Pomodoro Technique® in 5 minutes

You don’t have a single clue about the stem leafs and ketchup of The Pomodoro Technique® (created by Francesco Cirillo) — but you like agile software development and you do have five minutes to spend on a general introduction? Read how I implemented this methodology in the following Pomodoro Technique® for dummies recipe.
Tools

  1. Pencil
  2. Kitchen timer
  3. To Do Today Sheet — today’s date, my name and a list of my activities planned for today
  4. Activity Inventory Sheet — my name and a unordered list of my upcoming activities in the near future
  5. Records Sheet — my sampled process metrics to be used for my process improvement

One Pomodoro Technique® day

  1. Planning — I start the day by extracting the most important activities from the Activity Inventory Sheet and write them in a list on my To Do Today Sheet
  2. Tracking — after every 25 minutes iteration (a.k.a. a Pomodoro) I collect a small amount of process metrics
  3. Recording — at the end of the day I assemble my daily observations on the Records Sheet
  4. Processing — after recording I renovate the raw data into information
  5. Visualizing — finally I present the information in a way that helps me to improve my process

One Pomodoro iteration

I start my Pomodoro iteration by choosing the most important activity from the To Do Today Sheet. If only one thing will be accomplished today, then I want it to be this particular activity. Next I wind up my kitchen timer to 25 minutes and start working on the selected activity.

When the kitchen timer rings, it means that I have completed one Pomodoro. I immediately mark an X next to the activity on my To Do Today Sheet and then take a break. For 3-5 minutes I totally detach from the activity and everything else mental challenging. I might drink water or dream about what to eat for dinner tonight. I take a 15-30 minute break every four Pomodoro iterations. The long break isn’t used for work or mental activity either.

After a break I decide if I should continue with the same activity or switch to another one. The switch could have been initiated by either a change in priorities or else by the simple fact that I have completed the last activity — it’s done.

I never switch activity in the middle of a Pomodoro iteration. If I’m done with an activity half through a Pomodoro, then I overlearn: I repeat what I have done, I review my results, and I note what I have learnt – until the kitchen timer rings.

Deal with interruptions

Interruptions during a Pomodoro iteration come in two flavours:

  1. Internal interruptions: I feel hungry, I realize that my current activity has sub activities, I need to make a phone call, or I have an outstanding question to my room neighbour – whatever it is: I don’t do it now! I note it on the To Do Today Sheet and then immediately continue with the interrupted activity. I never switch activity during a Pomodoro iteration.
  2. External Interruptions: Someone’s calling me, my room neighbour is asking me a question, or my e-mail program constantly beeps – whatever it is: I don’t do it now! I inform the other person that I’m in the middle of something, I negotiate when I can call back, I note it on the To Do Today Sheet, and then I call back later. I never switch activity during a Pomodoro iteration.

Problems solved

  • Regulating complexity — Activities are broken down. They are not allowed to last more than seven Pomodoro iterations. And working hard for 25 minutes is the result. I don’t need to think about the complete solution upfront.
  • Inverting the dependency on time — Anxiety about not being done before some point of time is eliminated with Pomodoro Technique®. One completed Pomodoro is the result. One more X marked next to the activity proves that I’m climbing higher. And the systematic reducing of interruptions gives me the opportunity to plan what used to be event driven actions.
  • Detaching — Recurrent mental breaks make me focused when I’m working. After a break I come back with new eyes, ready to see the whole picture.
  • Feedback and improving process — The easy metrics are tracked every 30 minutes and recorded at the end of the day. This is the decision point for improving my process. I want to identify what Lean Software Development calls waste.
  • Sustainable Pace — Short iterations maintains my motivation. Small breaks let me re-interpret the activity. Interruption elimination keeps me focused. Process improvement takes away demoralizing waste.
  • Decision awareness — The human brain is not optimized for multi tasking. During a Pomodoro I focus on the activity. Before a Pomodoro I select the most important activity on the To Do Today Sheet. In the morning I choose the most important activities from the Activity Inventory. At the end of the day I look for process improvements. These are important things that will be done frequently, but not in a mixed mess.

