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The simple productivity hack that started with a tomato

The simple productivity hack that started with a tomato

By: James Wondrasek / March 18, 2022

It wasn’t a real tomato. It was a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato. Very kitsch, but it was the 80s after all. This hack was created by Francesco Cirillo when he was a university student.

When you are a university student, and when you’re working, and even in your personal life, you are often faced with huge projects: studying for an exam, completing an end of year report, renovating a house. These can be so daunting that working on them can be difficult to face.

Francesco’s key insight was to break the bigger project into 25 minute blocks. And each 25 minute block, to stave off boredom, is followed by a 5 minute break. This is what he called the Pomodoro Technique. Because he’s Italian and pomodoro is Italian for tomato. Like the timer.

It works because a few weeks of hard work, or even months of hard work, is challenging. But 25 minutes? You can do that. Even if the work is tedious and boring you know you can do it for 25 minutes. 25 minutes of effort and then you have a little reward – a 5 minute break where you can check your phone, walk around, get snacks – whatever!

Of course it can be used on projects of any size. This article is being written using the Pomodoro Technique.

The 6 steps of the Pomodoro Technique

There is a little more to the Pomodoro Technique. For example, after four rounds, or four pomodoros, you get a longer break. Here are the 6 steps to the technique:

  1. Pick a task to do.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  3. Start working.
  4. Stop working when the timer rings and take a 5 minute break.
  5. If you’ve completed less than three pomodoros, go back to Step 2.
  6. Done three pomodoros? Do a fourth pomodoro and take a 20 minute break. Then go back to step 2 (or 1 if you need something new to work on).

That’s all there is to it. Tweak the numbers to make the system work for you. Take longer breaks. Work 20 minutes instead of 25. Or work 30. It’s up to you. No numbers are set in stone.

Why it works

The technique is surprisingly effective. That effectiveness comes from making it easier to face large tasks and the power of short breaks.

Most people try to be productive by working non-stop. But it turns out that taking regular short breaks helps us stay focused for longer. Then the longer breaks after four pomodoros allow us to recharge and refuel for the next session.

Start using the Pomodoro Technique right now

You don’t need a timer in the shape of a tomato. Any timer will do, including the one on your phone.

Start that big project with one small step of 25 minutes. It’ll be your first step towards successfully finishing it.


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