The Pomodoro Technique: Does it Really Work?
I tried 5 different flavors of this tomato-inspired time management method – but which was the most deliciously effective?
If you’ve been anywhere near an office, a successful person, or Freedom’s twitter feed, chances are you’ve heard of the Pomodoro Technique. For the uninitiated, Pomodoro is a time management method developed 30 years ago by Francesco Cirillo (catchphrase – work smarter, not harder) when he was a university student. Like almost all good ideas, it’s super simple – choose a task you’d like to get done, set a timer for 25 minutes, and dedicate those 25 minutes solely to working on that task only. When the time is up, take a short break of around 5 minutes, and repeat the process until you’ve finished. Every 4 Pomodoro sessions, you should take a longer break of 20–30 minutes. According to the official website, this gives your brain time to assimilate new information and rest before the next round of Pomodoros.
We already know that many of our users swear by the productivity power couple of Freedom sessions combined with the Pomodoro technique, and we happen to think you’re a pretty productive bunch. But for a seemingly simple time-management system, there are an overwhelming number of tomatoey tools and a huge amount of conflicting information on how to Pomo successfully. So, as with pizza and pasta, the only way to find the very best is by sampling many. But app testing is not quite as fun as dining out, so here are 5 different Pomodoro recipes, tried, tested, and ready for your consumption…
As a creative, I sometimes struggle with prioritization and knowing where to spend my time. I get excited about certain tasks and have to force myself to complete more mundane ones. Until recently, I’d just wait for that hyperfocus to come to me when I was working on the right project – it just seemed like a kind of magic that would arrive out of nowhere. As an art student, I would routinely work on projects all night, barely noticing the hours as they passed. And if the inspiration didn’t hit? Well the waiting was just part of the process, right?
As the years passed I developed a couple of techniques to help me stay organized and get the work done. I’m a big fan of calendar blocking and use it to schedule everything from work to social events, and even household chores. My other fail-safe? Something I developed in childhood called the “Eat Your Vegetables First” Method, which involves getting the most dreaded tasks done first so you can enjoy the delicious enjoyable work later on.
I actually grew up to be vegan, so I no longer need an incentive to eat my greens, but it’s paid dividends in helping me complete unpleasant tasks. I’ll frequently start my runs on the incline, saving the downhill treat until the end. I live in an attic apartment with no elevator. How do I solve that one? Well, I run up the stairs so the pain of climbing them is over sooner. I’ll often block in “boring” work first thing to get it out of the way. Turns out this is actually a common technique also known as reward motivation! But is it the most sophisticated or efficient? In a world where there’s an endless array of science-based hacks to pick and choose from, I thought it was about time to start personalizing my productivity.
I was attracted to the method not only for the many successful Pomodoro proponents (and connotations of delicious Italian cuisine!) but I also liked the idea of using the physical timer as a tangible reminder of the task at hand. For this reason, I decided to start with the OG red tomato kitchen timer.
Days 1 & 2: Analog Dreams
Armed with my brand new shiny tomato timer I was buzzing with enthusiasm. Not only was I super excited to get started with the experiment, but every time I even looked at the retro little gadget on my desk I got a little jolt of joy. It reminded me of summers in Italy, marinara sauce, pizza, my great-grandma’s kitchen… all wonderful things – and one should never underestimate the power of positivity on a Monday morning!
Raring to go I set the timer for 25 minutes and embarked on my usual Monday morning routine of sorting through my inbox. This is something that has the potential to distract me for hours, as emails I’ve ignored for a week suddenly become transformed into unmissable updates and I fall down the rabbit-hole of clickbait links. However, the pleasant ticking of my trusty tomato served as a gentle reminder of the task-at-hand and it took me just 2 and a half Pomodoros to welcome inbox zero. I felt lighter and even more focused on getting on to the rest of the day’s to-do list.
Next on the agenda was social media, which, I’ll admit, made me a little nervous. How can a tiny plastic tomato compete with the onslaught of bad news, twitter trolls, and the attention economy? Nevertheless, I tentatively set my tomato for another 25 minutes and began sifting through the weekend’s activity on our social platforms. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the ticking once again kept my distraction in check and was able to get through all our shoutouts and messages without being distracted by any of the day’s trending topics!
What does prove to be a bigger challenge for Pomodoro and me, is sitting down to write. Writers are so often told that perfectionism and procrastination are the ultimate enemies, but I’m so used to being struck by random bolts of inspiration that it feels too forced when I cue up the timer. The ticking, this time instead of being a gentle reminder of my own abilities, only served to remind me of each passing second that the blank page remained empty. Realizing I hadn’t taken a proper break, I set out for a walk to get the inspiration flowing, and it worked! – Getting into a proper state of flow on my return I was able to write solidly for 2 hours. The only thing is, I completely forgot about my Pomodoro intervals… oops!
Not one to write something off without fair testing, I decided to give the traditional timer another shot the following day. Being bombarded with inspiration, tasks, chores, and a huge thunderstorm didn’t help my concentration at all and I barely touched the poor little Pomodoro all day. What’s more, in the evening I fell into an unintentional 3-hour hyperfocus work session.
While l originally liked the novelty, the physical act of setting the timer, and the pleasant ticking, I definitely needed something more than just my own will to help me stick to the strict schedule. It was time to shake things up.
