The Pomodoro Technique and other work rhythms - which one suits you?







March 12, 2023

The Pomodoro Technique is so simple you can start using it by the end of this article, and it’s one of the most effective ways to boost productivity.

Most productivity hacks require time to learn and use. That’s a problem—you’re looking for such solutions because you’re too busy already. The result? Most of us give up on learning new tricks and revert to our old ways.

Not so with The Pomodoro Technique. You'll understand it once you've read the next paragraph and can use it after finishing this article. Best of all, it's one of the most effective ways to boost productivity.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique has four fundamental steps:

  1. Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  2. Spend those 25 minutes on one project or activity.
  3. Take a five-minute break.
  4. Repeat.

After every 25-minute session, you earn a tomato. (“Pomodoro” is Italian for 🍅.) If you get interrupted, distracted, or switch tasks before the end of a session, you need to start over from zero.

You can expand on these steps, for example, by setting goals or planning your days with tomatoes. But the essence of the method is to stick to the 25-minute work and 5-minute break cycle while avoiding distractions. This simple approach will immediately boost your productivity.

Does the Pomodoro Technique work?

Yes! The Pomodoro Technique is simple but effective. It prevents many counter-productive habits, like distractions, procrastination, and sitting too long.

Benefits of the Pomodoro technique

Here’s how the Pomodoro Technique boosts your productivity:

  • 🔍️ Improves focus: By setting a timer for a specific activity, you have a clear goal and are less likely to multitask.
  • 🚫 Discourages distractions: Limited time to complete a task helps resist the urge to check social media, email, or other distractions. Plus, if you end sessions prematurely, you'll lose a 🍅.
  • 🏃🏾‍♀️ Makes starting easier: Breaking work into smaller chunks makes it easier to handle and less intimidating to begin.
  • 💡 Refreshes your mind: Regular breaks help recharge your mental batteries, prevent burnout, and boost creativity.
  • 🏋🏼‍♀️ Moves your body: Sitting for long periods is unhealthy. Taking breaks every 25 minutes allows you to get up, stretch, and move around.

Is the Pomodoro Technique helpful for ADHD?

The Pomodoro Technique may be helpful if you have ADHD. Some scientific research suggests this, and anecdotal evidence from users of our Pomodoro timer app, Lifeline.

The method's structured cycles of work and rest help with focus and against distractions while preventing overwork and fatigue. Experiment with adjusting the time intervals to find a rhythm that suits your needs and preferences.

Problems with the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique has two problems: the ramp-up period to maximum Return on Attention (RoA), and our body's ultradian rhythms.

Too many ramp-ups to maximum RoA

There's a ramp-up period before you reach an extended state of concentration—let's call this phase the "struggle."

During the struggle, you figure out what you will work on or where you left off last time. It's also when you get into the right mindset to reach a state of maximum focus called flow.

The struggle to get to a flow state.

The struggle usually lasts five to fifteen minutes. Any interruption forces you to start from zero.

The Pomodoro Technique's 25-minute intervals make us go through the struggle many more times than when we work longer sessions.

Interference with our body's ultradian rhythms

Throughout the day, our bodies have natural cycles of rest and vitality called ultradian rhythms. Our body clock controls these cycles, typically lasting about 90 minutes each.

Performance consultant Tony Schwartz recommends following these rhythms by working in 90-minute sessions with extended breaks in between. The Pomodoro Technique’s short intervals don’t match this natural rhythm of your body.

Timeboxing alternatives to the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a form of timeboxing: setting a fixed amount of time for a task or activity.

Nothing stops you from making your sessions longer or shorter than the Pomodoro Technique’s standard 25 minutes. Here are some alternative lengths you can try:

  • 5 minutes, Elon Musk-style. As YouTuber Thomas Frank explains in the video above, Musk divides his days into 5-minute blocks. He uses that approach to spread his attention across many ventures and do the insane amount of work he does.
  • 10 minutes, the IKEA way. Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, once said: “You can do so much in ten minutes’ time. Ten minutes, once gone, are gone for good. Divide your life into ten-minute units and sacrifice as few of them as possible in meaningless activity.”
  • 50 minutes, the new default. For Pomodoro Technique beginners, 25 minutes is a good session length. Once you have trained your focus muscles, 50-minute sessions are a great default that gives a much higher RoA.
  • 75 minutes, flow guaranteed. Once you’re comfortable with 50-minute sessions, you can extend your flow state to a solid hour with 75-minute sessions (60 mins + the struggle = roughly 75 minutes).
  • 90 minutes, ultradian rhythm. Tap into your body's natural energy rhythm by doing 90 minutes of intense work followed by 90 minutes of extended rest.
  • 100-125 minutes, the creator’s favorite. For those who can handle it, try packing four or five 🍅s into one session by going for 100 or 125 minutes. Many programmers, designers, and writers prefer these lengths. Afterward, don't forget to take long breaks for optimal productivity.

⚠️ I don't recommend any intervals below 25 minutes if you can avoid them; they don't get you to maximum RoA, as we saw earlier.

Match session lengths with your energy levels and schedule

Some people swear by one session length. I suggest experimenting with different durations at different times of the day to find the ones that suit your energy levels and schedule.

I aim for two or three 75-minute sessions in the morning. Maintaining focus that long requires significant energy, so in the afternoons, when I have less of it, I switch to 50 or 25-minute sessions, which feel more manageable.

Whether you can do sessions of 50 minutes or longer also depends on your schedule. I don't have many meetings or people to manage now, so longer durations work well. When I had such responsibilities, I was happy with a few 25-minute sessions per day and would even do 10-minute ones for short bursts of focus between meetings.

More Pomodoro Technique resources

Here are more resources to learn about the Pomodoro Technique and try it out yourself.

The Power of Pomodoro: Achieve anything with a tomato a day

One tomato of focus spent daily on a goal gives incredible results. Not after a day. Not after a week. But after some weeks, you'll notice a difference. After a few months, you'll be amazed at what you've achieved.

Turn to The Power of Pomodoro: Achieve anything with a tomato a day to learn how to turn the Pomodoro Technique into a goal-crushing machine.

The Pomodoro Technique book summary and review: Master your time

Based on insights from the official Pomodoro book, this article highlights the method's most essential and overlooked aspects.

Pomodoro planning: Step-by-step guide to track and finish work with 🍅s (incl. free template)

You can use The Pomodoro Technique to plan your days. By assigning tomatoes to an activity and tracking how many you actually "spend" on it, you unlock a powerful but simple time management and planning method.

This article explains everything you need to know to set up a pomodoro planning system and includes a free template you can use.

Lifeline, a pomodoro timer app

Lifeline, our macOS pomodoro timer app, is the perfect tool to help you get started with the Pomodoro Technique. You'll stay focused and motivated thanks to its visual session progress bar and the tomato rewards you earn.

Lifeline supports flexible session lengths and sprinkles micro-breaks throughout your day. It doesn’t force you to stop your session when you’re in flow. Instead, you can continue and take a break when it's convenient. Once you do, Lifeline suggests the ideal break length.

👉️ Check out Lifeline in the macOS App Store

This article was originally published on 15th of January 2015, and updated on 12th of March 2023.

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