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I just started using the Pomodoro Technique yesterday.

In my first few trials I've noticed that since this technique requires you to stop working at defined intervals, it can easily break your state of flow (Wikipedia).

This morning I was concentrating so well on my job, that when I got to the 25 minute Pomodoro timeout, I felt like I'd only worked 5 minutes. Then I had to stop.

Is this just my impression or does this technique really interrupt flow, ultimately reducing your productivity?

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After learning what the Pomodoro technique was, as a scientist I'm leaning towards it being utter bollocks for effectiveness until some evidence shows is sort of appalling how many fads occur in software engineering as opposed to other, more evidence based, engineering fields. Note : I mostly do software engineering so am well aware of issues in the field. – daaxix Apr 25 '14 at 5:13
@daaxix I don't need any "scientific evidence" before I try something that may help me. Even if such evidence existed, I would have to evaluate if the way the experiments were done is something I agree with. Then I would also have to research the company that did the study and find out if they had financial incentive to lie about the results. Even if it seems they did not, someone out there probably does have a financial incentive in that, so how do I know they did not pay someone to change the results? It is much easier just to try it out for myself and see if it is helpful for me personally. – still_dreaming_1 Aug 9 '15 at 3:53
@daaxix I'm a scientist too, which is why I tried the pomodoro method to find out if it works. I don't need a large sampled, controlled randomized study, because I don't need to know whether it works for everybody. I need to know whether it works for me. Which I can find out by comparing my productivity before starting it to my productivity afterwards. Also, for something that has existed for 25 years, "fad" is stretching it a bit. – Peter Aug 26 '15 at 15:07
Pomodoro Technique has one objetive: to help you focus when you become addicted to distractions or procratistantion. If you are able to "just go to work and flow" then let's do it. – borjab Aug 28 '15 at 15:45

11 Answers 11

up vote 34 down vote accepted

Based on the Wikipedia article you quoted:

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

  1. The pauses are supposed to keep you energized, so that you don't burn out from your work. These are useful to take a drink, free your mind from small things that came up during your work. Examples are putting tasks you came up with in your inbox of your GTD list or making a phone call with your wife, doing these small things in the 5 minutes will keep you energized and free from focus distractions.

  2. You achieve involvement by committing to the work you are planning to do in your Pomodoro.

  3. The Pomodoro Technique is supposed to help you towards success, by managing the flow of time.

Having no pauses at will demotivate you over time which will break down the flow you are trying to achieve.

If you feel like the Pomodoro Technique is breaking down your flow you might want to try with different amount of intervals. Try out different things like:

  • 35/5; sums up to 2 hours

  • 50/10; doubled the amounts, but I guess this is not reasonable to reach.

  • 45/15; downside is extra pause, but sums up to 1 hour

Part of your weekly review; see how it affect your flow in terms of focus, energy, involvement and success. This might get you intervals that work better for you after trying out different values. While 25/5 works for most people, some jobs might need a different intervals...

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It's also worth noting some individuals are more or less amenable to they Pomodoro Technique. For people who can get in/out of the work flow reasonably easy Pomodoro is excellent, but if you're someone who depends on outside things to inspire this work flow Pomodoro can be extremely disruptive. That said if you're giving Pomodoro a whirl expect some hit and miss in regards to getting into your groove until you adjust to what works for you. – RualStorge Nov 25 '14 at 22:22

I don't think the Pomodoro Technique is for everyone. It works really great for people who are trying to deal with constant external distractions or who are prone to procrastination (internal distractions). If you have no trouble getting into a flow state and staying focused on your work, then you might not need to use Pomodoro at all.

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I use the Pomodoro technique when coding and found that the 25 minutes was a bit short, so I doubled the times. I have a 50min working time and 10min break, I've found that gives me long enough to get in the flow, get some work done and then take a break. I know it's not the approved / text book approach... but my view is that it is only a technique and as such can, and should, be adapted to work for you.

I chose an hour because we bill hourly, so this fits nicely with how I work.

