Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Explaining The Pomodoro Technique In Short

Life is a Vine of Tomatoes...

Image copyrighted by The Pomodoro Technique The goals of The Pomodoro Technique, a time management system by Francesco Cirillo, are to "eliminate the anxiety of time" and to "enhance focus and concentration."

"The Pomodoro Technique is based on the achievement of incremental objectives, one at a time, and on the development of a pleasant way to systematically observe, track, and evaluate time [spent] to enable self-improvement." In other words, it helps to banish the productivity lag introduced by the myth of multitasking goodness by focusing on one task at a time, finishing it and only then moving on to the next task, and improving your time and quality of work the next time you do the same or similar task.

Before I begin explaining the system, here are some handy-dandy worksheets that you'll need: the Cheat Sheet, a To Do Today list and a Activity Inventory list.

Task Allotment

Choose a time period, such as a week. Write down all the activities that you want to accomplish in that week on the Activity Inventory list. Then every morning, select the tasks you need to complete that day, and write them down on the To Do list. Three-quarters of the way down that list, create a heading called "Unplanned & Urgent" for activities that show up as interruptions.

The Basics

This is how it works. You set a 25-minute timer and start working on the first task on your To Do list. At 25 minutes, when the timer rings, stop working, and take a break for five minutes. This was one Pomodoro. Once your break is over, reset the timer for 25 minutes, and start work on your second Pomodoro. After four Pomodoros, a Pomodoro set, take a longer break of 30 minutes.


Put an "X" next to the task for every Pomodoro it takes to complete it. For weekly self-assessment purposes, create a table where you write down the date, the category of task, the name of the task, and how many Pomodoros it took to achieve the task. This way, you can assess how long it takes you to complete tasks of a certain category, tasks of a certain type, individual tasks, etc. It also allows you to then set new goals for time and quality improvements on recurring tasks.

Some Details

If you finish the first task in the middle of a Pomodoro, either go over the first task or start the second task on the list and continue working till the Pomodoro rings. A Pomodoro is indivisible, so you cannot further break it down. Once you start working on a Pomodoro, the timer has to ring; you cannot stop halfway through. (More on interruptions later.) Make sure the break is a relaxing one, and not something where you start an engrossing task that will spill over into the time for the next Pomodoro. Once you begin your first Pomodoro, you have to steadily continue working throughout the day, barring interruptions.


Internal interruptions occur when you remember a new task that needs to be completed or you get the sudden urge to raid the fridge or you start dreaming of that beach vacation you'd like to have some day, etc. When you realize that you're interrupting your Pomodoro, put an "apostrophe" next to the task on the To Do list. Then continue working on your original task. If new task needs to be done that day, add it to the section called Unplanned & Urgent Tasks of the To Do list, otherwise add it to the Activity Inventory list. After you've completed the first task, you can then choose to pick up this new task to do.

External interruptions occur when you get a phone call, someone stops by with a question, etc. situations that occur in office-type environments. Every time this happens, address them as quickly and efficiently as possible, add a "hyphen" on the To Do list next to the original task, and continue working on it. Add the new tasks if any to the Unplanned & Urgent Tasks list or the Activity Inventory list.

Sometimes, interruptions have to be addressed in the moment with no regard to the original task. In that case, void the current Pomodoro, even if it was set to ring within a few minutes, do the urgent task, and restart your original task with a fresh Pomodoro. Remember, a Pomodoro is indivisible.

Recording cont.

At the end of the day, record how many internal vs. external interruptions occurred during the day. Over the week, reflect on whether the interruptions have a pattern and what can be done to minimize them. Sometimes, it's as simple as letting other people know that when you're working on a Pomodoro, you do not appreciate interruptions. They can come talk to you in the break after your four-Pomodoro set. Sometimes, it's a matter of self-discipline to ignore procrastinations. This acts as a carrot to get you to be more efficient with your time.


Based on your one week's record, you should be able to estimate how many Pomodoros you'll need for the same or similar tasks next week. Based on your knowledge of other tasks and your capabilities, you can also estimate how many Pomodoros you'll need. So when you set up a daily To Do list, you can put the number of boxes of estimated Pomodoros next to each task. Then as you work through Pomodoros, put an "X" in each of the boxes. Interruptions are recorded as previously mentioned.

Recording cont.

So now, on the record sheet, you have estimated and real Pomodoros columns. What the estimation method does is that at the end of the second week, you can assess your ability to appraise a particular task. On which tasks did you overestimate the time required and for which ones did you underestimate the time required. Was it due to interruptions or simply the nature of the work? Do certain tasks at certain times of the day take you longer? Can you move them to a different spot in your day next week? As a result of this self-valuation, you improve your efficiency in task-time allocation for future tasks without sacrificing quality. At the same time, you gain insight into your capabilities and how you work.


The Pomodoro method has been integrated with several productivity applications. For example, Kanban Flow uses the technique to improve your focus, to time track tasks, and to track and measure any interruptions to your focus.

You can participate in mutual online support with other folks who're trying out the technique at Pomodoro World and My Tomatoes, or you can sync up with fellow enthusiasts at meetups and conferences via the Pomodoro Technique site.

If you're into cool gadgets and apps, the Pomodoro Technique site offers Pomodoro timers and the company Gigaom offers free online timers.

One of the downsides of The Pomodoro Technique is that the efficiency and improved quality of work gained as a result of applying the system will only continue if the method is followed as described. Taking shortcuts or license from prescribed rituals will diminish the benefits.

Do read the full book by Francesco Cirillo available as a free PDF download.