Is The Pomodoro Technique Effective?

Jan 21, 2021

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

First the facts:

  • According to Wikipedia "The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s."
  • Cirillo discovered it as a student when he came upon a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato.
  • Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato and thus the technique was born!
  • The Pomodoro Technique is a simple time-boxing process that divides your time between activity and breaks.
  • The technique suggests 25 minutes of work, followed by a 5-minute break.

The Pros and Cons of the Pomodoro Technique

Here are some advertised benefits:

  • The structured method ensures tasks are tackled in a very focused way, boosting productivity.
  • Large tasks can be broken down to appear less overwhelming.
  • Distractions are minimised during the activity phase (they're usually dealt with via a spare piece of paper to capture and come back to later.)
  • Regular breaks ensure you are moving your body, re-energising and able to refocus quickly for the next activity session.
  • The process can jump-start activities you have been procrastinating over.
  • Any improvements in productivity should have a knock-on effect in terms of a more balanced life.

It's not all rosey in the garden though. Here are some recorded challenges with the Pomodoro Technique:

  • The timer itself can be a distraction and, as the time limit approaches, increase levels of stress. This is especially true if the anticipated progress has not been made.
  • The prescriptive nature of the timings. 25 minutes activity, followed by a 5-minute break, may not work for everyone.
  • It pays no attention to the rest of your life. If you have specific appointments or scheduled activities, it can feel restricting.
  • Some people are more creative and like to work flexibly with their natural energy and persist with a task when they are in flow.

As you can see, the effectiveness of the Pomodoro Technique can vary according to the person deploying it.

+  Those who like structure and feel like they need all the support they can get to overcome procrastination and get things done, love it.

-  Those who are free-flowing, relatively disciplined, able to focus easily and emotionally opposed to any sort of constraint, like it less!!!

For the more visual and auditory amongst you, have a quick look at this week's video for some more details on the technique and a few clues on how to make it work, regardless of which camp you may be in today.

If the Pomodoro Technique is not working for you

I like to think in terms of principles. Techniques, tools and even strategies are often specific in terms of the way they are set out. If they are not working for you, take a step back and ask yourself some more strategic questions:

  • What problem is the technique trying to fix?
  • What principles underpin the technique?
  • What specific challenges do I face?
  • How could I get the technique to work for me?

This approach will naturally lead you to explore different methods of both construction and implementation. You may choose to flex the session times. You may choose to apply the approach only at certain points in a process or at specific times of the day when you feel it more useful. You may even just take the concept, deconstruct it altogether and then use just parts of it. Parking distractions is a popular element and automated by many of the apps you can buy to help you with this.

My favourite principle though is the one that of setting a time-limit for a task, especially if it's important and I suspect it may take a lot of time. Time limits utilise Parkinson's Law which states that all work expands to the time allotted. Therefore, restricting the time available should have the opposite effect. I am constantly amazed at how resourceful my brain gets when I set an arbitrary time limit. I remember all sorts. I instantly find information I thought had been lost years ago. I pluck amazing insights out of thin air to share with my wonderful readers. (Okay, the last one may be a bit of a stretch, but you know what I mean!)

In answer to the question, "Is The Pomodoro Technique Effective", I offer you two answers and a thought to ponder.

  1. Yes it is effective when in the hands of an enthusiast.
  2. No, it is not effective when it clashes with an individual's natural approaches. 

This final thought from one of my favourites:

If this was helpful, why not subscribe and explore more of my musings? You can even grab a free ebook filled with wisdom and insights from across the ages. 


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