The Pomodoro Technique won’t turn you into a productivity machine, but it will change the way you approach remote work. Find out what happened when Content Writer, Erin, tested out the Pomodoro writing method.October 27, 2021
Spend a week in Italy and you'll realize (or rather, taste) how the tomato is the star of many Italian classics. This red fruit (yep, not a vegetable) is a key in staple dishes like pizza, lasagna, pasta and Caprese salads, where it shines alongside fresh slices of mozzarella.
But are they also the secret ingredient to a productive workday?
Let's find out! I committed to a week-long experiment to see whether a timed writing method based on tomatoes (or in Italian: pow·muh·daw·row) could turn me (Content writer, Erin) into a productivity machine.
Read on to learn what the heck Pomodoro planners are, and how they can change the way you approach remote work.
The Pomodoro Technique is a personal time-management system developed by an Italian man called Francesco Cirillo in the late 80s. The Pomodoro Method uses a timer to break work into 25-minute intervals separated by 5-minute breaks.
Originally, Cirillo used a mechanical kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato, hence the name: Pomodoro Timer.
Traditionally, the Pomodoro Technique follows these six steps:
Decide on the task that needs to be done.
Set the timer for 25 minutes.
Work on the task.
When the timer rings, take a 5-minute break.
Repeat steps 2-4 a total of 4 times.
After the 4th work sprint (Pomodoro) take a 10-30 minute break.
🍅 Fun fact:
There’s no specific reason for each Pomodoro to be 25 minutes long.
In fact, many people who practice the Pomodoro method customize the lengths of their Pomodoro and breaks to better suit their workflow. The number of Pomodoros you do during a day depends on how many Pomodoro sessions it takes to finish your predefined task.
The Pomodoro technique is most popular among people who work in silos, or carry out tasks on their own for longer periods; like programmers, writers, and students preparing for long study sessions.
Breaking up the day into time blocks actually makes a lot of sense. For starters, using the Pomodoro Method prevents you from multi-tasking—which studies have shown makes you less efficient and more likely to make a mistake.
Other Pomodoro Technique benefits include:
Decreased mental and physical fatigue
Prevention from burnout
But does the Pomodoro writing method actually increase output? There was only one way to find out...
I used a Pomodoro planner for an entire week to learn if this simple time management method could turn me into a productivity machine. For my experiment, I combined traditional Pomodoro methods, as well as some modern takes on this writing technique.
To time my pomodoros, I mostly used Pomofocus. It’s a customizable Pomodoro Tracker that works on desktop and mobile browsers (it also comes as a chrome extension). You can enter how long you want your pomodoros, short breaks, and long breaks to last; as well as your to-do list and how many pomodoros you estimate it will take to complete each task.
After each interval is complete, you get a notification indicating that it’s time to switch into work mode or break mode.
Here are some more free pomodoro apps:
If you prefer pen and paper when it comes to your to-do list, you can find many printable productivity planner templates on Etsy.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t sold on the idea… even when I pitched this topic for a blog post. I’d seen a lot of hype about Pomodoro planners among remote workers and digital nomads and had almost disregarded them as a fad.
As an anxious people-pleasing, millennial guilt-ridden 20-something, I couldn’t fathom the idea of leaving my laptop so frequently throughout the day.
My general hypothesis was: More breaks = bad. More sitting behind your laptop and working = good.
It turns out… I was dead wrong. But not for the reason you might think!
The experiment had a somewhat rocky start. On Monday (day one) I used the default settings on the Pomofocus app, which happened to be the “traditional” Pomodoro times: 25, 5, 10. Each full Pomodoro session lasted just over 2 hours, so by the end of the day, I had completed four sets.
It turns out 25 minutes is not long enough for me to “zone in” on any task. By the time I was in a nice flow, a shrill bell rang throughout my dining room, indicating it was time for a break. It snapped me right out of focus.
On Tuesday, I scrapped the traditional interval lengths (no disrespect, Francesco) and swapped the spine-tingling bell alarm sound for a soft and gentle birdsong.
My custom pomodoros were:
Pomodoro: 50 minutes
Short break: 10 minutes
Longer break: 30 minutes
A full session lasted 4.5 hours, and the longer breaks allowed me plenty of time to eat lunch, take a walk or stretch without breaking the flow.
By Wednesday, I was finally comfortable flowing in and out of frequent breaks and decided to try a very 21st-century approach to the Pomodoro writing method: A podcast.
When I was explaining my experiment to a friend, they recommended I check out the Flow State podcast on Spotify. The episode I heard played 30 minutes of music designed to encourage focus, separated by 5-minute breaks made up of binaural sound waves.
The music was really pleasant and created a nice ambiance for work sessions. But I still struggled with short pomodoros and found myself working through the breaks. 😬
On Thursday and Friday, I went back to my trusty custom Pomofocus settings (50, 10, 30), and was able to easily enter into a comfortable flow. I also spent these two days paying attention to how I was spending my breaks.
Earlier in the week, I had found that just switching over to Facebook or reaching for my phone didn’t allow me to fully disconnect during my breaks. So on Thursday and Friday, I spent my breaks reading on my kindle or following a yoga practice on YouTube. SaraBethYoga offers a variety of practices varying in length and intensity.
Following a soft 10-30 minute stretch sequence during my breaks allowed me to get my body moving without getting too sweaty.
Custom pomodoros paired with conscious breaks was the winning combination for me. I was able to focus on my tasks and looked forward to fully disconnecting from my laptop on my breaks.
So, after 5 days of experimenting with different Pomodoro planners, was I more productive?
Drumroll 🥁 … kind of.
The amount of work I completed was the same as any other week. I’m a writer. I work with deadlines. So the tasks laid out for me each week get completed one way or another before the due date.
The key difference was how I felt on Friday afternoon. I felt really satisfied. Accomplished, even.
I had spent a lot less time sitting in front of the computer, and I had spent a lot more time doing grounding activities like yoga and reading. The old me would have thought I’d spent the week “slacking off”. But instead, I was entirely aware of each task and when it was finished, and I had completed everything while managing to take more time for myself.
My week of pomodoros flew by. I’m not usually a clock watcher, but I was surprised how quickly the end of the week came. I didn’t struggle to recall what I had accomplished that week, every task had been consciously planned and completed. I felt good!
The key takeaways I got from using the Pomodoro writing method were:
Concentrating on one task at a time really does help you to stay focused
Consciously planning and working on your tasks will make you feel more accomplished at the end of the week
Short breaks away from the laptop to do yoga or reading during the day are super enjoyable
So I didn’t become a productivity robot, pumping out stacks of articles every day. But on a week where I might have felt scrambled and stressed, I felt surprisingly zen.
Would I try it again? Absolutely. I might not be as strict (sometimes I get inspired and enjoy working on an idea for 4 hours straight), but I can definitely see it as an invaluable tool to prevent burnout.
My only advice to those of you who want to give it a try: Take the time to find the right Pomodoro lengths for you, and ditch the screens at break time. Go for walks, read a book, cook a nice tomato soup 🍅. Plan time for yourself during each day and see how it affects your attitude at work.
Looking for other ways to create a productive work environment at home? Check out these articles:
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