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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 otherwise...it 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

10 Answers 10

up vote 31 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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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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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

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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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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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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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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