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The Pomodoro Technique - How to use it effectively as a programmer

What is Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. It uses a timer to break work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Each interval is known as a "pomodoro", from the Italian word for 'tomato', inspired by the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo used as a university student. This technique encourages individuals to work with the time they have—rather than against it. By integrating frequent short breaks, it aims to ensure consistent productivity and prevent mental fatigue.


  • Set up your programming environment before starting the timer. This includes opening necessary files, setting up your IDE, and having a clear task list or backlog of programming tasks ready.
  • Choose a task or a set of related tasks that you can work on during a single Pomodoro session.

Pomodoro Sessions (25 minutes):

  • Start a Pomodoro timer for 25 minutes.
  • Focus solely on programming tasks during this time. Avoid distractions like social media, emails, or casual browsing.
  • If a distraction or a new task comes up, jot it down on a piece of paper and continue with your current task.

Short Break (5 minutes):

  • After 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break. This is crucial for mental relaxation.
  • During the break, stand up, stretch, grab a drink, or do something non-work related to reset your mind.

Long Break (after 4 Pomodoros):

  • After completing four Pomodoro sessions, take a longer break, around 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Use this time to completely step away from your work. This could involve a short walk, a light snack, or a relaxing activity.


  • At the end of the day, spend a few minutes reflecting on what you've accomplished and what can be improved in your process.

Task Management:

  • Adjust tasks based on their complexity. Some tasks may require more than one Pomodoro. Break down larger tasks into smaller, manageable chunks.

Dealing with Complex Problems:

  • For complex programming problems, use one Pomodoro to plan your approach and subsequent sessions to execute it.

Consider adopting the Pomodoro Technique if you:

  • If minor distractions frequently disrupt your workday.
  • If you tend to work beyond the point of optimal productivity.
  • If you engage in open-ended tasks, like studying for exams or researching for blog posts, that can consume unlimited time.
  • If you're overly optimistic about your daily productivity capacity.
  • If you enjoy setting goals in a fun, game-like way.

The Effectiveness of the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique, often perceived as whimsical due to its use of a tomato (Pomodoro in Italian) as a symbol for time intervals, stands out for its remarkable efficacy in enhancing productivity. Here's an exploration of what makes this method uniquely adept at improving work efficiency:

Facilitating a Simple Start

Procrastination, contrary to popular belief, is less about laziness and more about avoiding negative emotions associated with daunting tasks. Facing a large, uncertain project can be overwhelming, leading many to seek temporary mood boosts through distractions like social media or streaming services.

However, research suggests that breaking down these overwhelming tasks into tiny, non-intimidating steps is an effective way to combat procrastination. For instance, rather than attempting to write a novel in one go, starting with just five minutes of writing, or even editing a single paragraph, can be less daunting. This approach of taking small steps for a short duration makes it easier to tackle a larger project.

This is where the Pomodoro Technique shines. It encourages breaking down large tasks or projects into 25-minute segments. This focus on short-term goals keeps you centered on the immediate task rather than being overwhelmed by the entire project. The key is not to worry about the final outcome but to progress one Pomodoro at a time.

Counteracting Distractions

In our information-saturated world, distractions are a constant challenge. Interruptions, especially during a state of flow, can significantly hinder the regaining of focus. Surprisingly, studies have shown that more than half of all workday distractions are self-imposed, often justified as necessary or minor.

Yet, these seemingly small interruptions accumulate, affecting not just the time lost to the distraction but also the time needed to refocus. For example, a quick glance at Facebook can lead to a 20-minute effort to refocus on the original task.

The Pomodoro Technique addresses this by helping you resist self-interruptions and retraining your brain to maintain focus. Each Pomodoro is dedicated to a single task, with breaks serving as opportunities to reset and refocus your attention on the task at hand. This structured approach significantly minimizes the impact of both external and internal distractions, leading to more productive work sessions.

The Pomodoro Technique helps combat the planning fallacy, where we underestimate the time needed for future tasks. By working in short, timed sessions, time transforms from an abstract concept to a tangible unit, called a "pomodoro." Each pomodoro is a focused effort on a task, changing how we perceive time. Instead of seeing time as something lost, it becomes a positive measure of accomplished tasks.

This method alters our perception of time, making it a precise productivity measure, leading to more realistic time estimates. Using the Pomodoro technique, you gain a clear understanding of your time and efforts, improving your ability to plan and assess tasks. Over time, this allows for more accurate task estimation and the development of consistent work habits.

Turning Productivity into a Game

The Pomodoro Technique offers a chance for continuous improvement with each session. As Cirillo suggests, gaining speed in your tasks comes from enhanced concentration and awareness, achieved one pomodoro at a time.

This method is effective because it emphasizes regularity over flawlessness. Every pomodoro is a new opportunity to assess your objectives, sharpen your focus, and minimize interruptions. It's a flexible system that you can tailor to your needs.

