How to Use the Pomodoro Technique (And Why)

How to Use the Pomodoro Technique (And Why)

Time management skills are crucial for anyone trying to increase their productivity. But where do you start? In our time management article we outline the four components of time management: planning, scheduling, monitoring, and control. What if I told you there was a time management technique that hits all four at once, and is both low-maintenance and low-tech? Welcome to the Pomodoro technique.

How the Pomodoro technique works

An illustration of a tomato-shaped kitchen timer.

The Pomodoro technique is a time management method developed by business consultant Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. The name comes from the Italian word for tomato, since he originally used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. Cirillo used this technique in university to get his work done. Since then, it’s been widely adopted in the business world, and dozens of apps and websites have emerged to replace that kitchen timer.

So how does it work?

It’s simple. Pick a task you want to get done (e.g. fixing a specific bug or writing a blog post), set a timer for 25 minutes, and work on the task until the timer is done. You could use a ticking tomato-shaped kitchen timer if you want to go old school, but if you work in an open office that might not be the best idea.

When those 25 minutes are up, set the timer for five minutes. What do you do in those five minutes? Take a break.

I know. A break after only 25 minutes of work? Sounds lazy. But consider how often you spend 25 minutes completely focused on one task. No Slack messaging. No wandering off to Facebook. No chit-chatting with coworkers. Just the task at hand. When that break comes around, you’ve already achieved a lot, and you’re ready for that break. Stretch your legs, do some jumping jacks, or ask Mark how his weekend was.

But once that timer rings, you’re back in the tank for another 25-minute session. You can keep working on the same task if it isn’t done, or move on to another task if it is.

Just make sure that you make a small check on a piece of paper after every 25 minutes. Why? After every four 25-minute work sessions, you’re entitled to a longer break. This long break could be anywhere between 15-30 minutes. This is the time to go on break, eat lunch, or tell Mark how your weekend was.

Once you’ve had that long break, you start the entire process over again. Here’s what that looks like:

Work – 25 minutes
Break – 5 minutes
Work – 25 minutes
Break – 5 minutes
Work – 25 minutes
Break – 5 minutes
Work – 25 minutes
Long break

And that’s it. Pretty straightforward, right?

If this seems a bit complex to keep track of, just know there are many apps and websites out there that let you set a Pomodoro timer without much trouble — these are best if you’re working in an office.

Now let’s get into why it works.

3 reasons the Pomodoro technique works

It keeps you focused

An illustration of a man focused on work at a computer.

By picking your task before you start and giving yourself 25 minutes to focus on it, you’re hitting two of the time management essentials: planning and scheduling. It’s also a great excuse to go into focus mode, just make sure to let your coworkers know not to disturb you.

Because you’re assigning a single task to each 25-minute period, you’re preventing any other work from creeping in and distracting you. So if you have a huge to-do list with a variety of tasks on it, this technique helps you focus your efforts instead of spreading yourself out over too many things (and getting nothing done).

When you’re deep in the tank — and your task feels insurmountable — there’s always a temptation to distract yourself with something else (like the funny gifs your coworkers keep posting in Slack). By using the Pomodoro technique, you’re giving yourself a defined beginning and endpoint for each task. That doesn’t mean all your tasks only take 25 minutes to get done; there’s nothing stopping you from using multiple 25 minute work periods towards one task. It’s just about breaking up your work into smaller, more manageable chunks.

In my daily life as Unito’s marketing copywriter, the Pomodoro technique is invaluable for getting my work done. My days involve working on blog posts, double-checking copy drafted up by other teams, and editing all kinds of writing for the rest of the marketing team. And that’s not counting all the meetings. If I let myself bounce from task to task, I’ll never get anything done. By using the Pomodoro technique, I can give each task the time it needs. This follows the logic of the one task method we’ve described in a previous post.

Structured work helps you get more done

An illustration of a man at a board, structuring his work.

If you’re serious about time management, you need to do two things: plan ahead and look back. You need to figure out what you’re going to do before the day starts. Then, at the end of the day you should be looking back over what you got done.

Since the Pomodoro technique already helps you focus on one task at a time, you could plan them out ahead of time.

