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The Pomodoro Technique: How a break can improve productivity and well-being

February 15, 2022 - 19 min read

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What is the Pomodoro Technique?

Benefits of the Pomodoro Technique

Does the Pomodoro Technique really work?

How to master the Pomodoro Technique

What do you do in a five-minute Pomodoro break?

From Parkinson’s Law to the Pareto principle, there are plenty of time management techniques to choose from.

But have you heard of the Pomodoro Technique?

This simple but effective process helps you make the most of your day with short, periodic breaks. While taking several breaks throughout the day might seem counter-productive, there is scientific evidence to support the benefits of getting different types of rest throughout the day.

Let’s dig into how the Pomodoro Technique works and why using this time-management method can boost your productivity.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

Like many of us, Francesco Cirillo struggled with maintaining focus on his work for long periods of time. To solve this problem, Cirillo asked himself to focus for just 10 minutes at a time, rather than waiting all day for productivity to occur.

After discovering the effectiveness of his method, Cirillo found a kitchen timer in the shape of a “pomodoro” (the Italian word for “tomato”) to measure his bursts of focus with more precision. And just like that, the Pomodoro Technique was born.

sand-timers-on-desk-pomodoro-technique

The Pomodoro Technique includes five basic steps:

  1. Decide on the task you need to do
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes
  3. Focus only on your task until the timer rings
  4. Take a five-minute break
  5. After every four Pomodoros, take a longer 15–30 minute break

Benefits of the Pomodoro Technique

If you’re looking for new ways to approach time management, the Pomodoro Technique is a great place to start. 

Let’s look at the many benefits of taking on the Pomodoro Technique in your professional and personal life.

1. Makes tasks less daunting

The Pomodoro Technique uses time-blocking to break your tasks up into smaller, more bite-sized pieces. This makes your tasks less intimidating, which can reduce your stress towards your workload. 

We often want to put tasks off because they seem too large. By reducing them to smaller segments, they become less overwhelming, and we can better manage our stress.

2. Improves quality and quantity of your work

When you know you only have 25 minutes to complete a task, you’ll be surprised by how much value you can cram into it.

Within the limitation of your timer’s ring, it becomes easier to put your best work out immediately rather than putting it off for the last minute.

3. Prevents mental exhaustion

Pushing yourself to work consistently for too many hours can create mental fatigue and contribute to mental exhaustion.

There is a lot to be said about short, well-timed breaks. Taking breaks helps you avoid burnout. They allow for better conservation of mental energy and a more even distribution of productivity.

smiling-woman-feeling-motivated-at-work-pomodoro-technique

A study by Microsoft looks at the effects of meeting fatigue, a hallmark of the pandemic era and working from home. Their research on brain wave activity shows how your brain works differently when you take breaks. Breaks, even short ones, don’t just alleviate chronic stress. They also help your performance.

4. Breaks the habit of multitasking

Many of us become scattered and unfocused when trying to do too many things at once. Multitasking not only hampers your focus, but it also compromises your work quality

When you follow the Pomodoro Technique, you limit your multitasking by focusing on one task at a time.

5. Improves attention span and concentration

In this day and age, we could all do with a boost of concentration. Our attention spans are becoming increasingly shorter, prompting us to come up with creative solutions.

By compartmentalizing your time and energy into smaller chunks, you can work with your short attention span rather than fighting against it.

6. Makes planning easier

Giving yourself the entire day to complete a task can mean you work on it for much longer than necessary. This leads to a waste of both your own and others’ time. It can also lead to burnout at work if you continually work long hours and negatively affect your work-life balance.

The Pomodoro Technique lets you plan your day with more accuracy. The time limits will ensure you never work for longer than the periods that you have allocated for each day. Better planning means more time for taking care of yourself with self-care practices.

7. Increases accountability and willpower

It can be difficult to sit down and get started on a project or task when you have so much to do. But knowing that you have to focus for just 25 minutes can give you the willpower to get started.

The Pomodoro Technique also promotes a sense of accountability. By listing your tasks and giving them a set amount of time, you can see what needs to be done and better manage yourself and your progress.

8. Boosts motivation

Having deadlines drives motivation to get your work done. It is easier to focus on a task when you know you have a time limit set in place. It allows you to invest everything you’ve got because you know you’ll have a break in just 25 minutes.

Does the Pomodoro Technique really work?

Scientists used to believe that attention is a limited resource that would get used up over time. But that changed in 2011 when renowned journal Cognition released a new publication on the topic. 

Rather than performing poorly on a task because you've stopped paying attention to it, your attention shifts to something new.

The study shows how taking brief breaks from a task can improve your ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods. 

Based on this research, the Pomodoro Technique keeps you focused with its brief, regular breaks.

Why Pomodoro Technique works

Let’s look at why this simple time-management system is so effective:

  • Creates a sense of urgency. Knowing how little time you have to do a task may prompt you to be creative and find innovative shortcuts. These kinds of innovations may not have been discovered if there was unlimited time.
  • Helps to resist interruptions. If you give yourself all day to finish a task, you are more likely to indulge in unnecessary breaks. Structuring your time and energy leaves little room for distraction. This helps you resist interruptions with more self-awareness and self-control.

focused-woman-studying-at-desk-pomodoro-technique

  • Prevents procrastination. To work through procrastination, you need to be disciplined. But self-discipline is hard without proper structure and guidelines. The Pomodoro Technique helps you get rid of the procrastination stress by motivating you to get work done, one Pomodoro timer at a time.
  • Makes you aware of how you spend your time. Using a timer forces you to become aware of how you spend your time. This helps you become more productive by planning out your day (and even planning your life) better. 

