Who has never heard of the Pomodoro technique? Invented by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, it quickly became popular because it’s simple, brings visible results, and doesn’t require more than just a timer and a piece of paper. But it looks like now we finally have scientific proof of why the Pomodoro timer helps us boost our efficiency. Recent studies show that the succession of “work and short pause” cycles is the natural way for a human body to maintain focus.
Quick reminder: What is the Pomodoro Technique?
Whether you use Pomodoro in old-school “timer and paper” format or via multiple web and mobile apps, the rules are the same:
- Decide what task you need to get done.
- Set the timer to 25 minutes — the Pomodoro interval.
- Work on your task.
- Stop working when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
- Take a short (3–5 minutes) break.
- After four 25-minute pomodoros, take a longer (20–30 minutes) break, and go to step 1.
The power of these time management tips is clearly structured work and rest time that boosts productivity and helps keep energy levels up. Work divided in short sprints stimulates focus — because you just don’t have time for distractions. Regular short breaks energize the brain and allow it to recharge.
Pomodoro timer and natural body cycles
According to recent studies, our body and brain are designed to work in pulse and pause cycles. After a period of hard work and full concentration, focus and energy degrade. Psychological tiredness that appears as a result is the body’s signal that it needs some rest.
Ignoring this signal or overriding it with coffee and energy drinks is what we usually do — but this drains our physical and mental resources, opening the way to fatigue and burnout. That’s why structuring our work in short sprints of active work followed by several minutes of rest naturally maintains physical and mental energy levels, allowing us to accomplish more.
According to Tony Schwartz, the founder of The Energy Project, the natural duration of the human energy cycle equals 90 minutes. In this interval, we move from perfect concentration and full energy to psychological fatigue. Schwartz sees an opportunity for workflow optimization in adapting our work cycles to the 90-minute body cycles. He calls this approach “pulse and pause”. Others limit this active period to 52 and even 25 minutes. Just like in sport, you can start with a shorter period and slowly grow it up when you feel you can maintain your full focus longer.
But don’t miss the moment to take a pause and recharge your body and mind. As surprisingly as it can sound, taking more breaks is an efficient method to get more work done. Adapting daily routines to the natural body cycles instead of overriding and breaking them is an easy and natural way to increase productivity and improve performance.
And that’s exactly the principle of the Pomodoro technique.
Pomodoro and creativity
These patterns of work manifest even brighter when it comes to creative tasks that require constant decision-making. The most challenged part of the brain of creative workers is prefrontal cortex, the “thinking” section responsible for concentration, logical thinking, and decision making. Its work involves a lot of responsibility and focuses on the end result, so no wonder it gets depleted. That’s why creative workers, such as writers, developers, designers, etc., being overwhelmed with information and facing distraction challenges, often suffer from willpower issues and experience decision fatigue.
How can Pomodoro technique help fix that? It creates healthy and productive work cycles that prevent willpower depletion, helps handle distractions, and allow to find the creative flow that is necessary to accomplish work tasks.
Short work periods increase focus and make efforts more targeted to the final result. They also prevent the brain from distracting: knowing that there’s not much time ahead, it’s easier to focus on work instead of browsing the web, chatting with colleagues, etc.
Breaks recharge the brain and help find better solutions for work tasks. Switching off from work frees up brain resources for finding better solutions and boosts inspiration. It also helps see the task in a new way — and find a better approach to it.
What to do during a break?
First of all, remember: a break is intended to disconnect from work, not to switch tasks. So starting another work assignment is probably not the right choice for a break. Avoid performing any work during your breaks, as this ruins the very idea of following “pulse and pause” body cycles.
What to do instead? In fact, there are so many options. Here are some ideas for the short 3–5 minute breaks that you can find useful:
- Stretch, breathe and relax — yes, that simple! Reclaim your energy and emotional calmness.
- Meditate or listen to music. This process combines relaxation with emotional work, which helps protect emotional health and improve overall wellbeing.
- Go for a short walk. Movement helps your brain recharge and switch off from the task you’ve been working on.
- Grab a coffee. However, remember that consuming coffee after 3 PM can affect your sleep cycles and make it harder to stick to your schedule.
- Chat with colleagues. It helps change the perspective and look at your tasks in a new way.
As for longer breaks, other helpful options are possible:
- Exercise. Sitting is the new smoking, as researchers say: it undermines physical health and creates attitude and motivation issues. That’s why walking, stretching, yoga or any physical activity of your preference is a good choice for a break.
- Grab a lunch. There’s no need to mention how healthy food charges our mind and prevents fatigue, so why not combine walking and having a healthy lunch?
- Exercise your eyes. Do some eye exercises that work for you, dim lights, reduce screen glare — and try to not use your smartphone during a break!
- Try power nap. Napping at the workplace can be not welcomed everywhere, but if your workplace allows that, use this method to regain energy and focus.
As we see, techniques based on the natural pulse and pause cycle such as Pomodoro create a healthy work process and improve productivity. Consider implementing them in your daily routine, and watch your performance grow. Managers and HRs who would like to improve teams’ productivity (because who wouldn’t!) can help their teams use this technique by welcoming short breaks, organizing pauses for chatting and relaxing, or creating a space for physical exercises in the office.