An Oldie but a Goodie: Refresher on the Pomodoro Technique

  • October 01, 2018
  • Kayla Cardinal Lafrance

Motivation is not always consistent. As procrastination starts to set in, either your first hour or last hour of work, how can one jumpstart doing something, anything? Having a timer nearby can be of assistance.

The Pomodoro Technique is basically how to use an interval timer to create a momentum of work productivity. If you're familiar with high intensity interval training (HIIT) gym workouts, you already know the basics of how this works:

*Sound cue 1* [a period of concentrated work],

*Sound cue 2* [a period of break],


According to the creator of this technique1, experimentation has shown that there's a certain sweet spot for every individual between 20 and 45 minutes where productivity can be maximized. Beyond that, to sustain the same level of attention span over the long-term, a small break of five minutes is needed before pursuing concentrated work. The key to the technique is to respect the sound cues, starting and stopping to work accordingly. Otherwise, you'll either exhaust yourself or never gain your desired work momentum.

Convincing your brain to do a 20-minute interval of concentrated work and rewarding yourself with a mandatory five-minute break is much easier than finding motivation to complete a whole task by a certain time deadline "or else"... It works especially well for tasks that you're not interested in doing. "Just 20 minutes," you'll tell yourself.

That's it in a nutshell.

"Traditional" Pomodoro is 25 minutes of concentrated work followed by five minutes of break using a mechanical kitchen timer that happens to look like a tomato (in Italian, pomodoro). You also need to take a longer break every four repetitions. Apps that have this slightly complicated interval set-up in mind can be easily found. It's a small annoyance to find the perfect interval timer and have it preset to your liking. But having it ready to go for your slow days is worth it. If you're not picky, here are some free suggestions:

Timer Websites

Pomodoro Tracker (just use the timer, other features are unnecessary to begin)

No download necessary since it's a website. Check gear icon to modify the settings.

Marinara Timer is also web-based and straightforward.

Sympl Pomodoro (Google Play)

Many apps actually mimic the tomato kitchen timer and need to be reset every round just like a mechanical timer. If you enjoy the act of resetting each time, you might like this more modern-looking app.

Tide (Google Play or iTunes)

Probably the most visually beautiful of the bunch. The "Focus Timer" setting has beautiful relaxing sound options. Use "Work Mode" to enable the Pomodoro-style timer. Enable also "Auto-Rest" and "Auto-Focus" for continuous timer rounds.

Interval Timer - HIIT (Google Play or iTunes)

Personally, I like a shorter 20-minute interval followed by 5 minutes of break without any longer breaks every 4 reps. This is the app I actually use for Pomodoro Technique as well as for gym workouts. Set up is less intuitive, but more customizable sound options for different types of activities.

Try it, experiment, and see for yourself what works for you.

Last tips:

  • Any interval timer will do the trick. Ideally, use different sound cues for when to start the concentrated work period and for when to start your short 5-minute break.

  • Set the amount of repetitions (or "rounds") to a high amount in such a way to provide a continuous loop of sound cues to last the whole day with no need for resetting.

  • As always, if downloading an app or using a website, be mindful of what information you are sharing and the possibility of data collection.

Some other ideas:

  • There might be a logical way in your practice to marry the Pomodoro Technique with timekeeping and billable hours.

  • You can also use it to be mindful of time sucks like tracking research time (and preventing a long venture down a rabbit hole).

  • What to do on your five-minute break? Try looking away from your screen, getting up and stretching, adjusting your posture, refilling your coffee/tea, checking LinkedIn/Twitter...


1 Francesco Cirillo, The Pomodoro Technique, 19 October 2006. Une version en fran├žais se trouve ici.

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