A Tomato and PhD Productivity: Using Pomodoro Technique to Increase Focus

I suspect that many of you have heard of the Pomodoro Technique. The premise is simple if you have not. You perform twenty-five minutes of concentrated work and then break for five minutes. You then take a longer fifteen-minute break after going through this routine for roughly four cycles.


Pomodoro Timer (Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The program supposedly originates from scientific research; apparently twenty-five minutes is the maximum amount of time most people can concentrate on any given task. By separating work into twenty-five minute intervals, followers of the technique are able to keep their minds fresh and thereby increase their overall productivity.

(The name originates from the tomato-shaped kitchen time that Francesco Cirillo, the technique’s creator, used as a college student in the 1980’s. Yea, long story. See the link below for more information.)

I heard about Pomodoro from a university lecture on productivity and decided to give it a go in the writing of my thesis. Here is what I found. Perhaps what I say can help other writers:

  • Take the break even when you do not feel like it. There were times when I felt like pressing on with my work even though the timer was telling me that I should take the requisite break. I discovered, though, that if I did break as required that I could on the whole be more productive. On the days that I did not break I ended up burning out a little too early.
  • You will be surprised how rested you will feel at the end of the day. On the days in which I tried Pomodoro I left the office feeling as though I had not really “been at work.” The day seemed to go by quicker. My mind truly felt clearer.
  • It will make you feel less guilty.  Like everyone else, I struggle when I work on my laptop. The Internet is a constant temptation. Social media, blogs, email, and the news all tempt. The the smallest moment of frustration with my thesis can cause me to veer off into the unproductive world of the web. Though I eventually recover, the detour wastes time. I then feel guilty. Pomodoro simply gave me a tool that I could use to measure my use of time, and this fact made me feel strangely liberated. I still made use of the internet, but I only did so during the scheduled breaks. I no longer left the office worried that I had spent too much time away from my thesis. My overly active Southern conscience was satisfied. 

What tools to you use to stay on task? Do you use the Pomodoro Technique? If so, how do you find it?

For those interested in more information, you can see these resources:

1). The app I use on my Mac and iOS devices as a Pomodoro timer: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/be-focused-pro-focus-timer/id961632517?mt=12

2) Official website: http://pomodorotechnique.com

About David Rathel

Husband to April; Baptist Minister; Student at St. Mary's Divinity School at the University of St. Andrews
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4 Responses to A Tomato and PhD Productivity: Using Pomodoro Technique to Increase Focus

  1. David, I’ve never heard of this, but some of the things you mentioned are things I struggle with as well. Feeling guilty about the day because I feel (which is extremely subjective) that I didn’t use all the time faithfully.

    This seems like a good tool to judge the day, keep myself tasked and my mind free.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Back to School: Apps to Help You Work Well (Part 2) | David Rathel's Research Page

  3. Rickie Wilson says:

    I’m going to try this out and see if it helps me too.


  4. I have been surprised at how much more productive I am in my studies using the Pomodoro method. It seems to really help keep me focused knowing that a break is coming. I don’t day dream or get distracted with other To Do list items. Thanks for sharing David!

    Liked by 1 person

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