The Pomodoro Technique: You Can Tackle Any Task 25 Minutes at a Time

By: Carrie Whitney, Ph.D.  | 
Working all night to complete a project is not the best way to achieve good results. Working in short spurts is actually better for you and your creativity. LumiNola/Getty Images

Imagine a student who has a big school project due soon. Or an employee trying to meet an important deadline. Staying on task and working until the assignments are complete might seem like the best way to reach the end goals.

But just like cramming is a bad study method, powering through to complete a task isn't the most effective way to finish projects either, and it definitely won't produce the best work. That's according to Francesco Cirillo, creator of the Pomodoro Technique, a time-management system that teaches you to work with time instead of fight against it.


Whether your problem is procrastination, overbooking or simple laziness, making the most of time creates pressure that often leads to inefficiency. It can be a vicious cycle, turning time into the enemy. To change time to something that works for you rather than against you, Cirillo developed his method, and it's been helping people stay on task since the 1980s. More than 2 million people have used it to become more productive and focused.

What Is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique seems almost counterintuitive because it is based on taking breaks after 25 minutes of work. (It's called the Pomodoro Technique because Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to delineate his schedule — pomodoro is Italian for tomato.) But before you go buying your own tomato-shaped timer and setting it for 25 minutes, it's important to understand how the Pomodoro Technique works.

The backbone of the Pomodoro Technique is the Core Process, and it's simple enough for anyone to do.


Start by choosing a task, set a timer — feel free to use a tomato timer if you have one — for 25 minutes and work solely on that task without interruption until the timer goes off. When your timer rings, take a short break and relax. Then return to your task if you didn't finish it, once again setting the timer for 25 minutes and repeating the process. For every four pomodoros, you take a longer break of around 20 or 30 minutes.

But setting a timer isn't the whole process, Cirillo explains. The technique has values, principles, practices and objectives.

"The whole thing is organizing in order to play a specific game, and the game is how to deal with time," Cirillo says. This is a game we're already playing, but the Pomodoro Technique offers a strategy for finally winning.

Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is simply a method that forces you to take breaks every 25 minutes while you're working on a task.


Winning the Game Against Time

Typically, when someone has a deadline looming, it's like being charged by a predator, explains Cirillo. "Time is an enemy. We have to run; we have to protect ourselves. This leads us to really bad behaviors," he says. When the deadline arrives, we deliver something, but the product isn't always the best it can be because we ran from the predator to make it.

"What is the problem with time?" Cirillo asks. "It's that we don't know how to deal with the human limit." Clearly, we cannot stop time or slow it down. Instead, we must learn how to manage it.


"This problem is related to how our mind works," he says. "Today, we have several sources of distraction." But the most powerful source of distraction is your mind, which interrupts you a lot when you are under stress. Thus, the Pomodoro Technique was created to deal with your mind.

Cirillo says to ask time, "How can you help me?" Because the same element that causes the anxiety is the element that can solve it.

Changing our mindset about time can start with the idea that we use time rather than the other way around. This is why the Pomodoro Technique includes breaks from work rather than powering through because our minds need time to reorganize. When you feel the fear of a deadline, ask yourself how you can use time to reduce the fear.

"I can use time to simplify things," says Cirillo. "The common factor is you have to learn to stop." Recognize the predator. Usually, we run away, which can mean working without breaks or not working at all. You may take on a different project or do something else like call a friend or check social media. The problem is internal: Your mind tells you to scroll through Instagram even when Instagram is not dinging to alert you.

The inner process of the Pomodoro Technique is to understand the principles behind the method, not just practice it. To guide practitioners through the internal shift, the Pomodoro Technique includes six objectives.


The Six Incremental Goals of Pomodoro

There are six goals a Pomodoro practitioner needs to achieve. Cirillo asserts that the objectives must be completed incrementally. That means starting with objective No. 1, which is to figure out how much effort or time an activity actually takes.

For objective No. 2, you must reduce interruptions so that you can stay focused on the task you are working on during each 25-minute pomodoro. After you have a handle on how much effort a variety of tasks take when you complete them without interruption, you are ready to estimate effort for future activities — that's objective No. 3.


Objective No. 4 involves making each pomodoro as effective as possible. One way to do that is to take a few minutes at the beginning of each set to review what you've completed. You can also hold back a few minutes at the end of each 25 minutes to review or make notes for the next pomodoro. This can be particularly helpful for someone who ends a pomodoro in the flow and wants to keep working rather than taking the required break.

Only after getting through these first four objectives will a Pomodoro Technique practitioner be ready to set up a timetable, which is objective No. 5. Doing so will "allow you to enjoy your time off without worrying that you could be doing more work," according to the website.

Finally, objective No. 6 allows users to create their own objectives. Workflow can be revised based on inefficiencies that have now been illuminated.

When your timer goes off, you take a quick five-minute break relaxing — you can do anything as long as you're not thinking.
LumiNola/Getty Images


Give Yourself a Break

Interestingly, practitioners often find taking a break after each pomodoro to be challenging. This is when that "predator" sense of guilt we mentioned rears its ugly head, making you feel like you are doing nothing, Cirillo says. It takes internal discipline to allow yourself to take a break.

Cirillo advises telling yourself something like, "Dear predator, thank you so much, this is the best thing I want to do for myself."


What should you do during this break, which may be just five minutes or as long as 30 minutes depending on where you are with your pomodoros? Cirillo suggests walking, deep breathing or just drinking a glass of water. What you are not allowed to do is take on another task or think. During a break, you should not sit and brainstorm or even put away the dishes. Instead, rest your brain. It can prove harder than you may think. Cirillo says that "cheaters" keep working but in a more informal way.

To begin retraining your mind and change your relationship with time, Cirillo's "The Pomodoro Technique" book is a good place to start as it explains the daily individual process in-depth. Cirillo also offers a variety of training courses, including one-on-one coaching sessions. Training goes through four levels with the fourth focused on how to reach multiple goals.

The technique is like a Trojan horse, he says. By stopping your work and taking a break each 25 minutes, you get the benefit without knowing why. "But the real point is to play the game."


Frequently Answered Questions

Why is it called pomodoro?
Pomodoro is a technique for time management that was developed by Francesco Cirillo. The name comes from the Italian word for tomato, which is the shape of the kitchen timer that Cirillo used when he first started using the technique.
Why is pomodoro a tomato?
The pomodoro technique is named after the tomato because its inventor, Francesco Cirillo, used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer when he developed the technique.