Days 3 & 4: Marinara Timer & Pomotodo
For a helping hand with setting up the intervals and breaks correctly, I gave Marinara Timer a try. It’s super simple, easy to use in-browser setup means you can just click and go. You can choose the original Pomodoro 25-minute intervals and 5-minute breaks, or, for the times when you want something a little more fluid, go for the custom timer.
I completed one full Pomodoro cycle in the morning, which left my day looking already more defined. In the afternoon I gave the custom timer a shot, but it’s difficult to know how much time to allocate for each task. I also found that 25 minutes is a good amount of time for me to work solidly without getting distracted, and taking a break before I feel like I need one was new to me – and totally energizing!
I did find myself missing the gentle but effective motivation of background ticking, and the alarm wasn’t loud enough – sometimes I completely missed it! There are several different alarm sounds to choose from, however, and I discovered that “Frying Pan Cartoon” does a much better job.
It’s dawning on me that using the Pomodoro technique is an actual task in itself – figuring out which intervals work best for what tasks and how to make it work for me. Wondering how to refine it further the following day, I decided to test Pomotodo – a combination of the Pomodoro Technique and GTD theory. Basically, this app is a to-do list with an integrated Pomo timer that allows you to estimate the workload of tasks by tracking your historical data, set reminders, and split large tasks into smaller steps. Since I was only using it for one day I stuck with the in-browser version, but the app is available for download on various platforms.
This is a great little tool, and I think it would work brilliantly as a long-term productivity solution. Since I already use another tool to keep track of my tasks, I felt like I was wasting time transferring them over to yet another application, but if you plan to use Pomotodo daily I could see how it would definitely merit the time investment. However, with so many free options around I’m not sure it’s worth the monthly fee for the Pro version.
Day 5: Extreme Pomodoro and Flat Tomato
I’d heard that there are some rare creatures in this world who live their entire life on tomato-time, so the final day of testing kicked off with an attempt at the Extreme Pomodoro method. This involves setting a timer for each and every task in your day – household chores, eating breakfast, even getting dressed are all accounted for and timed, to turn you into a productivity superhero (or a terrifying task-master humanoid?). I followed my morning routine religiously and setting a time limit on enjoying my coffee did not have the desired effect of revving me up for the most productive day of my life. Instead, I felt the creeping misery of prison-like summer camps pushing my usual good-morning-zen out the window. While admittedly quarantine dressing doesn’t take much thought, being on-the-clock took all the fun out of putting on even my comfiest sweatpants, and there’s nothing quite like the clunky bell of a vintage kitchen timer to undo all the benefits of a quiet meditation session. Needless to say by 11 am I had discarded all notion of this method to the compost heap of my mind, where it shall remain forever.
Unable to look at my trusty tomato timer in the same way and fed up of in-browser apps getting lost in the abyss of open tabs on my desktop, I wondered how I was going to make it through the day’s remaining tasks. That’s when I stumbled upon Flat Tomato – A beautifully designed timer for people who want to avoid distractions and get more done!
Need more motivation? The iOS app offers some beautiful clock designs, including cat-themed ones! These can be purchased with the POMO currency, earned by completing Pomodoro sessions.
The app integrates seamlessly into the OS desktop and syncs across all other Apple devices to give detailed reports. I love the fact that at the end of each session the app pops up and gives you the option to end your session immediately or add a few more minutes if you’re in a state of flow (you also have the same option to extend your breaks!). There’s also a discreet on-screen clock to help you keep track of your time.
Flat Tomato is fully customizable, so it can just be a simple pomo timer if that’s what you want, or it can be the ultimate productivity pal, giving breakdowns of exactly where you spend your time, and personalized right down to your preferred color scheme, all for a one-off fee of $2.99. The app also integrates with our favorite organization tool, Todoist, and what’s more, you can even add in the “tick” for that analog authenticity. With design, functionality, and a nod to the past, Flat Tomato definitely hit my Pomo sweet-spot!
Like all productivity hacks, there is no one-size-fits-all version of the Pomodoro technique. It really comes down to your personal preferences, work routines, and energy patterns. Personally, I found it a great solution for getting those more arduous, unpleasant, and monotonous tasks out of the way. When you think “I only need to do this for 25 minutes” it makes it much easier to start. However, for some, just getting set up with the Pomodoro method can be a task unto itself since it requires some organization and awareness of your working patterns already. Creative types or those with very fragmented work-days may also struggle to get into the tomato groove, but it’s definitely worth trying – especially for those of us that are working and studying from home, surrounded by endless distractions.
As far as tools are concerned, I’d recommend everyone to start out with the original kitchen timer to get a sense of how this method can work for you. It’s super quick to set up, and since it’s a real-life physical object, pretty hard to ignore. If you turn out to have a taste for this tomato-based time technique, go forth and try some of the many tools on the market to see what works best for you. In my case, it was the adorable Flat Tomato app. And don’t forget that you can easily set up Freedom for use with the Pomodoro technique to maximize whichever technique you choose.
All in all, I’d say finding your perfect Pomodoro is a bit like making marinara sauce – it all comes down to a lot of experimentation with ingredients, timing, technique – and taste! 🍅