Productivity and GTD

The Science behind the Pomodoro Technique

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
Pomodoro timer

Long time ago I wrote a short introduction about using the Pomodoro Technique since it’s a technique that I use many times when I need to focus on the task at hand and make the most out of my time. Later on I wrote a more detailed article about this technique and two others deepening on two of its main goals: eliminating interruptions and better time estimates.

Since the first article three years have gone by and I have to say that it’s a way of working which has ended up having a huge impact in my day to day, especially when I need extra motivation. At the very beginning it is hard to meet the rules but it’s easy to get used to it. I would say that you only need between one and three weeks to feel the benefits of this technique:

  • More focus and concentration.
  • Less stress.
  • Better management of the interruptions.
  • Keeping high motivation levels.
  • Reinforcing the determination in order to achieve something.
  • Better awareness of the time you need to get things done.

This technique is used with a lot of success by programmers, designers, writers, students, and in general, every type of professional. The reasons of its success are many:

Time as an ally

Henri Bergson, philosopher and Nobel prize in literature in 1927, talks about the existence of various aspects of time, assuring that only one of them produces anxiety: its dimensional aspect, which pushes us to measure it and triggers the idea of being late. However, seeing time as a succession of events (I wake up, take a shower, have breakfast, go to work etc.) doesn’t generate stress.

Seeing time in a different way, as a vehicle in order to achieve something and not as something we have to reach for, reduces anxiety and this leads to a better personal effectiveness. Being more conscious of how time goes by (the 25 minutes of each pomodoro seem to go by slower) makes us achieve a greater level of concentration.

Working time

The time that a pomodoro lasts aims to balance two forces. On the one hand, it must be an amount of time which represents an atomic unit of measure for effective work. On the other hand, it must be an amount of time that helps you being focused and concentrated, and think clearly.

Some studies have proved that we have a maximum attention span in work intervals from 20 to 45 minutes, if a brief break has been done before. The perfect quantity has not been defined and surely it changes from person to person, but half an hour is a time which allows you to easily making measurements and gives you peace of mind, since you know you are going to deal soon with the interruptions which may happen. It’s impossible to concentrate on a task when you perceive inner interruptions and think you are not capable of put them off.

Break time

Short breaks increase the ability to concentrate. Even though the breaks in between continuous pomodoros must be short in order to maintain an adequate rhythm of progress, the time length of the long break (every four pomodoros) depends on the intensity of the previous work and how tired you are. Although 15 minutes are recommended, I personally don’t measure this break — I go for a walk or for a coffee, what it most of the times ends up being around 30 minutes.

On the other hand, having a very short break after two hours of work would be counterproductive. Don’t do that even if you are in a hurry. Your brain needs time to assimilate the last effort and get ready to effectively deal with the next set of pomodoros.

The sounds of Pomodoro

There are all kind of solutions for when you are in an open environment where there are more people working (silent applications that tell you when it’s the end of the period with a simple lightening up of the phone screen), but using a mechanical timer sends a much more clear order to the brain of when it’s time to be concentrated.

The fact of physically rotating the timer at the beginning of each pomodoro implies a declaration of your determination to complete the task at hand.

A typical timer produces two types of sounds: a constant ticking during all the time and a ring that announces the end of the period.

Even though the ticking can be annoying at the beginning of using this technique, and even stressful, when you get used to it, it becomes a calming sound (there are not scientific studies in regards to this, but there are many empirical contributions done by those using the pomodoro technique). It means that you’re working concentrated and everything is fine.

In fact, when you’re completely concentrated, you don’t even hear it…

7 comments

8bb2c9a97155fbcffcc91ca918d103c7
Commented almost 2 years ago Cyrus

Great article. I've been using this technique for years and it has greatly helped me keep my focus.

8bb2c9a97155fbcffcc91ca918d103c7 Cyrus

Great article. I've been using this technique for years and it has greatly helped me keep my focus.

00d0a361be3efa69c937adcb1446d9cd
Commented almost 2 years ago Günther

I'm trying to get myself using the method regularly, however I somewhat still struggle in following situations:

1) When I'm midway in a task which involves a very high level of concentration and I feel that interrupting this, even if it's only for five minutes, is counterproductive for me, because it's very hard to take up the complicated thinking again after the break. This often is the case when I write code. Are you familiar with this and how do you handle it?

