Pomodoro Technique Made Me Less Productive and More Unmotivated
- The pomodoro method involves working for 25 minutes and taking a 5-minute break before starting again.
- It was helpful when I was feeling unmotivated, but the method was annoyingly rigid and exhausting.
- When I was productive and in a groove, stopping for the 5-minute break would ruin my flow.
The pomodoro technique is one of the most popular time management methods, and it’s evangelized by everyone from college students to CEOs for its ability to help skyrocket focus and avoid mental fatigue.
At its simplest, the pomodoro technique involves working for 25 minutes before taking a 5 minute break. The interval is repeated four times, before taking a 20 minute break.
But when I tried using the technique for a week, I found it was a punishingly rigid way to work that halted my momentum whenever a five-minute break rolled around, prevented me from getting into a groove during the 25-minute work intervals, and didn’t give me enough time to recharge.
The simple time management technique was popularized by a book written in the ’90s by the Italian businessman Francesco Cirillo, and its reputation has exploded since then. Today, dozens of apps and websites are available to help organize your day into 25-minute chunks, but I used the free iOS app Power Focus and the free website Tomato Timer.
While the technique was helpful in preventing me from procrastinating on tasks I wasn’t excited about and for helping me focus on relatively predictable tasks like language learning, the method was frustrating when a task involved creativity, problem solving, or critical thinking.
A big issue for me was that the 25-minute work periods were way too short to get into a productivity zone — by the time I had tuned out distractions and become fully immersed in what I was doing, it was already time to take a break. Conversely, the breaks also felt too short to actually switch my brain off and recharge. After a few cycles, I’d feel exhausted, but unproductive.
When I was doing research for a story about prescription drug shortages, my pomodoro app told me to stop and take a break a few minutes after I discovered an interesting research rabbithole to dive into. Though I picked up my work after a few minutes of rest time, my initial excitement had already waned.
The rigidity of the system also frustrated me. Though I tried to stick to the pomodoro schedule as much as possible, oftentimes I’d work through breaks because I didn’t feel like stopping. Other times, a small five-minute break wasn’t enough to feel recharged, and I’d eat up working time to go on a walk instead.
By the time Thursday rolled around, I knew that the technique was a bust for me. Since my main problem with the pomodoro technique was that the 25-minute work interval was too short to get into a good groove and the five-minute breaks were too short to relax, I tried a modified version where I worked in 90 minute intervals with 20-minute breaks.
This ended up being perfect for me — the 90 minutes gave me enough time to get into a zone and get deep work done, while the 20-minute breaks gave me enough time to relax and feel energized.
There may be a reason why I preferred working in 90 minute intervals. People cycle through periods of high brain activity for roughly 90 minutes, followed by periods of lower-frequency brain activity for around 20 minutes, so following your body’s natural patterns can help make you more productive.
While breaking my day into 25-minute chunks didn’t work for me, I might still go back to it when I’m studying for my Spanish class or when I’m struggling with procrastination. And since pomodoro timer apps are often free, it’s worth a try if you haven’t used it yet.