Boost your productivity with the Pomodoro Technique

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If you’re anything like me, the prospect of having to sit down and write a chunk of thesis usually causes an outbreak of entirely uncharacteristic housework, or a lengthy (and rather one-sided) conversation with the cat.  However, I am now a reformed character, thanks to the Pomodoro Technique.  Named after those novelty tomato-shaped timers (pomodoro is Italian for tomato),  this time management technique improves focus and productivity by breaking your tasks down into 25 minute sessions.

The technique is beautifully simple, and the creators haven’t tried to make it appear far more complicated in order to sell you a book, and you don’t need to buy any equipment.   I’ve included links at the end to a number of online timers and downloadable widgets.

Here’s what you do:

1)  Make a list of your tasks

2)  Choose a task to be accomplished

3)  Start the timer (set to 25 minutes)

4)  Work on the task until the timer rings (or otherwise attracts your attention).

5)  Give yourself a big tick and then take a 5-minute break

6)  Start again, giving yourself a longer break for every 4 pomodoros (or pomodori, for pedants) completed

Defining your task can take a little bit of practice.  If a task takes more than 5-7 pomodoros, break it down further; if a task is likely to take less than 25 minutes, combine it with another related activity.

Be as specific as possible with your tasks: eg “Write concluding paragraph to chapter one” or “check references for introduction” rather than “write thesis”.  This gets easier after a couple of days and you’ll become much more accomplished at estimating how long certain tasks take, and breaking your work down into bite-sized morsels.

The key part is to keep focused on your task during the 25 minutes: don’t check your email, don’t fiddle about on Facebook, and don’t talk to the cat.  If something urgent suddenly pops into your head, quickly write it down and return to the task.  Use your 5 minutes breaks for having a stretch and pootling about in cyberspace.

Once you get the hang of it, the Pomodoro Technique is an incredibly powerful tool in your Doctoral Toolkit.  I can honestly say that it boosted my productivity by about 300%, and my partner (also studying for  a DPhil) has seen a similar improvement.  We are now terrifying models of efficiency and the studious silence of our house is punctuated by the sound of clockwork tomatoes.   The technique:

1) Improves focus and concentration by minimising interruptions

2) Boosts motivation by recording your activity

3) Give you more free time – 25 minutes of focused activity is often more productive than several hours staring at the screen.

The Pomodoro Technique website includes a wealth of information, along with a free eBook and worksheets for recording your progress.  Personally, I like, which acts as both a timer and an activity log.  Other timers are available:

Like any other tool, the Pomodoro Technique won’t work for everyone, but please let us know how you get on if you do decide to give it a go.


8 thoughts on “Boost your productivity with the Pomodoro Technique

    Luis Perez said:
    December 24, 2011 at 20:03

    Here’s another great timer

    […] you have real issues focusing, and are feeling the pull of procrastination, try the Pomodoro technique. And keep tally of your […]

    Alex Furman said:
    September 5, 2011 at 06:33

    game based on pomodoro technique

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Adolfo Neto (UTFPR), Jacqueline Abreu. Jacqueline Abreu said: RT @adolfont: Técnica Pomodoro usada por estudantes de Doutorado: […]

    Adolfo Neto said:
    August 15, 2010 at 23:57

    Great post!

    Another tool:

    Twitted by blackoffeeblues said:
    August 15, 2010 at 00:01

    […] This post was Twitted by blackoffeeblues […]

    Sarah R-H said:
    July 21, 2010 at 15:40

    I’ve been putting off writing a report of a meeting for weeks now. Finally took the plunge today, and managed 8 pomodoros and just under 3k words.

    Made my brain ache though – It really highlighted how distributed my attention usually is – being focused for such periods of time was intense! But then my brain isn’t used to a proper work-out 😀

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Graduate Development, Doctoral School. Doctoral School said: Catherine posts on productivity, or "The seven habits of highly effective tomatos" […]

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