we know some of you prefer to watch instead of read — we've made a companion video for the Pomodoro Technique. Check out that video below, or continue reading for a deeper dive.

    What is the Pomodoro Technique?

    The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method in which you do focused work during 25-minute intervals — known as pomodoros — and take a five-minute break. We love this method because it:

    • Improves focus

    • Minimizes distractions

    • Prevents burnout

    • Promotes accountability

    • Boosts motivation

    Which is why perfectionists and procrastinators will find it useful. It’s easier to commit to 25 minutes of work at a time than a whole afternoon of non-stop work.

    Now that you understand what the Pomodoro method is and more importantly what a Pomodoro is, let’s hear the history of it — and find out what’s up with all the tomato references.

    What is the history of the Pomodoro Technique?

    The Pomodoro Technique was invented in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, a university student. Like many students overwhelmed with assignments and intense study schedules, Cirillo struggled to complete tasks without feeling burnout.

    Believing that any progress is good progress, he challenged himself to just ten minutes of focus. To commit to this challenge, he used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, and the Pomodoro Technique was born.

    Even though Cirillo went on to write a 160-page book on the Pomodoro Technique for time management, what prompts people to try this method is its simplicity.

    But how does Pomodoro work?

    Here’s the basic step-by-step to start applying the Pomodoro Technique today:

    1. Get your to-do list and a timer.

    2. Set your timer for 25 minutes, and focus on a single task until the timer rings.

    3. When your session ends, mark off one Pomodoro and record what you completed.

    4. Then enjoy a five-minute break.

    5. After four pomodoros, take a longer, more restorative 15-30 minute break.

    Better yet, the Pomodoro method is adaptable. You don't have to stick to 25-minute intervals. You can customize your pomodoros to fit your individual needs — whether that's shorter bursts for challenging tasks or longer focus periods for deep work.

    Three Pomodoro Technique rules for maximum productivity

    The 25-minute work sprints are the core of the method, but a Pomodoro practice also includes three rules for getting the most out of each interval:

    1. Break down complex projects. If a task requires more than four pomodoros, it needs to be divided into smaller, actionable steps. Sticking to this rule will help ensure you make clear progress on your projects.

    2. Small tasks go together. Any tasks that will take less than one Pomodoro should be combined with other simple tasks. For example, "write rent check," "set vet appointment," and "read Pomodoro article" could go together in one session.

    3. Once a Pomodoro is set, it must ring. The Pomodoro is an indivisible unit of time and can not be broken, especially not to check incoming emails, team chats, or text messages. Any ideas, tasks, or requests that come up should be noted to return to later. A digital task manager like Todoist is a great place for these, but pen and paper will do, too.

    In the event of an unavoidable disruption, take your five-minute break and start again. Cirillo recommends that you track interruptions (internal or external) as they occur and reflect on how to avoid them in your next session.

    The rule applies even if you finish your task before the timer goes off. Use the rest of your time for overlearning, or improving skills or scope of knowledge. For example, you could spend the extra time reading up on professional journals or researching networking opportunities.

    Todoist Tip

    Keep an "Overlearning" project in Todoist with a list of tasks you can quickly choose from the next time you find yourself with pomodoro time to spare.

    If the system seems simple, that’s because it is. The Pomodoro technique is all about getting your mind in the zone to finish your tasks.

    Does the Pomodoro Technique work?

    Yes, the arbitrary silliness of using a tomato as a stand-in for units of time really helps people get things done. What makes the Pomodoro Technique so effective is that it builds consistency. It helps you establish routines and consistent work habits rather than waiting for inspiration to hit.

    When you get used to the Pomodoro Technique, you avoid cognitive biases for time management. You stop worrying about the endless list of tasks and start focusing on what you can achieve now. Routines and healthy habits teach you to be kinder to yourself and have a work/rest balance that keeps your brain engaged.

    Here are some other benefits of the Pomodoro Technique that make it uniquely suited to boost your productivity.

    Makes it easy to just get started

    Tim Pychyl, a professor in Carleton University’s Psychology Department and author of Procrastination, Health, and Well-Being, argues that our ability to start procrastinating is directly related to our ability to deal with negative emotions.

    It’s uncomfortable to stare down a big task or project — one you may not know how to start. It feels overwhelming, and suddenly, everything else looks more appealing. Checking emails, scrolling through social media, and even cleaning your desk. You start procrastinating without realizing it because you’re faced with a problem you don’t want to deal with.

    Luckily, there’s an effective way to break out this avoidance cycle: 👉 Shrink whatever you're putting off down to a tiny, unintimidating first step.

    For example, instead of sitting down to write an entire novel, sit down to write a chapter. Still feeling that knot in your stomach? Try writing for just ten minutes. Doing something small for a short period is easier to face than taking on a big project all at once.

    This is precisely what the Pomodoro strategy asks you to do: break down your projects or goals into manageable tasks that only take 25 minutes each. This approach keeps you motivated and focused on the next thing you need to do rather than being overwhelmed by the enormity of the task at hand.

    Don't worry about the outcome — just take it one Pomodoro at a time.

