How To Use The Pomodoro Technique To Crush Your To-Do List

The Pomodoro technique is a time management strategy.

Francesci Cirillo developed it in the ’80s to help him study.

Francesco used a retro tomato-shaped kitchen timer when he started this technique.  The word ‘Pomodoro means tomato in Italian.  That’s how the Pomodoro Technique was born. 

The Pomodoro Technique is very underrated compared to other time management techniques–like time blocking–that have become more popular in recent years.

This article will explain what the Pomodoro Technique is, how to use it, and give you a free downloadable Pomodoro Technique PDF for you to try yourself!

The Pomodoro Technique infographic
The Pomodoro Technique Infographic

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How I Found The Pomodoro Technique 

I heard about the Pomodoro Technique while listening to The Blogging Millionaire podcast, hosted by Brandon Gaille.  He also wrote about it in his post “11 Ways To Be More Productive.” 

At the time I didn’t think much of it, because I am a big fan of time blocking, and it works well for me.  

That being said, as a new mom who is juggling MANY hats, I am always looking for ways to maximize my time and boost my productivity.  

I find myself constantly checking my phone for emails, texts, and notifications. 

I decided that I needed to train myself not to get distracted by them.  

I remembered Brandon mentioned eliminating distractions as one of the main benefits of the Pomodoro Technique, so I decided to investigate it further.

Who Can Use The Pomodoro Technique?

Technically: anyone.  

In reality, the Pomodoro Technique will not work well for those who work on a set schedule like me (teachers, doctors, appointment-based services, etc.) 

The Pomodoro Technique will work for people who have to manage their own time.

Despite the Pomodoro Technique not working with my 43-minute period schedule at school, I decided to give it a try on the weekends to see if I would be able to accomplish more tasks over the weekend without spending more time doing it.  

Understanding The Pomodoro Technique

The Cycle

This is how to use the Pomodoro Technique.

The cycle is 4 Pomodoros followed by 1 long break.  

A Pomodoro consists of 1 focused work session for 25 minutes, and a short 5-10 minute break.  

After your 4th Pomodoro, you take a longer 25-30 minute break.  

A full Pomodoro cycle is about 2 hours long.  

ipad on desk with the pomodoro technique printable planner
Free How To Use The Pomodoro Technique Template Download

Pomodoro Technique Focused Work Sessions vs. Short Breaks

Focused Work Sessions

During a focused work session, you should only be doing the tasks assigned to that Pomodoro.  

That means, if your task is to answer emails, you should only be answering emails.

Do not get distracted with things like answering the phone, answering text messages, online shopping, browsing social media, etc.

I would avoid tasks like using the restroom or getting a drink or snack until you are ‘on a break.’

What is really great about the Pomodoro Technique is that each focused work session is only 25 minutes long, so it is easy to block out distractions knowing you will be able to ‘give in’ to them during your break.  

If you are still tempted by your phone, turn it upside down, or put it on another table.

Pro Tip: You can turn your phone on do-not-disturb and it will not ring for incoming texts or calls EXCEPT for pre-programmed numbers. That way you don’t have to worry about missing an important call (from your spouse, daycare, care-taking facility, etc.) while you have your phone stowed away during your focused work session.   

Short Breaks

Breaks are meant to be just that: a break!

Don’t try to sneak work in by answering a few work texts or checking your emails.  

This will make you more productive in the long run, even though you are ‘stopping’ for a brief moment.  

Find a quick activity that will make you happy and give you the boost in motivation to continue working when you get back.

Here are some ideas for 5 and 10 minute breaks:

5 minute breaks:

  • Go and get a cup of coffee or another drink
  • Have a snack
  • Do a few stretches
  • Do some pushups, pull-ups, or situps.
  • lay a game on your phone or the computer
  • Browse social media or the news
  • Listen to a song or quick meditation (bonus: I like the {name} app)
  • Play with your pets or children if they are around
  • Lie down and do absolutely nothing

10 minute breaks:

  • Go on a walk
  • Do a quick exercise routine, stretch, or yoga (bonus: I like the [name] suite of apps because you can customize workouts, stretches, and yoga in as little as 7-minute increments)
  • Listen to a podcast
  • Read the newspaper or a magazine
  • Have a quick conversation with a friend or coworker

Long Breaks

After your 4th Pomodoro, take a longer break.

Maybe 25-30 minutes long.

Just like with short breaks, being intentional during this time to do something that will re-energize you is crucial.

Especially for those that work at home, don’t get sucked into the never-ending household chores that are calling your name.

You need this break so that your brain can rest and prepare for the next set of Pomodoros.

Most of us will have 2 or 3 long breaks in our day.

One of those should be scheduled for a meal. The others should again be something that you enjoy doing that will be restorative.

Be creative and experiment with what fuels you.

Time Blocking Template: How To Boost Productivity
Easy Toddler Meal Planning For Daycare

Printable 2 Week Calendar Template (PDF Download)

Pro Tip: Is the Pomodoro Technique too complicated for what you need right now? Try my daily or weekly time blocking template, or 2-week printable calendar instead!

Planning My Pomodoros

This is my own spin on the Pomodoro Technique.

If you want the *actual* ‘how to use the Pomodoro Technique you should check out Francesco Cirillo’s book The Pomodoro Technique: The Acclaimed Time-Management System That Has Transformed How We Work.

My method is a little bit modified, but I think works best for the 21rst century.