Pomodoro Technique® practices not mentioned here

This is just a short introduction. Read more about the full process in my book “Pomodoro Technique Illustrated”. Some Pomodoro Technique® practices explained there, but not here, are:

  • Activity effort estimation
  • Processing and visualizing process metrics
  • Ring anxiety
  • Optimizing the structure of the Pomodoros
  • Pomodoro length (25 minutes) and sound
  • Timetables

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC

Additional facts

  • According to FAOSTAT, 125 million tonnes of tomatoes are produced in the world in one year. China is the top producer, accounting for about one-fourth of the global output followed by USA (9%), Turkey (8%), India (6%), and Egypt (6%).
  • United States Patent 4070820 is a double kitchen timer: a spring driven timer with primary and secondary time selection knobs rotating on a common center. Orest and Barbara Lewinter invented this killer app already in the seventies.
  • Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines overlearning as “to continue to study or practice after attaining proficiency”. Personally I see it as: practise your martial arts kata until you master it, then practice it two more times.
  • According to Petroski the system of pencil hardness might have been developed in the early 1900s by Brookman which used “B” for black and “H” for hard. A pencil’s category was described by a chain of Hs or Bs, e.g. BB and BBB for successively softer leads, and HH and HHH for successively harder ones.

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48 Responses to “Pomodoro Technique® in 5 minutes”


  1. 1 Jamie Nast 2008-09-26 at 15.39

    Dear Staffan,

    Thanks for sending your beautiful map! Is it OK if I post it on my blog with a link back to you? Tell me more about how you learned mind mapping, where you are located and how this map about pomodoro technique helps you. I read about how the pomodoro technique helps, but what about this map on the subject. Thanks again.

  2. 2 Staffan Nöteberg 2008-09-27 at 17.38

    Hi Jamie,

    I got into Mind Maps two years ago when my daughter pointed at Buzan’s “Mind Maps for Kids” in the book store. Then I read “The Mind Map Book” by the same author and recently also your “Idea Mapping”.

    Being a software developer I’ve been using Unified Modelling Language (UML) almost daily since the 90s. UML has great precision and is very expressive when you want to communicate an ontology without being able to talk face-to-face.

    Mind Maps has another purpose than UML. I use it for subject gathering and over learning. I like to think about a divided mind where one part is the single task workbench and the other part is the archive. On the workbench, I can only have one thought at a time. And the archive consists of all my experience, knowledge and associations.

    Subject gathering: I want e.g. to write a blog post about something I do have knowledge. In an intuitive and speedy but non-analytical way I want to map the associations directly from the archive. I want to see thoughts that are famous in my brain. Analyzing at this stage would unfortunately mean filtering. I mind map in a small note book (8cm x 10cm). Here are three examples:

    http://staffannoteberg.com/pomodoro-pluralis.jpg
    http://staffannoteberg.com/batch.jpg
    http://staffannoteberg.com/pomodoro-technique-in-5-min.jpg

    Overlearning: By that I mean repeating, reviewing and concluding. I’ve described a technique I call Daily Mind Map here:

    http://blog.staffannoteberg.com/daily-mind-map

    I also think that Mind Maps are very personal. I don’t mean private, I mean hard to read for a stranger. My best experiences with Mind Maps are when I make them as write-only or read-once. UML is a better tool for communicating ideas exactly – to people you don’t know. That’s the reason why I don’t publish the Mind Maps together with the blog post.

    And all the advantages I get with Mind Maps would be lost if I used a Mind Map software: intuitive, quick made maps of my mind. I don’t say that Mind Map software is useless, it’s just not proper for the things that I described above.

    Of course it’s ok if you show any of My Mind maps in your blog. I’d be honoured :-)

  3. 3 J.J. Yong 2008-10-24 at 17.08

    I get to know about the Pomodoro Technique (PT) when I first saw your Powerpoint slides via Slideshare.net. I hope one day you will be able to write a book about ways of applying PT in our work.

    You need to revamp this technique and disseminate it to others – not just in team mentoring. Pareto’s 80/20 rule is widely discussed among business people including entrepreneurs, and I hope one day it’s Francesco PT’s turn.

    Wish you best of luck!

  4. 4 Staffan Nöteberg 2008-10-27 at 12.59

    Thanks JJ!

    Yes, I’m thinking about formalizing this in a book. It will not be a massive text book. Rather something that looks like a children book on the surface – with picture and text on every page. But, with deep knowledge anchored inside the text.

