The Problem with The Pomodoro Technique

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The Pomodoro Technique has been around for a long time, and it has many devout followers. For those of you unfamiliar with this time management/productivity technique, here it is broken down into its basic steps:

  1. Choose a task.
  2. Set a timer to 25 minutes.
  3. Work on the task until the timer goes off.
  4. Record the time spent on the task with an “x”.
  5. Take a short break, say…5 minutes.
  6. Repeat the above process four times.
  7. After every four tasks completions ( or “pomodoros”), take a longer break – anywhere between 15–20 minutes.

Essentially, you’re breaking your work down into manageable chunks, but those chunks are defined by the time over and above the task.

For example, if you have a task that takes longer than 25 minutes to complete, then the rigidity of the system forces you to step away from it for 5 minutes and actually prompts you to move on to another task. So when you start your day (or take the time on the day before to plan your day), you need to work out “pomodoros” with the knowledge that you have 25 minutes or less to work on it at any given time.

I’m not a fan of systems that are that rigid. While The Pomodoro Technique can force you to work on something every day, it only allows for 25 minutes of time. And while the technique is said to promote mental agility, focus and flow, I find that setting up time constraints as such can actually hinder flow because of the knowledge that the timer is going to ring right when you’re in the state of flow.

I do like the low-tech aspect of The Pomodoro Technique, so there’s that. Then again, I’m a bit of a pen and paper junkie.

As someone who has a lot going on, I think that planning the day – especially the day before – is a great idea (and even a must). But I like to have Big Rocks (hat tip to Leo Babauta) to smash through – and The Pomodoro Technique either won’t allow me to do that at all or it forces me to break down them into smaller chunks. And then there’s that timer. Always with the timer.

I like to have Little Rocks as well on my daily task list. I speak about this a bit more on Episode 11 of Mikes on Mics, but I look at those as the tasks that help me build up to a level where I can take on the Big Rocks. The Little Rocks not only let me stockpile my energy, but they let feel like I’ve got some things done before I get on to the important things. Mind you, if you spend all of your time on the Little Rocks, then you run out of time to take on the Big Rocks. But I don’t think a timer will help you out with that. Willpower and discipline are far better tools to use — and they can be applied in far more areas of your life than a tomato timer can.

I gave The Pomodoro Technique a shot for a long time. I have a kitchen timer that I used for it. I had apps I downloaded for it. I had a plug-in for it when I used Google Chrome (which I uninstalled long before I started to really kiss Google goodbye).1 But I’m not a fan of multitasking, and to me The Pomodoro Technique is just multitasking hidden behind the illusion of singletasking. It is a distraction unto itself, which isn’t what a system should be. A system should work in the background, acting as a foundation for freedom rather than acting as a warden for productivity prison.2

Photo credit: Luca Moscaro (CC BY-SA 2.0)

1 But I steered clear of Pomodorium. Not a fan of gamificaion, especially when it comes to time management.
2 But is it right for you? There’s more on The Pomodoro Technique in this article over at Lifehack.org.

Comments

  1. tomaszgiba says

    I think Pomodorro was invented for people who, in fact want to beat procastination. As we know procastination occurs when you can’t focus on job that you supposed to do. Pomodorro forces you to work in chunks (25 min) of time with a little reward at the end of every chunk (the break). That’s fine tool when wan to build up your focus. When you are already focused on a task or job this assumption (to get you focused) simply is not needed anymore. So then you can give up on Pomodorro. It’s simple tool to overcome procastination.

    • says

      @tomaszgibaThis is a valid point. The problem lies in when you try to leave Pomodoro behind. Can one break the 25 minute habit? I’m not so sure.I think this technique is too limiting for a lot of people, and I truly wonder if they don’t get stuck in the system as a result.

