How to use Pomodoro to boost your focus and productivity

Timed work sprints can enhance job satisfaction and skyrocket your output.

The Pomodoro system is powerful, yet easy to understand and put into practice.

Pomodoro involves committing to a series of short, time-limited bursts of undistracted work. Short breaks between sessions let you recharge before starting the next work session.

You can use Pomodoro to boost focus, manage energy and avoid burnout. This enables you to increase the quantity and quality of your work.

We say tomato, he says Pomodoro

Pomodoro is Italian for "tomato". The system was named by the Pomodoro Technique's creator, management consultant Francesco Cirillo.

He created the Pomodoro Technique when he was a university student. '

Cirillo could not concentrate, and he struggled to manage distractions and interruptions.

He was determined to make himself study for fixed periods. He used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to structure his study sessions. At first, he aimed for just 10 minutes.

Pomodoro Timer

Pomodoro Timer

This was the beginning of the Pomodoro Technique. This system transformed Cirillo's productivity, laying the foundations for a successful career.

"It took time and a great deal of effort, but in the end I succeeded," he wrote in a paper on the Pomodoro Technique.

Pomodoro's three meanings

Pomodoro refers to the time management system.

And "a Pomodoro" can refer to either the timer or a timed work session, as in "I just completed a 25-minute Pomodoro."

What you need to use the Pomodoro Technique

  • A timer. This can be a kitchen timer, an alarm on your phone or an adjustable Pomodoro timer built into productivity software. Choose what works for you. But also consider your work environment – some colleagues might not appreciate the ticking and ringing of a kitchen timer. When I'm in a shared workspace, I use headphones and a timer built into my Focus productivity software.
  • A To Do Today sheet. This will include the day's work goals, plus a section for interruptions that are unplanned AND urgent.
  • An** Activity Inventory.** This is where you note non-urgent interruptions, distractions and other tasks. If some of these tasks are time-dependent, assign deadlines to them. Estimate how many Pomodoros a task will take. You can group several small tasks together into one Pomodoro for batch-processing. Check your activity inventory at the start of each day before planning your To Do Today list, as well as at the end of the day.

The To Do Today sheet and the Activity Inventory can be paper or electronic file.

How to do a Pomodoro session

Select a task – one task only.

Set your timer.

Work on the task without interruption until the timer sounds; then put an X or checkmark in your To Do Today sheet.

Take a 5-10 minute break (but take a longer break after four consecutive Pomodoros).


Simple but effective

It doesn't sound like much, but it's surprising how much you can achieve in four or five Pomodoro sessions. The time limit and commitment to tight focus create a sense of urgency. Yet the knowledge that you will be taking a break reduces stress. The result is a kind of calm hustle.

Four or five Pomodoros will lead to about two hours of work in a state of unbroken focus. This boosts the quality and quantity of output.

The breaks are crucial

The classic Pomodoro interval is 25 minutes of concentrated work on one task, followed by a 5 or 10 minute break. After three or four consecutive Pomodoro intervals, take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes before doing any more work sessions.

Short scheduled breaks are important for keeping fresh and preventing burnout. You'll eventually develop more stamina. But when first using this system you may need to take longer breaks. However, beware making breaks too long as this can stifle momentum.

Once you can manage several consecutive Pomodoro sessions, you can make your sessions longer. But the key rule remains – once you've committed to a time and started the session, there can be no stopping.

How to manage distractions with Pomodoro

Pomodoro is all about concentration. To make it work well, you must block distractions.

Use a productivity and website blocking program. I use Focus – which I developed to boost the productivity of people working on Mac computers. There are similar programs for Windows if that's your operating system.

Focus has an in-built Pomodoro feature, but to make the most of this you should also use Focus's other features:

  • block distracting websites
  • block distracting apps
  • block websites
  • how to block a website
  • block social media.

Focus also has a special Hardcore Mode, which locks access to Focus settings and preferences during timed sessions. In this mode, once the Pomodoro session has started, you can't shorten the time, you can't stop the timer early, and you can't unblock websites. (But you can remove allowed sites and add new blocked sites.)

You must also beware of offline distractions. These include phone calls or the sudden urge to do housework that you had been avoiding.

When these distractions emerge, the best thing is to make a quick written note and set a time to attend to them later. That might mean at the end of your working day or in a break between Pomodoro sessions. It might even mean in a special Pomodoro session designed to batch-process your distractions.

Managing distractions makes you perform better. You'll still return that email or phone call (or wash those dishes) but you do it at a time that doesn't break your flow and disrupt your productivity.

Dealing with interruptions

Emails can wait and phone calls can go to voice mail, but what do you do when colleagues interrupt?

Most of the time the interruption isn't urgent, even if it's important.

In these cases, I glance at my pomodoro timer and say, "I'm in the middle of something, can I come and see you in X minutes?"

If it's urgent, I reluctantly halt the Pomodoro. If the urgent interruption will take just a few minutes to deal with, then get it out of the way. If it will take longer, mark your existing Pomodoro as void and start a new Pomodoro for the urgent interruption.

For many people, it makes sense to set aside one Pomodoro a day, usually at some time in the afternoon, to deal with important interruptions.

You can use a morning block of four Pomodoros to do the important work that adds value to your career. Then later in the day, do a 25-minute burst of wrapping up administrative tasks, making phone calls and writing emails.

Pomodoro for project management

Break big tasks down into smaller components.

Any task that will take more than 5 or 6 Pomodoros to complete should be broken down into component parts.

Smaller tasks are easier to understand and estimate. This gives early warning if your schedule is starting to drift and makes timetabling more effective.

Different ways to use Pomodoro

You can use dedicated Pomodoros for administration and for batch-processing interruptions, distractions and other small tasks.

Pomodoro can also be used for creativity and planning. It works well with techniques such as freewriting and brainstorming.

Key Pomodoro rules

The Pomodoro should always be visible. You need to be able to see at a glance how much time remains in your session.

Protect the Pomodoro – deflect interruptions and log distractions so you can return to them later.

The Pomodoro is indivisible. There is no such thing as a half Pomodoro. If you need to halt before the allotted time has passed, you must mark the Pomodoro as void. If you finish the task before the time is up, start revising or checking your work.

The secret sauce for productivity comes from a tomato

The Pomodoro Technique can help you develop the ability to deal with distraction and concentrate on demanding work.

Regular Pomodoro sessions help build good habits, a capacity for deep work and the ability to achieve flow states.

Start your day right with Pomodoro and reap the rewards.

Pomodoro is a great way to beat distraction at the beginning of your day and set the tone for a productive day.

It helps build the kind of momentum that delivers satisfying output and a real sense of achievement.

Having a hard time staying on task because of distractions? Focus is an app for your Mac computer that helps you stay on track. It blocks things that can distract you so you can get your work done. Try Focus and see how much better you can do!
Download Focus
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Boosting Productivity on July 30, 2019