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Thursday, November 19, 2009 (Updated )

Pomodoro Technique

by The Metaist


The Pomodoro Technique is a method for improving productivity by creating focused periods of attention as well as forcing breaks at regular intervals.


(Photo: Wikimedia)



A pomodoro is an indivisible unit of time (usually 25 minutes), plus a short break (3-5 minutes). Also the word for tomato in Italian. (The inventor, Francesco Cirillo, used a tomato kitchen timer when he came up with this technique.)


Although I've only been using this technique for several months, I'm finding it an increasingly pleasant way to organize my day. In particular, I enjoy the focus on the down-time and context switching. Here's my adapted version:

  • Task Lists - Believe it or not, I use a plain text file. In fact, I make a new text file every month for all the things that need to be done (unfinished items from previous months carry over). This text file is split into two parts: the top part has all the unscheduled tasks (i.e., tasks that have not been assigned to a day) and the bottom is a reverse-chronological list of tasks by date.

  • Scheduling - Most days start by selecting which unscheduled tasks I'll do today. Occasionally, I create a "check-on-the-status" tasks which are derived from special unscheduled tasks that indicate that I'm waiting for something (e.g., someone needs to get back to me). Tasks are organized roughly in the order I want to accomplish them, and I add estimates for the number of pomodoros I anticipate certain tasks to take. Since pomodoros are indivisible I group small tasks together and estimate the total time for all of them.

  • Countdown - I use an online stopwatch to count-down 25 minutes during which time I work on the next task in the list. If I finish early, I try to look over my work. When the bell rings I force myself to stop immediately.

  • Recordkeeping - I use a variant of the notation in the book. Instead of "X"'s, I record the pomodoro number. This way, if I accomplish multiple tasks, I record the pomodoro during which they were accomplished. Internal interruptions (e.g., hunger, tiredness) are indicated by an apostrophe ('), external interruptions by a dash (-), and a lost pomodoro by a slash (/). (Pomodoros are considered indivisible, so if you get really off-track, you have to reset the clock.)

  • Break - When the stopwatch rings, I usually take a three minute break, and take care of most of the interruptions that occurred during the previous pomodoro.

External interruptions are dealt with by announcing that you "are in the middle of a pomodoro" which usually works. Sometimes, however, I loose my pomodoro because of an external distraction that is anything but brief. But it's okay, because practitioners of the technique know that "the next pomodoro will go better."