Each hour I get time to write code and time to write up what I've done or pause and consider whether what I'm doing is worthwhile. It has meant that when I've started down a given coding path I actually stop and reflect on that path... is it worth continuing or am I banging my head on the wall and trying to do something when there's an easier / better way to solve it.

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Your last paragraph is absolutely critical, in my experience. Being a rabid information-junkie, I'll frequently get lost out in the internet somewhere, digging deeper and deeper beyond some issue I had to look up (like programming reference). I often get swept out to the informational sea and never return. BUT, after implementing a break timer (through a program called WorkRave) that FORCES me to pause, it frequently helps me to get back on track by pausing and reflecting. Life-saving. – Coldblackice May 7 '13 at 11:42

As software developer I had similar problem.

But I solved this for me by just skipping couple breaks and moving forward until break I'd like to take.

For me interruption is small disadvantage of pomodoro technique, comparable to big advantage - getting into the flow with couple pomodoros.

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Other answers are really good, I just want to point out one truly important thing:

When you are too focused on a task you are following your path and you usually overlook other possibilities. When you break you have time to

  1. Rest your body from the (usually) sitting position
  2. Rest your eyes (truly important)
  3. Break from the work and flow you were in

When the brain is in the flow we follow a precise path, we simply don't see better alternatives in our work because our brain is focused. When I'm programming, pomodoro rings and I take a break. When I return from breaks I see many new possibilities in what minutes before seemed a single choice task. If you are following the wrong path, the break allows you to leave it (for a while) and when you are back to work it's easier to spot flaws in what you were doing and to choose a better path.

My experience with pomodoro technique is good, it got me doing way more work than before, also because it gave me the chance to correct mistakes in my flow.

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I like this one. It's important to be in the flow but it also really helps to step back from the flow every so often to "reset" and then see if any new different ideas come to mind about the challenge at hand... – rogerdpack Sep 4 '13 at 18:08

If you are doing something that gets you into the flow pomodoro breaks can indeed stop the flow. To work around this I generally use pomodoros just when I'm doing something that is somewhat unpleasant or uninteresting or when I'm finding it difficult to concentrate ie. when attaining the flow is very rare anyway. Those times pomodoros help because you know that you need to concentrate only for 25 minutes and after that you can let your mind rest among lolcats/tabloid news or whatever floats your boat.

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This is not 'bug' in the technique its a 'feature'. Mandatory breaks are there to break the habit of holding too much context in your head when you are working on a task. Holding too much context in your head prevents creativity( There is a research paper to this effect somewhere). You should practice doing work in small chunks.

Also mandatory breaks give you time to look at you work so far in a different perspective.

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I've modified the pomodoro technique to fit my needs. I usually do 2 or 3 pomodoros before taking a break to avoid messing up my flow. Usually 50 minutes to 75 minutes is about the maximum amount of time that I can focus before I lose concentration and need a break.

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I tried Pomodoro for maybe a month or so in the past, but went back. I think this might have one of the reasons. To mitigate this, you could think about the task during your break, which is what the later parts of the book suggests. The important thing it promotes is to take regular breaks.

I would still suggest you give it a try for at least a week or so to see what benefits it has.

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Among other things, flow is characterized by:

  1. Distorted or lost sense of time
  2. Lack of distractions or interruptions
  3. Dampened physiological drives (sleep/thirst/hunger)

Therefore, the pomodoro technique is theoretically incompatible with flow because:

  1. It brings back to us the sense of time.
  2. It keeps interrupting us
  3. It forces us to take breaks for food/water/rest.

Flow has negative connotations too, I believe. It can lead to tunnel vision or unhealthy perfectionism. The pomodoro technique might be good to counter these negative aspects, but in the process it destroys the flow... which may be good or bad depending on who you are and what you're doing.

For me it is always bad.

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The Pomodoro Technique will feel a little different for different people depending on their abilities and tendencies, the type of work they do, the environment they do the work in, and the level of experience and skill they have with this type of work.

The important thing is to understand the theory behind the technique, be disciplined about reading the entire official Pomodoro Technique book, be disciplined and patient about trying it their way for a time, and be determined to progressively achieving the different objectives laid out in the book. It is totally normal to feel the 25 minute session is too short when you are first trying out the technique. Actually, according to the book, they did experiments where they had groups change the length of the pomodoro based on the observed effects. Generally, teams started off with 1 hour pomodoros, then increased it to 2 hours, then down to 45 minutes, then 30 minutes.