Bonus: Get Francesco Cirillo’s The Pomodoro Technique for free with a free 30-day trial of Audible.

1. Make a list of tasks:

To make the most of the Pomodoro Technique, you should make a list of EVERYTHING you want to accomplish in the day.

This list will become our task.

Prioritize things that must get done, versus things that could potentially wait.

Here’s an example list of everything I want to accomplish this weekend:

  • Pay bills
  • Schedule doctor’s appointment
  • Answer emails
  • Create content for Facebook and Instagram
  • Fold the laundry that is currently in the dryer
  • Answer text messages
  • Research keywords for a blog post
  • Outline a blog post
  • Write a blog post
  • Put on one load of laundry (notice how I am specific with the amount)
  • Fold the laundry that will come out of today’s load
  • Post content to Facebook and Instagram

2. Group tasks by category:

Group similar tasks or tasks that need to be done sequentially in order:

  • Pay bills
  • Schedule doctor’s appointment
  • Answer emails
  • Answer text messages
  • Research keywords for a blog post
  • Outline a blog post
  • Write a blog post
  • Create content for Facebook and Instagram
  • Post content to Facebook and Instagram  
  • Put on one load of laundry (notice how I am specific with the amount)
  • Fold the laundry that is currently in the dryer
  • Fold the laundry that will come out of today’s load

3. Prioritizing Pomodoros

Make sure that your most important and time-sensitive tasks are scheduled earlier in the day.  This will ensure that these tasks are completed in the event that you don’t finish a task in the set focused work time.  See ‘What do I do if I don’t finish my task in my allotted time?’ below.  

4.  Create your Pomodoros:  

Your Pomodoro could be just one task if that task would take you 25 minutes or longer.  

Or, you can group a few similar tasks together if they can fit into 1 Pomodoro.  

See how I group mine:

Pomodoro (1)

  • Pay bills
  • Schedule doctor’s appointment
  • Answer text messages

Pomodoro (2)

  • Research keywords for a blog post

Pomodoro (3)

  • Outline a blog post
  • Fold the laundry that is currently in the dryer

Pomodoros (4 & 5)

  • Write a blog post

Pomodoros (6 & 7)

  • Create content for Facebook and Instagram

Pomodoro (8)

  • Post content to Facebook and Instagram  
  • Put on one load of laundry

Pomodoro (9)

  • Answer emails
  • Fold the laundry that will come out of today’s load

5.  Planning your day around The Pomodoro Technique

This part might seem a little daunting at first. 

But, once you do this a few times, it will become much easier to plan out.

  • Find out how many minutes you will need in the day:

I will have 10 Focused Work Sessions (250 minutes), 8 short breaks (40 minutes), and 2 long breaks (60 minutes).  

That is a total of 350 minutes and just shy of 6 hours.

  • Start with any deadlines that you have to meet. 

For example: picking up the kids from school, or leaving for a doctor’s appointment.  

  • Work backwards.

For example, I know I need to leave to pick up my son from daycare at 3:00 PM, I need to start 6 hours earlier at 9:00 AM.  

Here is what my final schedule looks like:

Start my first Pomodoro at 9:00 AM. Follow the Pomodoro Technique using a timer or app. End my workday at 3:00 PM.

What Happens If You Don’t Finish A Task?

To avoid this happening, try to anticipate your time well.  

It is better to overestimate how long a task will take you (maybe 2 or 3 Pomodoro’s instead of 1).  

If you over-estimate and find yourself with time left at the end of a focused work session, you can accomplish smaller tasks from your ‘short tasks’ list (see my 10 Bonus Tips For Maximizing Productivity With The Pomodoro Method below.  

If you run out of time to finish a task, choose the option that fits your situation best:

  1. Finish the task tomorrow by planning it into the day’s to-do list. This is best for tasks that are not time-sensitive and can wait.  
  2. Find something in the remainder of your list that can be moved to tomorrow. Use that Pomodoro to finish the task.  For example, I can always fold laundry tomorrow.  So, if I need more time, I will move that task to tomorrow and finish my previous task during that time.  

Modified Pomodoro Technique

There is no one specific way on how to use the Pomodoro Technique.

Try the Pomodoro Technique exactly as written above for one or two weeks.  

If you are not enjoying the Pomodoro Technique because of time constraints, think about modifying the lengths of the focused work sessions, short breaks, and long breaks to something that suits your schedule.  

Maybe you find you are most productive for 45 minutes at a time, and that you need 15 minutes for short breaks and an hour for long breaks.  

I wouldn’t recommend going any shorter than 25 minutes focused work sessions, 5 minute short breaks, and 20 minute long breaks.  

I also wouldn’t recommend going any longer than 90 minutes focused work sessions or breaks to avoid burnout.  

Want To Keep Reading?

Check out my bonus download ’10 Tips For Maximizing Your Time With The Pomodoro Technique.’

Try It For Yourself

You are ready to try the Pomodoro Technique for yourself.

Use this free printable Pomodoro Technique Template to plan out your day.

Time Blocking Template: How To Boost Productivity
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Printable 2 Week Calendar Template (PDF Download)

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Jacqui

Author

Hi, I'm Jacqui, founder of Mommy Maker Teacher and mom of two toddlers. With a degree in education, 12+ years of experience as a K-12 teacher and curriculum developer, and courses in childhood psychology and language acquisition, I share research-backed parenting tips and advice. I provide helpful content for moms on all stages of motherhood - from trying to conceive and pregnancy to postpartum, breastfeeding, and parenting.