    Do get this project sailing I need to deal with the lack-of-time-problem. Or maybe prioritizing better :-)

  5. 5 Kenji Hiranabe 2009-02-11 at 02.30

    Hi,

    I found this blog via @unclebobmartin ‘s tweet.
    Cool method ! I’m going to blog this in Japanese.

  6. 6 Mike Wilson 2009-02-11 at 07.01

    Heya! This is awesome. I’m still in the “getting it to work” stage, but it does indeed look promising.

    Found this via @unclebobmartin on Twitter.

  7. 7 David 2009-02-11 at 14.22

    You could probably use WorkRave instead of a kitchen timer.

  8. 8 Ben Fulton 2009-02-12 at 03.38

    I’m tempted to try this, but I think the first thing I would do would be to lose all my sheets :)

  9. 9 Barani 2009-05-14 at 13.28

    HI,

    Short, sweet, crisp & clear… :)

    May I know the reason why are stretching the work till timer rings even if it is done. It states what Parkinson said ‘Work expands to fill time’. From project management point of view, this is not encouraged, as this could affect estimation. If you could give me the reason behind it, I would be able to interpret it correctly :)

    Barani

  10. 10 Staffan Nöteberg 2009-05-14 at 13.56

    Hi Barani,

    If I have a non-negotiable rule that prohibits me to switch task before the clock rings, then the “am I done with this activity yet?” question will not disturb me during the 25 minute Pomodoro – it won’t even pop up.

    Focus is not compatible with overview. Just before the Pomodoro, I need overview to make a strategic decision about what to do next. During the Pomodoro I need focus.

  11. 11 RoloPlexlen 2009-05-21 at 02.47

    Good page,, Will definitely come back again soon

  12. 12 walter 2009-07-16 at 12.56

    I am doing a try. With Ubuntu we could use SandUhr, does not look very well, but is working.

  13. 13 Yvonne 2009-08-9 at 05.30

    I’d like to echo Barani’s question.

    I can see how your principle would work in some situations: academic studying, for example, where one would continue to revise; or when writing or coding, in which case you’d continue to review, check and edit your work.

    But there are other tasks that simply finish (e.g. entering my week’s transactions into an accounting program). Once entered, there’s nothing more to be done on them. So there’s little point in dragging them out until a timer rings. Or are we missing something?

    Also, you say never switch tasks mid-pomodoro, but what about planned switching? I’m thinking of the “Add It Up” principle whereby, if you know a task won’t occupy 25 minutes, then you combine it with another short task and plan to do both in that particular pomodoro. (At least this is how I interpreted it.)

    • 14 Staffan Nöteberg 2009-08-11 at 08.41

      Hi Yvonne,

      First, even in this system I must be pragmatic. If there’s absolutely nothing more, then I may Void the current Pomodoro, take a break and then start a new Pomodoro. Still, these two principles are worth thinking about:

      1. To recurrently think “Am I done or not?” comes with a price tag. My focus and enthusiasm for the current task is harmed.
      2. Often (not always) it’s possible to retrospect what I just did by asking myself: “Could I streamline what I just did even more?”, “Can I do it faster or with higher quality next time?”, “Can I prepare something now, that will help me the next time I do this kind of task?”, “Can I review what I just did?” etc.

      The add-it-up is a compromise. The pro is that I limit myself to a few predetermined tasks, i.e. my mind is not open to switch to any task in the world. The con is that I recurrently think “Am I done or not?”

  14. 15 Kim 2009-09-8 at 15.55

    Hi,

    Great description, and technique, So far I have been more productive today than any day the previous week.

    I still have one problem though, the small breaks keep ending up being 15 minutes, because I get up talk with somebody, read an article. What kind of advises do you have about that.

    To start the watch to keep the breaks short also seems a bit hash.

    • 16 Staffan Nöteberg 2009-11-30 at 08.30

      Thanks Kim,

      If breaks are too long, then I would advise you to either of these two:

      1) Have shorter Pomodoro length. The length of the Pomodoro and the break is loosely coupled. The longer Pomodoro you have the longer the breaks will be. Subconscious forces will do that.
      2) Simplify your break activities. Don’t read articles—that’s an activity that should be scheduled in a Pomodoro.