You said yourself that you were concentrating really well and it felt like only 5 minutes went by. It sounds to me that rather than hindering you, the technique enabled you to have great flow and concentration during those 25 minutes, which is part of the reason for using the technique. The Pomodoro Technique has many elements that enable this. First off, you specifically chose your current task from a list of all tasks you were considering, so you should not be suffering from lingering doubts that you didn't really consider your options first. You know that you only need to concentrate on it for 25 minutes, thus enabling you to fully commit to that task instead of being afraid that you should perhaps switch to a different task at any moment. Then you wound up the timer, mentally solidifying your promise to yourself and your determination to stay focused on that task during the 25 minutes. Only after doing that, do you hear the continual ticking which reminds you that you are in the middle of a pomodoro. Knowing that you will only do that activity for 25 minutes before stopping encourages you to get something concrete completed during each 25 minute session.

Taking a short break at the end of the 25 minutes has numerous advantages. The most obvious is that it gives you a break so you don't burn out during and stop being productive in future pomodoros. But it also gives your subconscious a chance to process what you just did. This subconscious processing enhances learning, facilitating both short and long term learning and problem solving. Often, I find that it is not until I am on my break and not thinking about or working on the problem, that my subconscious mind causes me to have a seemingly random epiphany about a better way to approach the problem. Remember, you are not supposed to do anything mentally complex during your break. Including the break, each pomodoro is normally about 30 minutes long. This is a time boxing technique. When you write out activities in your "activity log" and in your "to do today" sheet, you estimate how many pomodoros each activity will take. By keeping each pomodoro a short 30 minutes, this helps you break up your activities into smaller chunks, which improves estimation by forcing you to think more deeply about what is exactly involved. After each pomodoro is finished, you have an opportunity to change directions, or work on something that you realize is more important. Knowing that you can do this every 30 minutes, takes away the urge to consider doing it during the 30 minutes, enabling higher productivity during the 25 minutes. If the pomodoros become longer, it becomes more difficult to push off both external and internal interruptions. If you tell someone you can get back to them in 30 minutes, this will be much more acceptable to them than a longer period of time. Keeping the length of the pomodoro short enough that it is almost always achievable enables a good rhythm, and enables you to make more accurate estimates the longer you use the Pomodoro Technique. Eventually, you basically know how many pomodoros you can successfully complete within a giver time period, and you get a sense of how many pomodoros different activities will take to complete. Once you get good at completing most of your pomodoros and at estimating, you can plan your day well, and feel really good about what you accomplish each day. Shorter pomodoros enable this.

If you feel it might be beneficial, you can alter the length of the pomodoro. If you do this, each pomodoro should be the same length. But the recommendation is to give the 30 minute pomodoro a good chance. If you do change the length, monitor the effect this has and be open to changing it again, monitoring the results with each change.

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I am downvoting this answer because 4 years after the question has been asked you write a wall of text that largely repeats what others have said already. There are some new insights in this answer but only those are worth adding. You may want to read all the other answers first and then edit your answer down to its essentials. – Jan Doggen Aug 25 '15 at 9:29
@JanDoggen Basically you are saying that this is the only answer that incorporates all of the really important points into a single answer and goes a step further by adding new insights. Eventually it may get voted up toward the top, in which case having all the relevant information in a single answer will be helpful. – still_dreaming_1 Aug 25 '15 at 15:42
@JanDoggen Yes, it is a long answer, some things need time to explain and frame, and there are many points made here, it is not just fluff. Yes, it has been 4 years since the question was asked. But answering these questions is not just about helping the original person who asked it. Others may have the same question or benefit from a good answer. I did read the other answers before answering. I felt all of them indicated they only understood certain aspects of the Pomodoro Technique, and therefore failed to provide an answer that frames a mindset that fully overcomes the original concern. – still_dreaming_1 Aug 25 '15 at 15:45

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