Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Pomodoro Technique

Regular readers will know I have one bit of kit on my desk that saves the day when my personal performance takes a nose-dive.

It’s my trusty red stopwatch.

It’s water resistant, and can do lots of clever things that I have never bothered to learn. I only use the start and stop function on it. But as far as personal performance is concerned it is the best thing I have ever bought. And it probably cost less than a fiver – I can’t really remember, it was so long ago.

It’s simple, not unique, and goes like this:
  1. I decide on The Single Most Important Thing that I should be working on.

  2. If it’s a small-ish task, figure out what completion means. If it’s a larger task, decide how long to spend working on it.

  3. Start the stopwatch and stop it each time I stop working on my identified task. I stop if for any kind of break or interruption, noting down start and stop times. The stopwatch forces me to focus on the task in hand.

  4. I can then either see how long its taken me to complete the task, or ensure I have spent the allotted time on the task. I can also see how much time went on other things. Some of those other things will be unavoidable and actually productive, but some will be time-wasting activities. Sometimes short breaks turn into long breaks, or other less than useful stuff creeps in.
My stopwatch makes me really aware of how I’m working.

I’ve used the technique for years. When I feel I’m not focusing I bring out the stopwatch and get my productivity soaring. I’ve written about it before in
Boosting Personal Productivity – A Quick Tip

It turns out that great minds (or undisciplined minds) think alike. A wonderful chap called Francesco Cirillo has written about his version at some length. He recommends working in 25 minute chunks on a planned task. He also recommends analysing the time spent on specific tasks. There is a wonderful paper to download which is very helpful and I recommend you take a look:

What is most wonderful is his timer: instead of my boring old stopwatch he has a bright red tomato timer that ticks away and encourages you on with your work. I would be shot if I tried that here – software development likes a quiet workplace – but in noisier offices or at home it would work a treat.

If anyone knows where to buy these beautiful Pomodoro timers – let me know. So red, so tomato shaped, and so much yummier than my stopwatch …


  1. This is such a good idea and, uncannily, as I was reading your post I came across this Pomodoro tool which helps you keep track of your 25 minute sections! Not quite the bright red tomato but a timer nonetheless.

  2. Isn't it wonderful? I had a look at your link and it seems others think its a great idea too. I'm not totatlly convinced that the on-screen version of the timer is for me, but some are more digital than others. Still hankering after that big fat red tomato! Have you tried the technique yet?