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    Combats distractions

    The constant stream of information pouring in via emails, team chats, and social media notifications demands more and more of our attention. And if you’ve ever been interrupted while in a flow state, you know how difficult regaining focus can be.

    While it would be nice to blame technology for everything, Gloria Mark, a Professor of Informatics at the University of California — with a PhD in psychology from Columbia University — suggests half of all workday distractions are self-inflicted. Meaning we pull ourselves out of focus.

    We often find ourselves justifying these distractions with thoughts like:

    • “Should I work on this other task instead?”

    • “Taking a break now seems good”

    • “I’m going to check this email real quick”

    • “I have to reply to that one friend I left on read…”

    • “I’m craving some boba tea right now, I should go get it”

    Those small interruptions add up! It isn’t just the time you lose on distractions… it also takes energy to refocus your attention. After switching gears, our minds can linger over the previous task for over 20 minutes until we regain our full concentration. Indulging the impulse to check TikTok "just for a minute" can turn into 20 minutes of trying to get back on task.

    The Pomodoro Technique helps you resist all of those self-interruptions and re-train your brain to focus. Each Pomodoro is dedicated to one task, and each break is a chance to reset and bring your attention back to what you should be working on

    Helps you track time

    When planning out our future projects, most of us fall victim to the planning fallacy. We tend to underestimate the time needed to complete future tasks, even when we know similar tasks have taken longer in the past. Your present bias pictures your future self operating under entirely different circumstances and time restraints.

    The Pomodoro Technique is a valuable weapon against the planning fallacy. When you start working in short, timed sessions, time is no longer an abstract concept but a concrete event. It becomes a Pomodoro — a unit of both time and effort. Distinct from the idea of 25 minutes of general "work," the Pomodoro is an event that measures focus on a single, important task (or several simple, important tasks).

    The concept of time changes from a negative — something that has been lost — to a positive representation of events accomplished. This Pomodoro effect is what Cirillo calls "inverting time" because it changes the perception of time passing from an abstract source of anxiety to an exact measure of productivity.

    Writer Dean Kissick describes how his perception of time changed while using the Pomodoro method for time management:

    "Now that my breaks are short and fleeting, I think more carefully about what I’d like to do with them, and I’ve found it’s quite different from the unimaginative temptations I would otherwise default to (flopping on the sofa, scrolling on my phone, becoming annoyed). Instead, I’ll make a sandwich, do a quick French lesson, reply to a few texts, have a shower, go to the laundromat; and such humdrum activities, now that they’re restricted, have become sources of great pleasure.”

    When you use the Pomodoro technique, you have a clear measurement of your finite time and your efforts, allowing you to reflect and plan your days more accurately and efficiently. With practice, you can accurately assess how many pomodoros a task will take and build more consistent work habits.

    Gamifies your productivity

    Every Pomodoro provides an opportunity to improve upon the last. Cirillo argues that “concentration and consciousness lead to speed, one Pomodoro at a time.”

    The Pomodoro technique is approachable because it’s more about consistency than perfection. Each session is a fresh start. You make the system work for you by:

    • Reevaluating your goals

    • Challenging yourself to focus

    • Limiting distractions

    • Tracking your progress

    • Achieving goals

    • Getting rewards (the little breaks!)

    Another way to gamify your productivity is to set a goal to add an extra Pomodoro each day. This helps you motivate yourself to build on your success.

    You can also challenge yourself to finish a big task within a specific number of pomodoros. Try setting a goal number of pomodoros for each day without breaking the chain. Thinking in tomatoes rather than hours is just more fun.

    Quick tips for Pomodoro-ing

    While the 25/5 minute work/break intervals are the heart of the Pomodoro Technique, there are a few things you can do to make your pomodoros more effective:

    Plan out your pomodoros in advance

    Take 15 minutes at the beginning of your workday (or at the end if you're planning for the next day) to plan out your pomodoros. Take your to-do list for the day and note how many pomodoros each task will take.

    Remember, tasks that will take more than 5 pomodoros should be broken down into smaller, more manageable tasks. Smaller tasks, like responding to emails, can be batched together in a single Pomodoro.

    If you work an 8-hour workday, make sure your pomodoros for the day don't go over sixteen. If they do, postpone the least urgent/least important tasks for later in the week.

    Build overflow pomodoros into your day

    While an 8-hour workday technically leaves room for sixteen pomodoros, it's best to build in a buffer of 2-4 "overflow" pomodoros. Use your overflow pomodoros for tasks that take longer than planned or for unexpected tasks that come up during the day.

    If you don't end up needing them, use the extra pomodoros for learning or lower-priority tasks that always get pushed to the end of your to-do list. It's much less stressful to end the day with pomodoros to spare than to overschedule yourself and get behind.

    How many pomodoros are in a day?

    Over time, you'll get a better sense of how many high-quality pomodoros you're actually capable of completing in a day. It's ok if it's not a full sixteen. The vast majority of people aren't productive for the full 8 hours of a workday, and those who think they are probably haven't been paying close enough attention. When it comes to pomodoros, challenge yourself, but keep the focus on quality over quantity.

