I’ve blogged a couple times about the Pomodoro Technique and I always invariably get a few questions from folks who haven’t heard of it before and want to know how it works. The Pomodoro has gotten more popular over the last couple years since I first heard about it, so I figured I’d write up a comprehensive post explaining all you’ll ever need to know about the Pomodoro Technique and how to use it to improve your life.
What is it?
The Pomodoro Technique is a very simple time management method that breaks down tasks into timed 25-minute chunks. You start by estimating how many “pomodoros” a given task will take you. A physical or software timer is set for 25 minutes and you start working. If you finish before the 25 mins are up, you spend the rest of the time reviewing or polishing your work. After each pomodoro, you take a 5-minute break before beginning the next one. After every four pomodoros, you take a longer 15-20 minute break. Other users have found different time cycles to be helpful, but the basic concept remains similar.
For whatever reason, the technique is popular with software developers, which is how I first heard about it.
Where it came from
An Italian named Francesco Cirillo developed the technique in the late 1980s while a university student. He named it after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that he used to time his tasks (pomodoro means tomato in Italian). As with all things successful on the Internet, Cirillo has developed the technique into a brand, with books, consulting, and certification programs. However, you can benefit without any of that.
Why it works
For me, the biggest benefit is that the technique very effectively busts procrastination. I mean, come on, I can’t work on something for 25 freaking minutes?! So I spin the timer just to get it over with, and once I get into it, I usually find that the thing I was putting off isn’t that bad. I use a physical timer and I think the deliberate, tactical feel of spinning a timer also encourages focused action.
The forced taking of breaks and the discipline of estimating the amount of time needed to complete tasks are also very beneficial, but the focus and anti-procrastination benefits are the big ones for me.
Finally, I find it very helpful as a measure of the minimum amount of time needed on each of my projects every day.
Related concepts (timeboxing)
The Pomodoro Technique is related to timeboxing, iterative development, and (especially) dashes. It’s also often presented as an alternative to Getting Things Done, but I’ve used them together very effectively, by relying on GTD to keep track of what needs to be done, and using pomodoros to actually get them done.
I use a cheap kitchen timer. You could go the more traditional route and get this one, or you can use one of the software tools out there. Here are the two most popular I’ve seen and tried out. They’re both solid:
Unsurprisingly, there’s also a slew of iPhone, iPad, and Android apps as well. I haven’t used any of them, but I recommend checking them out on iTunes and the Android app store.
If you’ve created a pomodoro app, post it in the comments and I’ll update this list to include it.
Blog posts and articles
Check out the official PomodoroTechnique.com.
There’s a Wikipedia entry on the Pomodoro Technique.
Definitely check out The Pomodoro Technique for software developers.
Like anything, the technique isn’t magic and will require a little work and discipline from you, but I’ve found it beneficial, especially to get over the initial hurdle of getting started. If you’ve found it useful (or not), have written about it, created an app for it, or just have an opinion, post in the comments.