2) I also find it hard to make the breaks when I'm into something with very high motivation and I perceive my energy level to be very high even if I work on it for two or three hours without a break. I think this is easier to overcome than 1), however still I feel uncomfortable and impatient when I stick to the method in these cases. Does this ring a bell and if yes, how did you manage to overcome this form of reluctance? (I strongly believe it is a misperception that I have this high energy level for hours)

00d0a361be3efa69c937adcb1446d9cd Günther

I'm trying to get myself using the method regularly, however I somewhat still struggle in following situations:

1) When I'm midway in a task which involves a very high level of concentration and I feel that interrupting this, even if it's only for five minutes, is counterproductive for me, because it's very hard to take up the complicated thinking again after the break. This often is the case when I write code. Are you familiar with this and how do you handle it?

2) I also find it hard to make the breaks when I'm into something with very high motivation and I perceive my energy level to be very high even if I work on it for two or three hours without a break. I think this is easier to overcome than 1), however still I feel uncomfortable and impatient when I stick to the method in these cases. Does this ring a bell and if yes, how did you manage to overcome this form of reluctance? (I strongly believe it is a misperception that I have this high energy level for hours)

00d0a361be3efa69c937adcb1446d9cd
Commented almost 2 years ago Günther

Update: I activated the ticking and I strongly believe that this is game changing for me with respect to my struggle as described yesterday - at least when I'm not composing music or otherwise need audio while working ;-).

Thank you very much for the tip!

00d0a361be3efa69c937adcb1446d9cd Günther

Update: I activated the ticking and I strongly believe that this is game changing for me with respect to my struggle as described yesterday - at least when I'm not composing music or otherwise need audio while working ;-).

Thank you very much for the tip!

8bb2c9a97155fbcffcc91ca918d103c7
Commented almost 2 years ago Cyrus

@Günther, the ticking helps me, as well. It somehow helps me to focus in and keep going with the steady tick-tick-tick of the clock. So happy to hear you found a solution!

8bb2c9a97155fbcffcc91ca918d103c7 Cyrus

@Günther, the ticking helps me, as well. It somehow helps me to focus in and keep going with the steady tick-tick-tick of the clock. So happy to hear you found a solution!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented almost 2 years ago Francisco Sáez

Hi Günther,

Glad you've found that the real ticking works for you. It's somewhat counter-intuitive but is worth a try ;)

About your points, I was also reluctant to stop five minutes when I was very concentrated on a task. What usually happens in those occasions is that I don't stop immediately (it may take me a minute or two to create an anchor point where I can safely go back after the break). Then I get up, look out the window and let my thoughts flow. It turns out that you never lose the "thinking mode" you had before the break. As a matter of fact, often times your thoughts become clearer during the break and you feel even more energized to continue. Try it!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

Hi Günther,

Glad you've found that the real ticking works for you. It's somewhat counter-intuitive but is worth a try ;)

About your points, I was also reluctant to stop five minutes when I was very concentrated on a task. What usually happens in those occasions is that I don't stop immediately (it may take me a minute or two to create an anchor point where I can safely go back after the break). Then I get up, look out the window and let my thoughts flow. It turns out that you never lose the "thinking mode" you had before the break. As a matter of fact, often times your thoughts become clearer during the break and you feel even more energized to continue. Try it!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented almost 2 years ago Francisco Sáez

Hi Cyrus,

Thank you so much for your support! :)

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

Hi Cyrus,

Thank you so much for your support! :)

00d0a361be3efa69c937adcb1446d9cd
Commented almost 2 years ago Günthet

@Francisco and @Cyrus: Thanks a lot! :)

00d0a361be3efa69c937adcb1446d9cd Günthet

@Francisco and @Cyrus: Thanks a lot! :)

Posts are closed to new comments after 30 days.

Try FacileThings FREE for 30 DAYS and start living at your own pace

No credit card required for the free trial. Cancel anytime with one click.