When I first opened my assignment sheet, I readjusted my glasses to make sure I was reading this week’s Fairygodboss article assignment right. “The Pomodoro Technique”? Wasn’t “Pomodoro” a type of pasta? Or a vegetable?
I was just a little off: “Pomodoro” means tomato in Italian. But I wasn’t sold on how tomatoes could possibly be part of a working “technique.”
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
Unfortunately, the Pomodoro Technique isn’t about the best way to cook your tomatoes. Fortunately, it is an effective time management method that increases productivity with focused working intervals. Developed in the late 1980s — notably before smartphones and their built-in timers — the technique used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to break down working periods. These work periods are called “Pomodoros” as a nod to the timer’s original shape.
With technology robust and not tomato-like, the Pomodoro Technique provides a simple yet effective way of working efficiently and productively. The technique follows a system of planning, recording and processing that allows you to lead with control and focus along every step of the way.
How the Pomodoro Technique works.
1. Choose a task.
What tasks have you been struggling to complete? What are you putting off? The Pomodoro Technique is a great way to challenge yourself to be productive — so choose wisely. It doesn’t have to be the world’s most difficult or largest project; it just needs to be something you want to give your full attention.
2. Set the Pomodoro timer for 25 minutes.
Choose a timer that’s easy for you to access and turn off right when it’s done. Word of the wise: choose a timer sound that won’t scare you. You may find yourself so absorbed in the work that the 25 minutes flies by without you even noticing.
3. Work on the task.
Work during the Pomodoro should be completely uninterrupted. If you remember you have something else to do or need to follow up on another task, simply jot it down but don’t change your focus. Pomodoros cannot be interrupted; they are indivisible blocks of time. If someone tries to speak to you or interrupt you, politely (and quickly!) tell them you will get back to them when you’ve finished. If the interruption is too long, the Pomodoro must be abandoned completely.
4. When the timer rings, stop working on the task and make a checkmark.
Freeze what you’re doing (okay, or finish up that last sentence) put a checkmark on a piece of paper. You’ve finished one Pomodoro — which means 25 minutes of interrupted, focused hard work. Make sure your checkmark is in an easily accessible place and is completely legible; it’s important in keeping track of your work time.
5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break. Then, start again from step 2.
A short break between Pomodoros should be about 3-5 minutes. If you’re worried about the exact timing, feel free to set a timer for the break slot as well. This break is an opportunity to stretch your legs, check your phone, buy some shoes, join a Fairygodboss group — whatever you can do in the short block of time. Use this as a refreshing, reenergizing time completely away from the task at hand.
6. After four Pomodoros, take a long break. Then, move your checkmark count back to zero and start from step 1.
A long Pomodoro break can be anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. Take a shower or go from a walk around a block (or two, or three. You can walk a lot in 30 minutes). This is a great time to recharge and rest before more intense focus and productivity.
These stages are integral to the technique's emphasis on focus, flow and accomplishment. Recording the Pomodoros with checkmarks — as in step four — gives you a sense of achievement with visual proof of 25 minutes of hard work. In the breaks between the Pomodoros, the intervals of free time help you reflect on the work you've done and process everything you've learned. These breaks are also crucial to the flow of the Pomodoros; because there are breaks every 25 minutes, the actual Pomodoros of work are indivisible. They are concentrated, focused periods that don't allow interruption for maximum productivity.
Implementing the Pomodoro Technique,
Not everyone has the opportunity to spend hours rolling through cycles of Pomodoros. Yet the technique is incredibly adaptable for any schedule. Before your day begins, think about the chunks of available work time you have for this task. If you have about an hour in the morning but three hours in the afternoon, schedule four Pomodoros before noon and close to 10 after.
The adaptability of the Pomodoro schedule was a first good sign when I sat down to try it. I decided to tackle my other Fairygodboss assignments for the week; I knew I had a really busy schedule with other jobs, appointments and meetups, so it was crucial to make the most of the writing time I had. Luckily, the tomato technique came in handy.
My millennial/generation Z self reached its peak form as I tearfully bid my social media adieu and sat down for what I hoped would be the most productive 25-minute periods of my young life. Of course, I didn’t have anything but my iPhone on me for a timer, so I kindly asked Siri to set a 25-minute timer. She responded quickly and efficiently (as she so often does), and I was off to the races, writing with fervor and focus.
While I have a flair for the dramatic, these 25-minute work periods were honestly some of my most productive working times. Because they weren’t too extensive, I was motivated to get through each minute to reach my short break. I could remain focused on tasks I’d usually take breaks from every few minutes to check Instagram.
In fact, I was so focused I had trouble stopping once my timer went off. I found myself ready to start the next part of my task or wishes I had just a few more minutes to finish my train of thought. I had to force myself to step away from my computer and stand up, even if it was just to touch my toes or get a drink of water. Breaking up my focus was therefore initially frustrating and difficult, but all the more rewarding when I found my productivity increasing with each Pomodoro.
Although I didn’t expect to become so incredibly focused, I did assume I’d experience difficulty with outside distractions, and well into my third Pomodoro, my dad came knocking on my bedroom door. From what I remember — I was so in the zone that my memory evades me — he had just watched a documentary on Netflix that he wanted me to watch too. Overwhelmed and worried I’d have to restart my whole Pomodoro process, I quickly thanked him but told him I could speak to him after I finished my working time. Although a little upset, he said he understood, and he filled me in on my short break soon after.
Once I finished my tasks, I walked away with not only a sense of productivity and pride but also an understanding of how much time and focus I need to put into specific activities. I know packing my clothes for college may only take three Pomodoros, while researching and writing an article might take four or five. With this information, I can now better plan out my workdays and know I’ll be getting work done with elevated concentration and effort. Just call me the world’s biggest tomato fan.
Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoëkaplan.com.