  15. 17 sandrar 2009-09-10 at 20.22

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  16. 18 Hurcecuchesus 2009-10-2 at 04.44

    Hello, it really interesting, thanks

  17. 19 Tarek Demiati 2009-11-30 at 07.47

    Hi Staffan,

    Would I break the Pomodoro process if I decide to go for 48 minutes work increment + 12 minutes of pause, instead of increment of 25 minutes + 5 minutes of paus

    Best Regards from France
    Tare

    • 20 Staffan Nöteberg 2009-11-30 at 08.19

      Hi Tarek,

      Pomodoro Technique is adaptive. Every day ends with a retrospective. If you find out that 25 minutes is to short—perhaps you have to spend a significant amount of the Pomodoro on setup—then try something longer. Be consistent with the length for at least two weeks though. Otherwise your tracking won’t be comparable. I.e. you can’t compare the number of completed 25 minute Pomodoro with the number of completed 48 minute Pomodoro.

      • 21 Jørgen Sundgot 2010-12-8 at 20.25

        I just wanted to add to Staffan’s answer by saying that I’ve been applying variations on the Pomodoro method myself for a while, and find consistency in intervals to be more important than the actual length – which I suspect varies from person to person depending on the level of concentration and personality type involved.

        Recently, I stumbled across a deliciously simple and useful “Pomodoro” web app which allows for circumventing traditional installation restrictions which may apply in corporate environments, as well as adjusting the intervals for both focus and pause periods. See http://www.magicworkcycle.com.

        The only thing I miss is the ability to insert a random pause for quietude into the pattern; I wrote a full post on this which is available here: http://simplicitypost.com/i-hereby-challenge-you-to-10-minutes-of-quietude, but briefly summarized it’s a challenge to make room for 10-minute breaks with the highest possible degree of auditory disconnection.

        I’ve introduced the quietude pause into my own regimen since it excels at lowering my stress levels, and also brings my perspective up from the runway level of things and towards the core of my personal goals and principles in the longer term.

        Also, I find it relatively easy to slip into distraction/break mode, but to really pause I need to disconnect consciously on a different level since most of my workday is quite busy and fragmented.

  18. 22 gokulmuthu 2009-12-4 at 13.59

    Great summary. Short and crisp.

  19. 23 Andreas P. 2010-09-28 at 20.55

    Hi,

    Nice blog. I have just started to use this PT and like it so far. However, I have two questions:

    1. It is 9:40 am and my pomodoro break finished. I know I have a meeting at 10:00 am. Should I still start a pomodoro knowing I have to void it anyway?

    2. During my task, sometimes I have to wait for ca. 3 minutes for compiling for example. In 3 minutes I could check my eMails or something. Should I void my pomodoro in this case?

    Thanks for you hints!

    Regards,

    Andreas

    • 24 Chad 2010-10-15 at 19.09

      I never start a pomodoro with the intent of voiding it. If I don’t have 25 minutes, then I spend time organizing my thoughts or grooming my activity inventory. Also, I always know I have 20 minutes worth of email gardening I can do.
      If you have a 3 minute wait to compile code, then I’d try to find something related to the same task that you can do during that time. I would not void the pomodoro because of a 3 minute an expected delay.

    • 26 Staffan Nöteberg 2010-10-20 at 14.54

      Thanks Andreas!

      These are corner cases, however interesting. And the guiding principle is to be pragmatic.
      1. I would prepare the upcoming meeting, take a longer break or pick something from my maintenance list like “clean my desk.”
      2. No, I would not void it if I continue as soon as the compilation is done.

  20. 27 kyith 2011-01-8 at 08.58

    If you are on Android Smartphone you are able to practice the Pomodoro using the Pomodroido which is a free app >> http://www.productiveorganizer.com/getting-things-done/how-you-can-implement-pomodoro-with-the-pomodroido-for-android-smartphone-to-boost-productivity/

  21. 28 GenMX 2011-04-20 at 14.42

    You always post a good and interesting article. I am going to save your page for the next time.

  22. 30 Ariel 2011-08-4 at 18.24

    I recommend this application:

    http://pomodorosuite.codeplex.com/

  23. 31 kime 2011-10-7 at 20.27

    I recommend Pomodorium . because it’s a game based on pomodoro technique and
    it turns my work into a literal GAME ^_^

  24. 32 Gilles Letare 2011-10-22 at 19.45

    Hi, for a good pomodoro timer, check EFA – Pomodoro

  25. 33 Bill Smith 2014-03-21 at 00.56

    I couldո’t resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!


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