Pomodoro Technique and Other Work Rhythms – Which One Suits You?

Many productivity tools and systems are difficult to implement and maintain. You need to read books, memorize all kinds of rules and then invest an hour each day to make it all work. For some this might be worth it, but for most of us, it means we quickly return to how we used to do things.

At Saent, we love simple and practical solutions which are very effective, yet easy to understand and implement. “Eat the frog” is such a trick and we believe the product we’re developing to help you focus is a pragmatic productivity hack as well. Another one for on this list is the Pomodoro Technique.

The core principle of Pomodoro is simple: take an egg timer, set it to 25 minutes and spend that block of time on one thing. No task-switching, no interruptions, just full focus on the one task you set out to do when you started the timer. When it rings, you take a refreshing five minute break and then you go through the same cycle again.

Is that all?” you might wonder. To get started, this really is all you need to know about the Pomodoro Technique. You can set long-term goals, estimate and count how many Pomodoros a task takes and so on. But just sticking to the 25-minute work, 5-minute break pattern and making sure you don’t get distracted, is the most important step and will immediately boost your productivity.

For the history of Pomodoro and to learn all the elements of the full technique, check out http://pomodorotechnique.com/.

Is the Pomodoro Technique long enough?

In this article titled “Did a Popular Time Management Hack Get It All Wrong? A Better Way To Daily Productivity“, performance coach Jameson Brandon says the following about the Pomodoro Technique:

Working for only a short length of 25 minutes is not long enough for the average employee and entrepreneur to get tasks done, just when they get into flow state they have to pull themselves out of it to take a mandatory break.”

The article goes on to quote a famous study about the habits of elite sports players and musicians. They follow a routine of 90 minutes of highly focused work, then a 15-minute break. This is more in line with something Tony Schwartz, the New York Times productivity columnist and creator of The Energy Project, also recommends to all his clients for the following reason:

More than 50 years ago, the pioneering sleep researcher Nathan Kleitman discovered something he named the “basic rest-activity cycle” — the 90 minute periods at night during which we move progressively through five stages of sleep, from light to deep, and then out again.

Although it’s much less well known, Kleitman also observed that our bodies operate by the same 90 minute rhythm during the day. When we’re awake, the movement is from higher to lower alertness. Other researchers have called this our “ultradian rhythm.”

When we need a rest, our bodies sends us clear signals such as fidgetiness, hunger, drowsiness, and loss of focus. But mostly, we override them.

Instead, we find artificial ways to pump up our energy: caffeine, foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, and, perhaps most interestingly, our body’s own stress hormones — adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol.”
– Tony Schwartz in The 90-Minute Solution

Because of these findings, Schwartz recommends you work by these so-called “ultradian rhythms“: 90 minutes of highly focused work, followed by an extended break. A supersized Pomodoro if you will.

The other alternative

What if you don’t want an XXL Pomodoro, but the 25-minute sprint also doesn’t do it for you? Luckily we have a medium variation on offer, backed by some data crunching from time-tracking tool DeskTime:

What the most productive 10% of our users have in common is their ability to take effective breaks. Specifically, the most productive people work for 52 minutes at a time, then break for 17 minutes before getting back to it.”*

That completes our menu, now with three different flavors:

  1. Pomodoro Technique: 25 minutes of work, 5-minute break.
  2. “DeskTime” variation: 52 minutes of work, 17 minutes break.
  3. Ultradian rhythms: 90 minutes of work, extended break.

Pick & choose

What is the right work rhythm for you completely depends on your situation: if you’re in an office and have a boss and other people’s agendas to deal with, going for the ultradian rhythm might not be a realistic option (cause you will always get interrupted). But if you’re a freelancer working from home and coffee shops, the 90-minute intervals can help you get better work done. You’ll have more chance of getting into a state of flow than when you go by the shorter intervals.

Mix & match

Personally I only use Ultradian intervals these days, but I have been working with these concepts for several years. 90 Minutes might be quite a long period to not get distracted if you’re just getting started with these techniques. Therefore, you could also look at Pomodoro as being suitable for “beginners” while Ultradian is for the “advanced” level after you’ve mastered the Pomodoro Technique. There’s also nothing stopping you from making combinations: perhaps you can do a 90-minute Ultradian session in the early morning, while going for 25 minute Pomodoros during the day and fit in a 52 minute DeskTime-sprint at the end of the afternoon!

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Footnotes

* Quoted from “The Rule of 52 and 17: It’s Random, But it Ups Your Productivity” on Muse.com.

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