The Pomodoro Technique: Everything You Need to Know

Procrastination and distraction are the enemies of good time management.

The Pomodoro technique is a tried and tested time management technique that deals with them very effectively.

As ironic as it may sound, it significantly improves your efficiency by capitalising on short, planned episodes of distraction. 

Let’s have a look at this deceptively simple idea in more detail.

Background Of The Pomodoro Technique

In the late 1980s, Francesco Cirillo was an Italian university student who had great difficulty focusing.  

Frustrated, he decided to dedicate small blocks of focused time (starting with ten minutes) to his study.

He used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer (called a Pomodoro timer) to keep the time. 

At the end of the block of time, the Pomodoro timer would ring, telling him he had finished his work session.

He found this enormously helpful. 

This technique, which he named the Pomodoro Technique (Italian for tomato), improved his ability to focus and complete his assignments. 

Cirillo went on to write a 130-page book about this time management system, which helped to popularise it.


What Exactly Is the Pomodoro Technique? 

This Pomodoro technique is a popular time management method for completing tasks more quickly. 

It is simple to implement and guides you to stay focused on your essential tasks. 

Using the Pomodoro technique requires the following steps:

  1. Choose your most important task.
  2. Start your Pomodoro timer.
  3. Focus exclusively on your chosen task for 25 minutes. During this period, turn off your phone, internet access and anything else that might distract you. 
  4. After 25 minutes, when your Pomodoro timer rings, you have completed one Pomodoro session.
  5. Take a five minute break from your work. 
  6. Select your most significant task and repeat steps 1 to 5 three more times.
  7. Once you have completed 4 Pomodoros (two hours), take a more extended break of around 20 minutes.
  8. Return to step one, and repeat this routine throughout your working day.

The above timetable is the typical way that Pomodoro users organise their Pomodoro sessions. However, many people change the length of the work sessions and breaks to fit their needs.

The lengths of time are not set in stone. We discuss this at more length below. 

It is the act of repeatedly choosing to focus exclusively on a single task for a pre-determined period that makes you a Pomodoro user.


How Do You Deal With Tasks That Require More Than Or Less Than One Pomodoro?

Most tasks will not fit neatly into one Pomodoro session.

For shorter tasks, you simply bundle sufficient of them into a single Pomodoro session so that you can fill one Pomodoro.

You can usually complete a whole series of simple tasks (like replying to emails, organising your calendar, etc.) in a single Pomodoro session. 

Equally, some tasks will require multiple Pomodoros to complete.

It just depends on the complexity of the task.



How Many Pomodoros Should I Do Each Day?

Many people find that eight Pomodoro sessions per day works well for them.

They typically group them into two sets of four Pomodoros and this provides them with almost four hours of highly focused work time. 

For the rest of the day, they will work in a less focused way. They ensure that less critical tasks do not get dropped and communicate with colleagues during this time.

However, you need to experiment and find out how many Pomodoros per day works best for you.

Some people find eight sessions difficult to organise, while others find they can do twelve or even sixteen sessions in a day quite happily.

If you struggle with this, think about using a time tracker. The reports will show you patterns and trends in your work habits and help you to optimise your Pomodoro sessions.


Why Does the Pomodoro Technique Work?

The Pomodoro technique works for four primary reasons. 

  • It forces you to prioritise ruthlessly:

By forcing you to pick your most important task, the Pomodoro technique also forces you to choose what you are not going to work on. 

Choosing what you are not going to work on is a crucial part of time management which many people skip as they find it uncomfortable.

The Eisenhower matrix is a great way to do this if you find it tricky, also using a Pareto analysis can be very helpful.

Using the Pomodoro method, you can’t avoid making these difficult choices.

  • It gamifies productivity: 

Studies have shown that gamifying work significantly increases enjoyment and productivity. The Pomodoro technique turns work into a game. 

You break tasks down into small bits that you then complete piece-by-piece. 

Many people race against the clock, trying to complete each bit of work before the session ends.

The Pomodoro technique uses the power of Parkinson’s Law, which states that:

“Work expands to fill the time available for it.”

By allocating a relatively short amount of time for a task, you minimise the time it will take you. This is the same rationale as that behind people who use timeboxing.

  • It allows for and makes time for distraction: 

A study by Microsoft Research found that when working online if we do not actively block distractions, they occur regardless, so it is important to actively block distractions.

However, the brain needs time to recharge, so breaks and periods of distraction are valuable.

