Why the Pomodoro Technique Didn’t Work for Me [Pomodoro Series: Part One]

Everyone’s heard of the Pomodoro Technique by now, right? RIGHT?

I wanted to continue our discussion on using our time wisely, and I wanted to talk a little bit about the Pomodoro Technique because it is an important tool for task management big and small.

I have to tell you that the moment I heard of this, I immediately loved the idea and could see the many applications of it. For some reason, I kept coming back to it over and over again but could never make it work.

What is the Pomodoro Technique you ask?

So the Pomodoro technique is something invented in the 1980’s. If you were wondering, Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato and the inventor called it that because he was using a mechanical kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato to time his progress.

In the traditional Pomodoro method, you use a 5 to 1 ratio–usually 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off–to time your work periods. Using a mechanical kitchen timer, the inventor decided that he was going to work intensely on something for 25 minutes, and then take a short break. He’d get back into it, doing sets of 25 on, 5 off, until he’d completed four of these timed sets. Then at the end of the fourth set, he’d take a longer 15-30 minute break. This whole cycle is called a Pomodoro.

I made a fun little 5:1 chart for you to kind of break down the process.


Okay, that’s cool, but why is something like that supposed to work?

The Pomodoro technique can increase intense focus, and keeps you working in short sprints to ensure you are consistently productive throughout the entire day. You can still take short breaks, get up and use the bathroom, go grab some more coffee, and these mini-breaks will help you to avoid burnout.

Are you a procrastinator? Trick your brain into doing just a little work, for a very short amount of time. 

The Pomodoro technique can help you minimize fatigue inside an office setting by not sitting too long, and outside an office setting by not standing too long.

With the Pomodoro technique, you can manage your time better and actually get more work done, despite the breaks. It’s easy to implement, all you need is a clock or a timer, and it’s simple to integrate with other productivity tools and to-do lists. I think you can see why this really appealed to me.

So why couldn’t I make it work for me? So many reasons.

The first time I tried it, I was trying to do too much. I couldn’t figure out how to portion my day into these small, 25 minute chunks.

Then I went out to the store and bought some mechanical timers, thinking the clicking and ticking noise would be the key to help me to focus during the allotted time. Still, I could not portion my work into small chunks. I would get to the end of the 25 minutes, forget about the timer and keep working, then get distracted by something, and the timer sat unused on my desk until I dragged myself out of whatever weird research hole I had fallen into several hours later.

I broke a timer once. Did I mention that? Because that seriously didn’t help at all.

Like I said, I tried it many times and kept coming back to it over and over with bad results. I tried several proportions, but the proportions were all off. I found that something that worked for my day job didn’t work at home or on the weekends. 

What I really wanted was one set time that buttoned up my day really nicely.

At some point, I had to do some serious thinking.

I knew I liked the Pomodoro idea and kept coming back to it over and over, so it was pretty obvious that I needed it in my life. I utterly failed at putting it into action, but why that was, I hadn’t a clue. I thought long and hard about how to make it work, and realized something that was the true key for me. I was trying to force my time management into a tidy little box that had a precise size and shape, instead of creating this box around my own time. 

I naturally work for about 40 minutes at a time. On so many occasions I have sat at my desk typing away for 35-40 minute intervals. If I try to push past the 40-minute mark, I typically lose focus, but I can generally get in a fair amount of work in about 40 minutes worth of time.

Something else I know about myself is that I get restless if I want to work but am not working for more than 5 minutes at a time. 5 minutes is plenty of time for me to take that bathroom break, get some more water, stretch, or go check the mail. Any more than that, and I get anxious about getting back to working.

In order to keep my productivity over 9000, I had to adapt the Pomodoro Technique.

Find out how I did that in Part Two of the Pomodoro Series, coming to you next month!

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