Personal Productivity

Pomodoro – The Tomato that changes lives




The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.   The technique has transformed the lives of many from procrastination to motivation simply and effectively.

During his first University years, Francesco Cirillo struggled with low productivity and high levels of confusion.  When exam time came around he found the challenge overwhelming.

The one day, as he tells it, …in the classroom on campus where I used to study, I watched my classmates with a critical eye, and then looked even more critically at myself: how I got myself organized, how I interacted with others, how I studied. It was clear to me that the high number of distractions and interruptions and the low level of concentration and motivation were at the root of the confusion I was feeling.

So I made a bet with myself, as helpful as it was humiliating: “Can you study – really study – for 10 minutes?” I needed objective validation, a Time Tutor, and I found one in a kitchen timer shaped like a pomodoro (the Italian for tomato) – in other words, I found my “Pomodoro”.

The “Pomodoro Cheat Sheet” lists the goals of Pomodoro:

  • Alleviate anxiety linked to becoming
  • Enhance focus and concentration by cutting down on interruptions
  • Increase awareness of your decisions
  • Boost motivation and keep it constant
  • Bolster the determination to achieve your goals
  • Refine the estimation process, both in qualitative and quantitative terms
  • Improve your work or study process
  • Strengthen your determination to keep on applying yourself in the face of complex situations

Pomodoro attempts to make time your ally, rather than the enemy.  It does this by breaking down time into manageable (and accomplishable chunks).

The technique uses a timer to break down periods of work into 25-minute intervals called ‘Pomodoros’ (from the Italian word for ‘tomatoes’) separated by breaks. Closely related to concepts such as timeboxing and iterative and incremental development used in software design, the method has been adopted in pair programming contexts. The method is based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility.

There are five basic steps to implementing the technique:

  1. Decide on the task to be done
  2. Set the pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings; record with an x
  4. Take a short break (5 minutes)
  5. Every four “pomodoros” take a longer break (15–20 minutes)

So how do we decide what tasks to do?  Napoleon Hill in his book “Think and Grow Rich” talks about US Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie and the amazing productivity improvement that a simple “To Do List” had on his business. Just make two simple lists, preferably the night before – a list of things that are urgent and a list of things that are important. Prioritise the items on the list and work your priorities. 

Your tasks may need further adjustment to work with Pomodoro. The following rules are added by Cirillo:

  • A Pomodoro is indivisible.  If a task takes more than 5–7 Pomodoros, break it down
  • If it takes less than one pomodoro, add it up, and combine it with another task
  • Once a Pomodoro begins, it has to ring
  • The next pomodoro will go better
  • The Pomodoro Technique shouldn’t be used for activities you do in your
    free time. Enjoy free time!


There are many Pomodoro apps for mobile platforms.   I can recommend “Pomodoro” for the iPhone from as simple and effective.  You can download it from the Appstore.  Of course, a watch or a plastic timer will also suffice.

The times I have used Pomodoro (coupled with some headphones to reduce distraction) I have found it excellent.  You may too.



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