      • tomaszgiba says

        @mikevardyAs every habit, Pomodoro can become a burden. And yes, breaking 25 minutes habit can be difficult to overcome as well as not-working-at-all habit. But, it’s still a behavior that you can modify.The willpower and discipline you mentioned (in your post) are ultimate solution to Procrastinationproblem – True. But, for various reasons (at least, they are not clear for me) great number of people somehow lack them. That’s fine with me, people may have their reason to it. Pomodoro is for them.Keep in mind that there are many things that are part of productive person. My theory is, people may not do their best at work when something in their life doesn’t “allow” them. This can be everything, from personal life, working environment to having a health problem, you name it.But, when that obstacle is simply taken away. You no longer need any technique to enjoy what you are doing and keep that laser focus on your goal. Then, I believe it will be way easier to leave framework you decided to use (Pomodoro) than it was to start using it.

        • says

          @tomaszgibaGreat points. I think that adapting the framework to suit your style is something we all should do more of. Let these types of systems be a guideline rather than a rule. Thanks again for reaching out and taking part in the discussion!

  2. says

    I’m not much of a Pomodoro freak myself but it’s useful in getting things done, especially unfinished blogs. The first Pomodoro session allows say a blogger to let off the useless, mindless blather that usually exists when you’re trying to write. The key always is having the discipline to follow up with a second or a third, or even a fourth Pomodoro session. Having said that, a 25-minute sessions can be too limiting especially when you’re in the so-called zone. You’re forced to take a break even if you’re mind doesn’t really want to.

  3. ashmenon says

    I enjoyed reading your post (minus the point where I screamed in horror at the thought of saying goodbye to Google), but that last bit about multitasking makes me suspect that you and I have varying ideas about what the Pomodoro technique is aiming to do. For me, the purpose of the technique is to PREVENT multitasking. Let’s face it, everyone sucks at multitasking, and we end up meandering and losing time and attention. Regular, 25-minute beeps helps me to remember what I’m supposed to be doing, and refocus my attention on it.I DO agree with your point about the rigidity, though. I’ve had a number of times when I was hip-deep in a task and the timer sounded and I really just wanted to push through and finish it. I suppose no system is perfect.

  4. Eve says

    It seems to me most of the comments here assume that only procrastinators use pomodoros. I use them because I’m a workaholic, and once I sit down to work I don’t get up unless the office is on fire. The reason I use pomodoros is so that I give myself 2 five minute breaks every hour of work. I get up, stretch, get my mind off of things, and even if I hate the rigidity of the system and the way it’s getting me out of my workflow, it’s helping me focus better afterwards and reminds me that working on 110% isn’t always the best idea. Just my two cents, even if I’m a bit late to the discussion.

    • says

      Thanks for chiming in!

      I agree that not all PT users are struggling with procrastination. I’ve heard from many that they have so much to do that they shift from task to task without getting to completion. I’m not a fan of the rigidity myself, but that’s because i’m a creative and the 25 minutes can really kill flow. But if you’re undisciplined — creative or otherwise — the structure of PT can be a huge help.

      Again, thanks for reading!

  5. Simon Hill says

    The 5 minute break is there if you want it, I pride myself on most of the time have a quick 30sec-1 minute breakand then getting back to it to smash out another pomodoro with undivided attention.
    I would not advocate switching to another task for the next pomodoro unless you have completed what you set out to achieve.
    Also be specific with the task, specific enough that you can actually complete it’s scope within 4 pomodoros. That way you create flow and keep pushing forward hard.

    It definitely is a great system for those that work it hard and need to GSD.
    Anyway, I gotta get back to a Pomodoro now guys. Ciao

    Hot tip: mash up pomodoro technique with rescuetime, to get a more high level view of how you are going with your time management each day/week.

    • says

      I think that, as with anything, The Pomodoro Technique can be useful in various situations. For me, it’s only useful in its purest form for tasks I am no fond of doing but need to get done.

      (You also aren’t using in its purest form because you are supposed to switch tasks after each pomodoro to promote nueroplasticity. But that’s fine.)

      I’m glad it works for you in more instances than it does for me. I think that it’s a technique that has its place and time.

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