The Tomato Timer

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system that encourages people to work with the time they have, rather than against it. This method is perfect for students, perfectionists, and procrastinators of all kinds.

The Tomato Timer

The secret to effective time management has been discovered: think in tomatoes rather than hours! You probably think I am joking, but millions of people swear by the life-changing power of the Pomodoro Technique (pomodoro is Italian for tomato).

This method is one of the simplest productivity techniques that anyone can use; all you need is a timer! This was "invented" in the early 1990s by Francesco Cirillo, author, entrepreneur, and developer. Cirillo noticed when faced with many assignments or large tasks, we are most effective if we break the work down into short, timed intervals (AKA "pomodoros"), which are spaced out with short breaks.

Why is this system called the Pomodoro Technique? Cirillo named it after his tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used to track his work.

Basically, this system is based around short bursts of work for 25 minutes with intermittent breaks of five minutes, improving motivation, creativity, and efficiency.

Who Can Use the Pomodoro Technique?

The short answer: everyone! Specifically, try this system if you...

  • Find distractions that constantly get you off track
  • Have lots of open-ended work that could take a long time (e.g. studying for an exam, writing a proposal, etc.)
  • Are overly optimistic when it comes to how much you can finish in a day
  • Really like tomatoes

How Does the Pomodoro Technique Work?

Cirillo wrote a 130-page book about this method, but I will condense it down into the main highlights.

  1. Grab your to-do list and a timer.
  2. Set your timer for 25 minutes and focus only on one task until the timer rings.
  3. When your session ends, mark off one "pomodoro" and record what you have completed.
  4. Take a five-minute break.
  5. After four "pomodoros," take a longer 15-30-minute break!

Interestingly, Cirillo included three rules to get the most out of each interval.

  1. Break down complex projects. Divide a large task into smaller, actionable steps. This way, you can see clear progress on your project.
  2. Group small tasks together. Tasks that take less than one pomodoro should be combined with other simple tasks. For example, setting appointments, finishing bills, and reading this article could go together in one session.
  3. Once the timer is set, it must ring. The pomodoro is basically a unit of time and it cannot be split up to check emails, texts, or chats. Track interruptions (internal and external) as they occur and avoid them in your next session.

Why Is the Pomodoro Technique Effective?

  • It makes getting started easy. Procrastination does not really have to do with lack of self-control or laziness. We tend to put things off to avoid negative feelings and turn towards Instagram or Netflix. An effective way to break this avoidance cycle is to condense whatever you are putting off into small, non-intimidating first steps. Starting small is easier to face than trying to take on a large project at once. Don't worry about the outcome, just take it one pomodoro at a time!
  • It helps combat distractions. Although technology is partially to blame for the number of distractions that come our way, more than half are actually self-inflicted — meaning we pull ourselves out of focus. Small interruptions add up, so the Pomodoro Technique re-trains our brains to focus.
  • You become more aware of how you are spending your time. When planning projects, we tend to underestimate the time needed to complete future tasks, which is known as the planning fallacy. This system can help combat the planning fallacy because our concept of time changes to a positive representation of events accomplished, rather than an anxiety-inducing measure of productivity.

How Can You Enforce the Pomodoros?

Sometimes, it can be hard to stick to pomodoros even with the best intentions. I recommend holding yourself accountable with an app, such as Forest or Flora. Both apps gamify the technique, which makes implementing the system more fun. You can customize how long your work sessions are, whether you want reminders, and if you want to be locked out of your device during that period of time.

However, don't forget that taking regular breaks are critical to productivity! If you don't let your mind take a break, you will eventually burn out.

If you want evidence of the Pomodoro Technique in action, I used it to write this post! I was able to write the article in about 1.5 pomodoros, which might have taken me a couple of hours without the 25-minute restrictions.

Have you tried the Pomodoro Technique? What are your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments down below!