The Pomodoro technique makes sure that you actively block distractions during your work time and encourages you to plan for them during your short breaks. 

As this is planned, it is limited, and distractions don’t run riot, causing issues with your productivity throughout the day. 

The Pomodoro technique is practical and realistic. It doesn’t pretend that distractions won’t occur and don’t have value.

It just forces you to manage and control distractions and keep them to a minimum.

  • Helps you fight procrastination: 

According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, simply committing to start a task (no matter how long) increases your chances of getting it done.  

Cutting it up into small pieces helps even more. 

It makes the task less daunting and reduces your mental resistance to getting started.

James Clear suggests the 2-minute rule where you commit to doing a task for just two minutes helps you get started and avoid procrastinating. 

Although it uses a more extended period, the Pomodoro technique works in the same way. 

It doesn’t force you to commit to completing a task, only to focus on it exclusively for a set period.  


Image Of A Timer

How I Implement the Pomodoro Technique 

Everyone who uses the Pomodoro technique implements it in a slightly different way.

The way that I’ve found that the Pomodoro technique works best for me is as follows:

  • I have three ‘admin’ Pomodoros spread throughout each day: 

My job involves being reactive to emails and managing other people.

‘Locking myself away’ for long periods is unfair to them and slows down the business.

Therefore, I batch my email checking and returning of phone calls into these three periods. 

This means that no one waits more than three hours for a reply from me.

  • My Pomodoro interval is 45 minutes work: 10 minutes break:

When I was deeply into a task, I found it frustrating to stop after 25 minutes as I was still going strong. 

However, I often find that my attention starts to wander after around 45 – 50 minutes of focusing on a task. 

Therefore, I’ve adjusted my interval to fit with this. 

I have made my breaks longer than standard because my work period is also longer than standard. 

  • After three Pomodoros, I go for a 25-minute walk outside:

As my work periods are longer than standard, I find that I need to take a longer break after three Pomodoros. 

Getting outside for a quick bit of outdoor exercise helps me relax my brain completely.

For me, it is much more effective than a 25-minute break indoors.

  • I use a Google stopwatch pinned to the lower right corner of my screen:

Seeing the time counting down makes me focus as I realise how little time I have left to focus on the task. 

It introduces an element of time scarcity, which reinforces my focus.

  • I turn off potential distractions:

To avoid distractions, I put my phone into aeroplane mode and use the Freedom App to block everything that I don’t need for the task at hand on my computer.

  • I have one research Pomodoro per day. 

A research Pomodoro is one that I use just for research and when I do have access to the internet.

If I need to find something out and go onto the internet during a standard Pomodoro, that ruins it. I will get ‘lost’ on the internet.

So I keep a list of research topics. 

When I come across something I need to research, I just add it to the list and keep focused on the task at hand. 

I usually do one research Pomodoro per day towards the end of the day.

During this, I do the research I will need the following day. 

An added benefit of this approach is that I avoid surfing aimlessly for things that “might be useful” one day and dig deeper into fewer topics.

The result is that I focus my research on my most important tasks, making it far more effective than it used to be. 


Pros & Cons Of The Pomodoro Technique

Pros Cons
Very effective at dealing with procrastination and outside distractions as is the Seinfeld strategy. If you work in an office, it can be complicated to block distractions from co-workers.
It gives you control of your time and helps avoid burnout.  Finding the appropriate cadence for your job can take some time. 

If you have a highly reactive job, a shorter Pomodoro will probably be more suitable for you.

It forces you to prioritise the tasks on your to-do list. If you struggle to get into flow, it can be counterproductive to break from flow when you have achieved it. 
It forces you to focus entirely on one task at a time.
It forces you to take small breaks regularly.


Who Is the Pomodoro Technique Best For? 

A wide variety of people find the Pomodoro technique helpful. 

However, people with flexible schedules find it particularly useful because it is such a great way to deal with procrastination and distraction. 

People who fall into this category include remote employees, students, and creatives. 

Everyone is different and so everyone should try a variety of different time management strategies to see which works best for them.



Distraction is not the enemy of productivity when managed correctly.

Research shows that it can improve creativity, memory, and focus. 

Instead of actively avoiding distractions, you can use the Pomodoro technique to capitalise on them and boost your focus and productivity.


Image Credit: Chitokan, Monstera 

About Ben Richardson

Ben is a director of Acuity Training. He writes about SQL, Power BI and Excel on a number of industry sites including SQLCentral, SQLshack and codingsight.