(Pomodoros have been talked about a bunch on LW. I, like elharo, first started using the technique after attending a CFAR workshop. Cross-posted from my blog.)

The pomodoro technique is, in short, starting a timer and doing 25 minutes of focused work on a single task without interruption, followed by a five minute break. Choose a new task, restart the timer, and repeat.

Throughout 2013 I used pomodoros to execute on pretty much all of my life projects, organized into the following categories:

  • work – at MIRI
  • bizdev – other income-generating projects
  • growth – personal development projects (e.g. reading books, taking notes, making Anki decks; monthly reviews)
  • misc – miscellaneous life maintenance projects (e.g. banking stuff, knocking off a bunch of small todo’s, house cleanup)
  • health – exercise projects (mostly climbing, some running, some misc other stuff)

The Result: 5,008 Pomodoros

The end result was 2,504 hours of recorded work—5,008 pomodoros in total: 

Stacked Pomodoros by Week in 2013


A summary, by category (with hours in brackets):

  • work – 2,457 (1,228.5h) – 47.3 (23.7h) avg/week
  • bizdev – 700 (350h) – 13.5 (6.7h) avg/week
  • growth – 996 (498h) – 19.2 (9.6h) avg/week
  • misc – 448 (224h) – 8.6 (4.3h) avg/week
  • health – 407 (203.5h) – 7.8 (3.9h) avg/week

Grand Total: 5,008 (2,504h) – 96.3 (48.2h) avg/week

My version of the pomodoro technique

To be clear, I didn’t use the pomodoro technique 100% faithfully. Certain things here, such as most Health (exercise) stuff, I never actually ran a pomodoro timer. But since I had a system for tracking where and how I spent my time, and since “claiming” all that time helped motivate me e.g. to climb regularly, I included them.

Ways I deviate from the “true” pomodoro technique:

  • I don’t always take breaks. For example, if I do two pomodoros, get in the zone, and work for another two hours straight, I’d still record that as 6 pomodoros (3 hours) total.
  • I don’t always use a timer. Sometimes I just start working, remembering to take small intermittent breaks, and record the total time in pomodoros (4h of work = 8 pomodoros).
  • I don’t record interruptions. You’re supposed to track all internal and external interruptions, but I don’t bother with that. I merely try remain conscious of interruptions and eliminate/avoid them as much as possible.
  • I don’t let interruptions cancel out pomodoros. Let’s say I work for fifteen minutes and someone comes in to chat about something important that’s been on their mind. I know that “a pomodoro is indivisible”, but screw it, I chat, and when the conversation ends I count a pomodoro after ten more minutes of work. Pomodoro blasphemy? Maybe.
  • I don’t always set targets. I don’t constantly set detailed pomodoro targets and track how many pomodoros were actually required. I only do this occasionally if I think my estimating ability is getting really off. I do set weekly pomodoro targets by category.

How did I track?

Near the end of 2012 I whipped up a simple web app that I use for tracking all of my pomodoros. Here’s a sample screenshot from a week from earlier this year:


Every pomodoro added is given a description, project, major area, and count. This way I can view all pomodoros by project, area, over a given date range, etc. (I’m pretty sure there are other apps out there that let you do basically the same thing, but I haven’t taken much time to explore them.)

Why I think it’s worked really well for me

Of all the productivity hacks I’ve tried over the last decade, the pomodoro technique was, for me, the hands-down most effective technique. My thoughts on why the pomodoro technique has worked so well for me:

  • It helps you start – start the timer and then just start working. You’ve already decided what to work on, so just start already.
  • It helps you focus on one thing at a time – work on only one thing and ignore everything else.
  • It helps you prioritize – look at your lists/projects/tasks/whatever, pick the most important thing to work on, and then just start already.
  • It helps create success spirals – when you have 5 successful pomodoros under your belt, it’s motivation to keep going.

In summary, if you haven’t yet, I highly recommend giving the pomodoro technique a try.

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20 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 5:15 AM

Reports of productivity techniques working past the honeymoon period are very valuable. Thank you for posting this.

As are reports of them not working past the honeymoon period. Perhaps, even more so.

Thanks for the encouragement. :-)

I wonder if the extra energy from the honeymoon-effect could be utilized better to make habits more permanent. Many techniques work just fine but people stop using them for whatever reason.

You can look into the lessons in The Power of Habit and think more about the cues that trigger the habit routine and the rewards that follow it and strengthen the habit.

Pomodoros have the obvious cue of needing to get some work done. I guess the simple feeling of accomplishment from a successful pomodoro could serve as the reward. Maybe more explicit thinking about each could help make the habit stronger.


I've been meaning to check this out. Thanks for the reminder.

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How do you not get fatigued with recording things?

What are your recommendations for amount of structure before you incorporate pomodoros? Is there any structural/organizational stuff you should have set up before you do them?

How do you not get fatigued with recording things?

I'm actually a bit surprised that I was able to maintain my recording for over a year. Some reasons why I think I was successful in hindsight:

  1. Since I made the tracking app myself, I was excited to use it for the first little bit.
  2. I intentionally made my tracking app such that I could see my daily, weekly, and category totals, all at once for a given week, which is important for me since my primarily unit of productivity measurement/planning is the week.
  3. I came to realize that tracking all of the categories was key to the whole thing working. By tracking e.g. miscellaneous stuff (which seems pretty pointless at times), you're given a constant reminder that you are "covering all your bases."
  4. After tracking pomodoros for several months, not tracking pomodoros made it feel like I wasn't being productive.
  5. Once I passed a critical threshold, I was motivated by the thought of having an entire year's worth of data.

What are your recommendations for amount of structure before you incorporate pomodoros? Is there any structural/organizational stuff you should have set up before you do them?

You need basically zero structure to start using pomodoros; just a task and some time to work on it. (I say this especially because I'm really bad for wanting my system to be "perfect" before I use it.) I treaded the pomodoro waters for several months before delving in to tracking everything. My organization system, in short, is having a +/-5 year plan, a current year plan, and current quarter plan, and current month plan, and then specific tasks/projects for the current week (which I roughly estimate in pomodoros, or at least aim to hit a certain total for the week).

Thanks for posting this. It's nice to see how techniques like this work out in practice for people.

Also, that's a sweet looking web app!

Real artists ship.

Possibly the best part about the web app. Despite the fact that the app looks more useful than any of the pomodoro apps I've seen before.

Real artists ship

Apparently attributed to Steve Jobs, though it was Seth Godin's book Linchpin that drove this point home for me.

Do you have reservations about making that app you use for tracking available so that others can be spared the trouble of having to find one?

Unfortunately, the app is in extremely alpha stages, running locally, and I doubt I'll prioritize it over other projects.

Just release it as what it is now. Pretty please.

Looks like there are a ton of pomodoro android apps.

Anyone got one with tasks, categories, and analytics?

Pomodoro Calendar has this, if I understand you correctly.

I just started using Pomodoro yesterday. I'll report back when I have more perspective. Thanks for the write-up of your approach!

Trivia: Plural of Pomodoro is Pomodori.