To keep yourself motivated, try gradually increasing your daily pomodoro count. Set challenges, like completing a major task within a specific number of pomodoros, or aim for a certain number of pomodoros each day to maintain a streak. Viewing time management through the lens of 'tomatoes' rather than hours adds an element of enjoyment to the process.

Alternatives to the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique, which involves focused work sessions interspersed with short breaks, is popular among programmers, but there are several alternative methods that can also be effective. Here are some alternatives to consider:

  1. Flow Time Technique: Inspired by the concept of 'flow' in psychology, this method involves working in natural cycles of concentration and rest. Programmers work until they feel a decrease in focus, then take a short break. This technique is more flexible than the Pomodoro and aligns with the natural attention span.

  2. Time Blocking: This involves allocating specific blocks of time to different tasks or types of work. For instance, a programmer might block out a morning for deep work (like coding) and afternoons for meetings and emails. This helps in managing the day more effectively.

  3. The 52-17 Method: Similar to Pomodoro but with longer intervals. You work for 52 minutes and then take a 17-minute break. This longer period can be more suitable for tasks that require deep concentration, like programming.

  4. Eisenhower Matrix: Not a time management technique per se, but a prioritization tool. Tasks are divided into four categories: urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and neither urgent nor important. This helps in focusing on what really matters.

  5. GTD (Getting Things Done): A holistic approach to productivity that involves capturing all the tasks you need to accomplish in a trusted system, then organizing and prioritizing these tasks. This can help programmers manage complex projects and multitasking more efficiently.

  6. The 90-Minute Focus Session: Based on the idea that the brain naturally goes through a rest-activity cycle every 90 minutes. Programmers work for 90 minutes followed by a significant break. This can be especially useful for long, uninterrupted coding sessions.

  7. Ultradian Rhythms Management: Similar to the 90-minute focus session, this method is based on the body's natural rhythms. It suggests working in tandem with these rhythms (usually 90-120 minutes of work followed by a break) to maximize productivity and maintain energy levels.

  8. The Two-Minute Rule: A part of the GTD methodology, where if a task can be done in two minutes or less, do it immediately. This is useful for small coding tweaks or quick email responses, preventing small tasks from piling up.

  9. Must, Should, Want Method: A prioritization technique where tasks are categorized into what you must do, should do, and want to do. This helps in balancing urgent tasks with long-term projects and personal development.

  10. Custom Hybrid Methods: Many programmers create their own hybrid productivity methods, combining elements from different techniques to best suit their workflow, project needs, and personal preferences.

Each of these techniques has its advantages and can be adapted to the unique workflow of individual programmers. Experimenting with different methods can help in finding the one that best enhances productivity and work satisfaction.

Top comments (9)

firststeptechnology profile image
Makita Tunsill

Nice article. I'm really feeling the alternative options that you mentioned. Thanks for sharing

eneaslari profile image

Personally I like pomodoro. But I can try one of the alternatives and write my experience using them. Thank you for your feedback

ignace profile image
Ignace Maes • Edited

Pomodoro timers are a great way to keep focus!

I recently created a web based app myself at, as a simple and pleasant way to track pomodoro timings. Feel free to give it a try :)

gulabsagevadiya profile image
Gulab Sagevadiya

From my experience i found pomodoro is worst for me as programming tasks.

I like flow time technique more suitable for me.

foxycoder123 profile image
Shiva R

Excellent information, I will definitely experiment with alternative methods😁

m0n0x41d profile image
Ivan Zakutnii

Default pomodoro is not working for me. Regular 5-minutes breaks is too long. It almost always takes around 20 minutes for human brain to transition from fast to slow thinking, especially when tackling a new problem.

A 5-minute break is sufficient to cause significant distraction, requiring much more time to fully re-immerse myself in the context of the current problem. The longer the break, the more time it takes to switch back to slow thinking.

However, it is detrimental to not take breaks, especially for the eyes. The 20-20-20 technique works much better for me than the default Pomodoro method.

The 20-20-20 approach involves 20 minutes of focused work, followed by a 20-second break for eyes exercises, and then another 20 minutes of concentrated work.

Of course, during these 20 minutes of work, it's crucial to avoid any distractions to achieve maximum productivity.

If you possess sufficient self-control, discipline, and reflection, these 20-20-20 intervals become an excellent tool for managing your time and effort.

By incorporating 20-second breaks for eye exercises, you can maintain your "slow focus," and your eyes will feel significantly better from the very first day.

With self-reflection, you can intuitively discern when it's time to take a more extended break, stretch your neck and legs, switching back to fast thinking and let "background brain" solving problem. You all know that feeling – like brains are leaking out of ears. Time to move! :D

The frequency of these longer breaks depends on the complexity of the problem, but it's always beneficial to take a few minutes break at least once every 1.5-2 hours.

Take care.

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