But let me tell you how I do it.

At Unito, we use a daily asynchronous scrum to plan out our days, and get an idea of what everyone else is working on. I do this first thing in the morning, so I always start my day knowing what I need to get done. I then use the Pomodoro technique to make sure I don’t spend too much time on one task and ignore the others.

How do I do this?

Whenever I put down a checkmark at the end of a 25-minute work period, I also make a small note of what I spent that time doing. So if I’m working on a blog post about the Pomodoro technique, I’ll write “Pomodoro” next to my checkmark. If I’m editing copy for our website, I’ll write “Website Copy.”

As the day goes on — and the checkmarks pile up — I get a good sense of what I’m spending my day on. Maybe that blog post is taking a bit longer than expected, and I should switch to a different task before I run out of time.

Then, at the end of the day, I look back on what I got done and check how I spent that time. Essentially, I’m turning the Pomodoro technique from a pure focus tool into a time tracking tool. With this “data,” I can then tinker with how I work to increase my productivity. Maybe I should be writing blog posts in the morning instead of the afternoon. Or maybe I shouldn’t schedule a blog post on a day where I have a lot of editing work to do.

With this small tweak, the Pomodoro technique hits the monitoring and control aspect of time management, completing our prerequisites for a complete time management method.

But you haven’t even heard the best part yet.

It helps prevent distractions

An illustration of a woman in a workplace, dealing with a distracting environment.

At face value, a 5-minute break every half hour doesn’t seem very productive.

But let’s be honest. We all get distracted. Depending on which study you read, the average worker is only productive for anywhere from three to six hours in a typical eight-hour workday. We check our social media, read up on the news, loiter by the coffee machine, that kind of thing.

So now that we’ve accepted that these distractions exist — and that we’re honest enough to admit we all give in to them — how can the Pomodoro technique help?

Not only is it built with distractions in mind, it lumps them all in together.

That five-minute rest period is there for you to do all the things that would usually distract you. Check your email, go on Facebook, do whatever you need to clear your head and get ready for your next chunk of work.

With Pomodoro, you’re not only scheduling your work, you’re scheduling your distractions. You’re giving yourself the ability to max out your productivity around those inevitable distractions. That means that you know exactly how much productive time you have, and can better decide what you’re going to do with it.

You’re working with your real workday. Not what you wish it was.

Ready to try the Pomodoro technique?

That’s the Pomodoro technique in a nutshell. 25 minutes on task, 5 minutes on break. Repeat four times, take your lunch break. Keep going until you’re ready to go home for the day.

Give the technique a try, and watch your productivity soar.

Pomodoro technique FAQ

What are the 5 steps in the Pomodoro technique?

The Pomodoro technique is pretty simple. All you need is a timer and these five steps:

  1. Pick the task you want to work on: It’s best if your task can be completed in about 25 minutes, though chaining multiple Pomodoros to get it done is fine too.
  2. Work for 25 minutes with no distractions: Set a time to 25 minutes and get to work! Try to eliminate all potential distractions, from social media to chit-chat with coworkers.
  3. Take a five-minute break: After your timer goes off, set it for five minutes and take a quick break. Get up, walk around, and take your mind off of whatever you were working on.
  4. Repeat three more times: Pick a task and work for 25 minutes, taking five-minute breaks after all but the last work session.
  5. Take a longer break: After you’ve done four work sessions, it’s time for a 15 to 30 minute break. If you’re working in the office, this is usually

Does the Pomodoro technique actually work?

It does, though it might not be for everyone. But if you’re like the 82% of employees who aren’t using any time management method, trying the Pomodoro technique is a great way to get a handle on your workday.

So why does it work? It helps you focus on one task instead of all the other work on your plate, meaning you can get more done without feeling overwhelmed. Regular breaks mean you’ll get more done in less time, maintaining a higher level of concentration over time.

Why is a Pomodoro only 25 minutes?

The short answer? That’s just how the technique’s creator, Francesco Cirillo, decided it should be. There’s no special reason beyond that. Other time management methods may have work sessions as long as an hour, and those might work better for some people. But a 25-minute session of focused work is a good place to start for those who are new to these time management methods.