An essential tool for amateurs and professionals alike, the pomodoro technique allows users to deal with high workloads, complex topics, and detailed content while avoiding burnout and learning more about their working practice.

So, what exactly does the process involve and how effective is it when it comes to managing workloads and employee effort?

What is the pomodoro technique?

A popular time management method, the Pomodoro technique was developed in the 1980’s to enable individuals to deal with their work demands and help them clear their responsibilities with greater efficiency and reduced effort.

Named after the Italian word for ‘tomato’, the method uses repetition and self-discipline to help complete tasks. This involves the use of a timer to regulate focus and commitment to complete a task. Now hugely popular, the process involves segmenting a project into manageable chunks and also improving an individual’s instinct for how long a task will take.

It’s high rate of uptake is due in part to its lack of complexity and ease of adoption. This allows users to trial the process with minimal risk and immediately see benefits for their work. And, if the system is tough to adopt, make lasting improvements to their approach that can potentially bring benefits to every corner of their daily practice.

How does the technique work?

The pomodoro technique is fundamentally low-tech and requires the purchase of only three items for those keen on following the process to the letter. This includes: a kitchen timer (ideally tomato shaped!), a pen, and pencil. These can be easily substituted with a phone or computer timer and whatever writing materials you have to hand.

Completing the process involves working for a number of time-bound cycles or ‘pomodoros’ during a set period (traditionally 25 minutes). These are designed to create a sense of flow and prevent the tiredness that can come from working for sustained periods of time on a piece of work.

In order to follow the process, you need to undertake the following steps-

1. Prepare your task: Firstly, take the time to look at the task you are trying to complete and confirm what ‘success’ or finishing your goal looks like. This can be hitting a wordcount for an article, reviewing a slice of code, unpicking a difficult technical problem, or any other kind of issue. Once this is confirmed, set your timer and notepad in front of you and-

2. Activate your timer: Start your timer and begin your pomodoro. Ideally, this should involve setting a physical timer to ‘commit’ to the process, but a digital timer is perfectly fine if it works for you.

3. Work for the allocated time: This should not be interrupted by any outside distractions or errant thoughts. If you need to note something down or remember a task, you can briefly note it on your notepad for review at the end of the session. The goal here is to work and develop focus for the 25 minute period.

4. End your pomodoro: Once the 25-minute period is up, the timer will sound, and you have to stop. Once finished, you place a checkmark on your paper and-

5. Check your notepad: Take a look at the number of checkmarks you have and any brief notes you have made during your session. If you have less than four checkmarks on your page, take a two to three minute break from your work. This can involve checking your phone, briefly responding to messages, or getting up for a short period to walk. If you have more than four checkmarks, it is time to take a longer break from your work for between fifteen minutes to half an hour. And once the timer is complete you start again, or if your allocated working period for the day has ended-

6. Repeat, revise, and review: Once a task or your working day is finished, it is time to undertake a brief review period to look at future work and assess how you worked across the immediate period. This should involve looking over the work you produced and checking for correctness, undertaking editing, or processes that allow you to give it a final polish and make it fit for use. In addition, it is important to reflect on your approach and review what you learned, how your understanding deepened, and where you can potentially revise your approach. Once complete, it is helpful to look at tomorrow’s tasks and break them down into distinct pomodoros to let you hit the ground running when it comes to your future efforts.

The cycle can then be repeated as many times as needed, allowing you to bring back practical knowledge into your working ecosystem and make any positive changes required with ease.

Is the pomodoro technique effective?

While there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to productivity or time management, the pomodoro technique has enjoyed significant popularity. This is for two reasons-

1. Developing focus and flow: One of the key strengths of the technique is that it trains your body and mind to work within a flow state. The concept of flow involves becoming completely focused and absorbed in a task that you are working on. Working in short segments helps you concentrate and achieve that state with future cycles. The timebound nature also allow you to achieve a sense of purpose and achievement. And, if you’re struggling, the knowledge that only a few minutes remain can help give you the energy for a final push.

2. Developing a plan and self-knowledge: Arguably the key reason why the approach is so popular is that it tacitly trains individuals to take a more organised and mindful approach to their work. This can help in short-term planning where users quickly develop a sense of how many pomodoros a task will take to complete and back it up with previous evidence. This can also allow help you develop an instinctual knowledge of what tasks will involve, potentially cutting down the amount of mental effort required when working on significant or difficult projects.

However, like any practice or technique, in the workplace it requires buy-in from managers and commitment from staff members to use the process correctly. It’s light-touch nature allows it to be used alongside existing methodologies or in conjunction with daily working practice. Thankfully, the process can be adjusted as needed to suit individual working practice, professional demands, or adapted to a disrupted workspace.

What can change?

In addition to the above, the process potentially allows for a number of significant variations while still remaining highly effective. These include, but are not limited to-

Pomodoro Length: While 25-minute cycles are widely accepted to be the best way to achieve a flow state, this can be changed depending on the team or individual applying it. These can be extended for complex work or even shortened to deal with a tricky problem in fine detail.

Pomodoro Structure: The technique can easily be adjusted to work around your daily routine or personal and professional commitments. This can allow for external markers such as meetings or times for content delivery, natural biorhythms, or times you will be free to focus. While it is highly recommended to stick to as regular a schedule as possible,  being able to adjust your structure allows you to be flexible with your approach and apply the technique across a range of situations.

Digital Attachment: The Pomodoro technique works brilliantly when it is coupled with a platform or app that allows the harvesting of timebound data. This can allow users to develop better awareness of their own daily practice and validate it using metricised information. Making the call can help you work with greater insight, spot problem periods and potential logjams, or even future-proof your workforce as they move to a new post-Covid marketplace where remote working needs to be managed.

Practical Application: The nature of the system allows it to be easily adopted by individuals from all backgrounds – from university students all the way through to overburdened industry professionals. Pomodoro software is available on phones and can also be added to any existing or bespoke system by professional teams, letting you improve employee working practice with little effort or couple it with an extant platform – allowing for a quick win when it potentially matters most.

What next?

If you want to learn more about optimising employee efficiency or embedding positive practice, our team at Practical Software is here to help. With many years’ experience, we work with you to deploy a solution that fits your daily practice and directly tackles the obstacles standing in your way.