Can tomatoes make you more productive?
A review of the ‘Pomodoro Technique’ for time management
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management process developed by Francesco Cirillo in 1992 to help him get more studying done. It uses a timer to break down periods of work into 25-minute intervals that are separated by 5 minute breaks. After 4 work periods you take a long 15-20 minute break. The process can be summarized by the following steps:
- Choose a task
- Set the timer to 25 minutes, and start working
- Record progress at the end of the 25 minutes
- Take a 5 minute break (15-20 minutes after 4th work period)
The technique’s author named it after the tomato shaped kitchen timer he used to keep track of his work (‘pomodoro’ is a tomato in Italian).
Does it work?
Breaking down work into small chunks is generally a good idea; it is easier to estimate what can get done in 25 minutes, and much easier to control the urge to procrastinate when you have a very limited time to complete your task. The regular breaks also keep you feeling fresh and focused.
That said, I find that a strict schedule of 25 minutes is also counterproductive when working on bigger tasks, where it takes a good amount of time to get oriented and get in ‘the zone’—an extreme concentration state where a day’s worth of work gets done in an hour. In these cases it is better to forget about the timer and just keep on going with the work. Better still, silence your phone, email, and everything else around you; the zone does not last long or come that easily.
Overall, the technique works well in certain situations but not all. Use it to get started on a new project or task that you keep putting off. Getting started is usually the hardest part, and the Pomodoro technique is a great way of getting over that inertia. If you are being productive on your own, don’t break the momentum you have with regular breaks.