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Short breaks are definitely beneficial when I'm leaning on Pomodoro to keep me motivated for a task. But what if I'm highly engaged in the problem I'm attacking? Will pacing myself with 5 minute breaks help me marathon longer? Or are they unnecessary?

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I have always been of the opinion that the majority of these systems are not concrete, and you are able to adapt them to your needs.

The Pomodoro technique in my opinion is designed to help you focus, with the concept that short bursts help you concentrate on your tasks. This is done by allowing you to break tasks into smaller components and less time, thus allowing you to break the cycle of long tedious tasks.

However as I mentioned in my opinion this should not be concrete, if you start off with a task which initially you set for 20/25 minutes, and you can focus more, then you should keep going. Remember it is all about getting you to focus and when you do keep the focus if you can. Give it a go and see how it works out, increase you task interval time.

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The Pomodoro technique is based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility. Given the definition of it, you should be strict about taking your breaks when you're supposed to and focus on your work the remaining time.

I am unaware of any scientific findings that recommend such regular breaks based on a timer. What I do know however, is that breaking when into "flow" (similar to what you call "highly engaged") will require up to 40 minutes to get back to that highly efficient state. If you work with 25 minute pomodori, that means you are unlikely to experience "flow".

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so, assuming that getting into "flow" is in general a good thing and beneficial to the work and its quality, I would conclude from your answer that it is better to skip a break, as long as you are focused and ready to continue working. I've done that myself when using Pomodoro technique, as I usually need it (as described in Jay's answer) to stay focused in face of distractions, and I generally found it positive so stay working longer (and then after the prolonged work time take a longer break as a reward) –  Martin Sep 8 '13 at 21:09
    
@Martin: Yes, that's correct. But it's a violation of the Pomodoro rules. (That's why I'm quite skeptical about Pomodoro.) –  Gruber Sep 9 '13 at 5:43
    
@Gruber, I agree with Martin. If you are deeply engaged into some task and you are still focused, it's better to stay on task. I do this while designing software. When I am completely engaged into a system, visualizing the design and flow, I do not take break until I feel exhausted. But for other general tasks, like checking emails, creating or reading documents etc., I take breaks after 25 minutes. –  matrix Sep 13 '13 at 18:33

My rule of thumb is that when talking about productivity systems, the key term is PRODUCTIVITY, not SYSTEMS. Getting bogged down in the details of the system to the detriment of PRODUCTIVITY is just as effective as not using a system at all. Nothing in the world is black and white. I use pomodoro to break up tasks, but I've also been known to hunker down and work for six hours straight because I just figured out a better way to to something and wanted to get it all down before I lost it. I'm not going to beat myself up because I missed a few breaks, because my OUTPUT was so important. Take what you like from these systems, leave what you don't, learn about your personal working style, and be ready to adapt and change on a dime. That's where true productivity can come out of these systems.

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