With proper time management, you can set aside time for yourself, an important part of personal well-being.

  • Prevents decision-fatigue. Decision fatigue is the gradual inability to make rational decisions after making too many at a time. Decision-making can be exhausting, especially when our employment or livelihoods depend on it.

You can make better decisions and prevent decision fatigue by taking frequent breaks. Taking some time out gives your brain permission to be relieved of its responsibilities for a few minutes at a time.

  • Uses rewards. Rewards and reward power are great motivators for productivity. The Pomodoro Technique uses short breaks as a reward, and you might be surprised by how much they can motivate you. 

Connecting a reward to a period of effective work not only gives you a mental break but will motivate you to want to work effectively the next time.

  • Gamifies your productivity. Many studies have shown the effectiveness of gamification in doing difficult tasks. Creating playful yet structured parameters around your workload can improve productivity.

The Pomodoro Technique puts a playful spin on time management and goal-setting. You can challenge yourself to finish a big task in a certain number of Pomodoros. Plus, it’s more fun thinking in tomatoes rather than hours.

How to master the Pomodoro Technique

Whether you’re using the Pomodoro Technique for studying or for work, if you want to get the best results from this method, keep these tips in mind:

1. Plan your Pomodoros in advance

Increase your chances of productivity by planning which tasks should be completed in each 25-minute interval. This also allows for better distribution of energy and helps you plan your day.

man-writing-in-notebook-pomodoro-technique

2. Personalize the Pomodoro Technique to suit you

Everyone's mind is unique. The beauty of the Pomodoro method lies more in the overall structure than the exact time frames. Feel free to change the length of your Pomodoros to better suit your individual needs.

3. Use a Pomodoro task tracking sheet

There are many downloadable Pomodoro task tracking sheets available. These are great if you're struggling to create a personalized structure for your workload. You can use the sheet to create a to-do list, assign priority to your tasks, and record the Pomodoros you’ve completed.

4. Decide when you’re most alert, and use your breaks to keep up the energy

Similar to circadian rhythms, we all have slightly different workflows. Some people feel more productive first thing in the morning. Others prefer the late afternoon. Knowing where your daily energy peak lies will help you to create the most efficient system possible for your brain.

5. Turn off digital distractions while you work

We all know the struggle of trying to resist our smartphones while in the midst of work. However, having this skill is essential for better focus and work performance. 

Take a digital detox from your phone by turning off notifications during your Pomodoro. This will help you avoid answering phone calls and going on social media during your work time.

6. Reward yourself during your breaks

To further boost the incentive of your break, throw in extra rewards that get you motivated to push through difficult moments. A healthy snack, a walk in the garden, or even a brief nap can serve as an additional reward for working hard.

What do you do in a five-minute Pomodoro break?

It’s important to make good use of your time in between Pomodoros. If you don’t choose an activity or reward that actually incentivizes you to focus, the technique may be less effective.

As for how to decide what you should do during your break, consider your personal interests.

For example, if you’re a dedicated yogi, use the time to deepen your yoga poses. If you enjoy making others smile, do an act of kindness for your colleague. Choose an activity that’s fun and rewarding. 

Here are some more ideas for things to do during your Pomodoro break:

  • Take a walk. Taking a brisk walk outdoors helps you relax and can even supply a hit of serotonin. Whether it’s in your backyard or a nearby park, a walk outdoors can give your mind the break it deserves from work.
  • Practice mindfulness. A brief mindful breathing session can provide the body and mind with various health benefits. What’s more, mindfulness contributes to your mental fitness and strengthens your mind, body, and soul connection.
  • Drink some water or tea. A warm or cool drink can provide comfort after a long stint of concentration. In particular, green tea offers natural calming effects that can reduce stress and help you unwind.
  • Stretch. A good stretch works wonders for your body and mind, especially if you sit at a desk all day. You can enjoy the benefits of improved circulation after some physical engagement.
  • Chat to a colleague or friend. Maybe you are someone who recharges through social interaction. Why not share your Pomodoro breaks with a friend or colleague to promote your social well-being?

woman-at-coffee-shop-with-friend-pomodoro-technique

  • Listen to music. Music can be a powerful influencer on your emotional and mental states. Play calming music (or any genre you enjoy) to regain energy and motivation during your break.
  • Read a book. Reading a book is a great way to take a break from your digital screen. Choose a genre that you enjoy, whether that’s a sci-fi novel or a leadership book.
  • Listen to a podcast. If you are more of an audio person, listening to a podcast is a soothing yet engaging way to spend your Pomodoro breaks.

Plan your day with the Pomodoro Technique

Sometimes, less is more.

The Pomodoro Technique focuses on breaking down large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones. Ultimately, it allows you to focus better and spread out your productivity levels throughout the day.

This technique has enabled millions to adopt a healthier, more personalized approach to effective time management. The beauty lies in its simplicity, creativity, and adaptability.

The fundamental elements of the Pomodoro Technique are timed work sessions, timed breaks, and respect for the timer. Once you have figured out which lengths of time suit you best, you can start to reap the benefits of a more structured work ethic.

You can find more advice about balancing work performance with personal and mental health at BetterUp. Request a custom demo today.

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Published February 15, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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