The Problem with The Pomodoro Technique

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.