    Experiment with the length of your pomodoros

    For some types of work that require extended periods in a creative "flow" state — think coding, writing, composing, etc. — 25 minutes may be too short. Try extended work sessions with longer breaks.

    A DeskTime study from 2014 found that a 52-minute focus and 17-minute break is the perfect balance. However, in 2021 they ran the study again to see what’s changed. It was found that the more productive individuals work 112 minutes and take a 26-minute break. There’s no strict rule here, you decide what length works for you.

    For tasks that you've been putting off for one reason or another, 25 minutes might be too long. If you're feeling a lot of mental resistance, or you just can't get yourself to stay focused for 25 minutes, try a 15-, 10-, or even 5-minute Pomodoro.

    For most people, the sweet spot will be in the 25-50 minute range for peak concentration with a 5-15 minute break. Try mixing your intervals based on your available energy, the type of work, and how much a task makes you want to bury your head in cute puppy videos on YouTube instead.

    Get away from screens during breaks

    Not all breaks are created equal.

    If your Pomodoro work sessions happen on your computer, don't just switch over to X or Instagram when the timer goes off. Give your eyes and brain a break from screens — that means your phone, too! Stand up, move around, stretch, go outside, do a mini meditation, grab a snack, or watch birds out the window. If you work from home, fold some clothes or clear off the kitchen table.

    Whatever you do, your break will be much more mentally refreshing if you escape the glowing hypnosis of your computer or phone.

    Use an app to enforce your pomodoros

    Humans are fallible. No matter how motivated you are at the start of the day, it's really hard to stick to your pomodoros. Hold yourself accountable with a break reminder app.

    The best ones let you customize how long your work sessions are, how obtrusive you want your reminders to be, and how strictly you want your breaks enforced. Some will lock you out of your computer for the duration of your breaks.

    We recommend BreakTimer (for both Windows and Mac.)

    How to Pomodoro with Todoist

    So you're convinced the Pomodoro Technique is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Now, it's time to put the method into action. Here's how to plan your pomodoros with Todoist:

    Plan and schedule your tasks

    At the start of each day (or the night before), review all your active projects and one-off tasks and schedule everything you want to accomplish for "Today."

    Estimate how many pomodoros each task will take. Add tomato emojis to the end of the task name to indicate your Pomodoro estimate.

    Todoist Tip

    Hold down the Alt/Option key while clicking on a task to quickly edit the task name without opening the full task view.

    Break anything bigger than four pomodoros down into smaller sub-tasks. For example, a project titled "redesign website" might need a more Pomodoro-sized sub-task like "find 5 example websites as inspiration."

    Now, when you open your Today view, you'll see your scheduled tasks and how many pomodoros each will take. Drag and drop your tasks to reflect the order in which you'll work on them.

    If you have more than 12-14 pomodoros (remember that buffer!), postpone some of your tasks to the next day or later in the week. If you have 10 tasks you want to do in a day, you may find it helpful to schedule only half of the list and to assign an "@on_deck" label to indicate the tasks you'll get to if you have time.

    Todoist Tip

    You may want to add tasks you do every day — or even multiple times a day — as recurring tasks. For example, you might have a task called "Get to inbox zero" scheduled for "every weekday".

    To add recurring due dates in Todoist simply turn on your Smart date recognition by clicking on your profile picture, selecting Settings > General, and flipping the switch. Now every time you use keywords like “every day,” “every week,” or “every month,” — when naming your task — Todoist will automatically set these recurring dates for you.

    Work on your projects

    After scheduling your tasks, you'll start your day with a clear plan of what you'll work on during each Pomodoro. You can use the timer on your phone, a physical Pomodoro timer, or any of the many digital Pomodoro applications that integrate with Todoist, such as:

    Once that’s done, you can choose your Pomodoro timer for each task.

    When the timer is up, it will automatically start timing your break, but not without an alert. You should stop working at this point.

    Stay focused by adding any ideas or requests that come in as new tasks in your Todoist Inbox. When your timer runs out, you can review the list, schedule urgent tasks for a later Pomodoro, and file away less urgent things for another day.

    Repeat

    Build your concentration muscle by making your Pomodoro planning a daily routine. Add a task in Todoist for the same time each morning to remind yourself to plan out your pomodoros. Challenge yourself to hit a certain number of pomodoros each day, and take time at the end to reflect on what went well and how you could improve your focus in the future.

    Using the Pomodoro Technique is like having a superpower to finally tackle your to-do list without the guilt and anxiety. Instead of “pushing through” and overworking yourself to exhaustion, take little breaks to keep your mind alert.

    And if you think this tomato method is too simple and doesn’t make a difference, run a little experiment and try it for a week! It may be one of the simplest productivity methods, but that doesn’t make it easy. Remember, humans are fallible.

    The good news is, that if you stick to the Pomodoro Technique long enough, you’ll train your self-discipline and will feel that smug satisfaction of a day not only well planned but well executed.

    Laura Scroggs

    Laura é escritora freelancer, candidata a doutorado e mãe de pug vivendo em Minneapolis, EUA.

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